Moab Happenings Archive
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What Are the Most Important Secrets
To Making Great Landscape Photos?

By David L. Brown
This picture by Travis Spake was made last month as the Milky Way aligned with Mesa Arch. He made four exposures and joined them in Photoshop for the wide panoramic. A framed print of this photo will be displayed and for sale at the Moab Arts & Recreation Center during April.

If you are serious about landscape photography, you know that there are many elements that must come together to make truly great photos. All are important. Of course, the quality of equipment you use is a key. So is your your ability to create excellent compositions. Another is the way you use software to bring out the best from your image.

In thinking about this, I asked myself if there might be one special factor that is the most important of all? Looking back on my decades as a landscape photographer I considered all the above and many others. In the end I realized that while equipment and experience are vital, there is one factor that stands above them all.

What is that key? It is patience, the simple persistence to wait, sometimes for hours or even days, until the perfect moment appears. Great photographs are never just waiting for you to walk up, point your camera and push the shutter. Light, weather, the position of clouds, all these and more are necessary ingredients to success.

Sometimes it pays to wait even when it seems that nothing is going to happen. One time early in my career as a photographer I was making pictures in Saguaro National Park. I had my view camera set up to frame some cacti and was hoping for a dramatic sunset to appear behind them. As the light began to fade, it seemed that nothing exciting was going to happen. I packed up and drove into Tucson – and when I parked and stepped out of my car, I saw one of the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen. My lack of patience had cost me the possibility of making an incredible photograph. Lesson learned.

This amazing photograph by Moab photographer Whit Richardson shows the full moon aligned with the two Windows arches. The picture, made 7.18 miles from the arches, required a great deal of planning and patience to create.

Patience alone is not enough, for it doesn’t pay to wait at the wrong time or place. Planning goes hand-in-hand with patience. Landscape photographers must learn to predict when the right conditions may appear. We watch the weather and the phases of the moon, and we mark out the places where the best compositions will come together.

A recent example of all this is the featured photograph by Moab photographer Whit Richardson which shows the full moon shining through the two Windows Arches. This truly unique photograph did not happen by accident ¬– lots of patience and planning went into its creation.

Whit needed to know exactly where the moon would rise. He also needed to find the perfect spot from which it would be aligned with the arches. He wanted the moon to appear large, which required the equivalent of a 1000mm lens, for which he used a 500mm lens with a 2X extender. Finally, he had to find a place to set up his tripod so that the moon and arches were in perfect alignment. The spot he found was 7.18 miles away from the arches. He used several apps to perform the calculations, with additional help from Tyson Swasey and Zach Cooley. Even from more than seven miles away, he points out that “if you look close you can see people in the left arch.”

Another example of patience and planning is the photograph of the Milky Way over Mesa Arch, made by Travis Spake who works for the National Park Service. The image was made by “stitching” four exposures together in Photoshop to make this panoramic view.

Travis knew from a previous visit a year earlier that the Milky Way could be seen aligned above the arch in early Spring. He made his plan to be on the spot this March at 2 a.m. to get the dramatic rainbow effect as the Milky Way rose in the East. A framed print of the photograph will be displayed and for sale during April at the Moab Arts & Recreation Center.

As you might conclude, landscape photography can be challenging. But when patience and planning are applied, truly amazing photographs can result. If you have a picture you are particularly happy with and want to share it, give me a call at 435-210-8158. And be sure to mention you read about Printworks in Moab Happenings


David L. Brown is a landscape photographer who has led photo tours from his base in Moab since 2015, now as Printworks Photo Tours. His fine art prints can be seen at Printworks Gallery, 1105 S. Hwy. 191. He invites you to visit or call at 435-355-0121.

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