“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Arthur Miller
After my first road trip around the American South West with my wife in 2008, I was hooked by the immense landscapes this region has to offer.
I spent all of that first trip photographing the landscapes for an agency, I was captured by the changes in light and magnificence of the vistas. I knew this part of the world would be one that I would return to over the years.
My most recent trip here was in September 2017, spending 3 weeks photographing the landscapes for a commission and another 2 weeks leading a group of photographers on a photography tour I run. My circular route which started in Las Vegas, took me on roads that are as straight as the eye can see to small friendly towns, and through some of the world’s best desert scenery in the world
Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada is aptly named, the red sandstone formations give the area a warm fiery colouring even in bright sunlight.It can get pretty hot here too, but the warm hued landscapes are worth the heat, especially near to sunset when the place comes on fire.
Just a couple of hours drive from the Valley of Fire is Zion National Park, one of my favourite places for photography. In the lower part of Zion you literally get neck ache looking up at the towering peaks of the mountains from the Virgin River which flows through this immense scenery.
However the top part of Zion is my favourite spot. I took a series of photo’s of the Navajo sandstone rock formations back in 2008 which won an award in the landscape category of the International Photography Awards.
Since then I have spent much time photographing in this area as I am fascinated by the unique Navajo sandstone landscape.
Another few hours drive away sees you at Bryce Canyon which despite its name, is not a canyon, but a collection of giant natural amphitheaters. Bryce is distinctive for its hoodoos, formed by frost weathering and stream erosion of the river and lake bed sedimentary rocks. Bryce sits at a much higher elevation than Zion and is much cooler as the rim at Bryce varies from 2,400 to 2,700 m, due to the remote location it doesn’t get the crowds that other parks do.
Sunrises here are particularly special.
as the hoodoos glow in the morning sunlight.
As Utah is +1 hour ahead in time from Nevada and Arizona, sunrises are at a very comfortable 7.00am in September, no excuses for getting up for these views.
Horseshoe Bend near Page in Arizona is another favourite place for the landscape photographer, especially at sunset.
Again in Page is Antelope Slot Canyon in Navajoland, a place that is really high on the photographers bucket list. Places are limited to just 6 people for the photography tours in Upper Antelope Canyon, with only 2 tours a day they can sell out years in advance. I have been lucky to have photographed here twice and already have a booking for 5 places for the September 2018 tour.
Photographing Antelope Slot Canyon has been one of the highlights of my professional photography career, the images you capture here are truly awesome, with the ever changing light bouncing around the canyon walls that have been weathered into beautiful shapes and patterns over eons of time.
Just 120 miles from Page is Monument Valley Tribal Park in Utah, the sacred heart of the Navajo Nation and a place I had always wanted to visit from an early age, it doesn’t let you down once you get there and it’s easy to see why it became an iconic symbol of the American West. My first visit was in 2008 when there was no hotel there, we camped under a cloudless sky looking at the Milky Way all night and I knew it was a place I would return to again and again.The skies here can be outrageously moody.In a very synchronistic way that always seem to happen on Navajo Land, I have teamed up with a Navajo friend who has taken me way off road to a place only accessible with a Navajo guide, this has been the highlight on the photo tour I run here. The drive is totally amazing going over terrain that only a local would be confident doing, but once at the top of one of the mesa’s the panoramic views of the sandstone formations from a distance bathed in warm evening light are breath taking.As for the desert night skies high up from this vantage point, you can see the Milky Way and a billion stars as there is no light pollution here. The sunrises from up here too are a landscape photographers dream.
It’s always hard to leave Monument Valley and the amazing landscapes, but 180 miles drive away you reach yet another photographers bucket list location the Grand Canyon from the East side with its jaw dropping views.The Grand Canyon is world famous for the light, which photographs well whatever the weather conditions are. I personally prefer real moody scenes as they really add drama to photographs,the same scene can change within a very short space of time, making it worthwhile to stop and photograph the ever changing views that appear in front of your lens.There are so many great turn outs to stop at along the south rim meaning that you don’t have to walk far for stunning photographs.
There is also an excellent free shuttle bus that goes to the main view points, that start way before sunrise, which is excellent news for photographers.
Historic Route 66 was my next stop on the circle route back to Vegas, which takes in Americana and old-school kitsch.Hackberry stores literally in the middle of nowhere is sure worth a stop on the way back,as is the strange little town of Chloride, those that have been there will know what I mean!
Taking this 14 day circular route from Las Vegas it is possible to photograph every day of the road trip, spending a few nights at the best locations, with plenty of sunrise and sunset shots along the way. There are relatively short drives on quiet roads, the longest drive I ever did in between locations was 3 hours, but still stopped on the way for some unique American shots.
The one thing you will need for a two week road trip is plenty of storage space to back up all the photographs you will take. Instead of heading back to the madness of Vegas after this nature immersion I like to stay in Boulder City, Nevada. On the way you pass the Hoover Dam, worthy of a quick visit. Boulder is a small compact city that you can walk around and has some fantastic places to eat and craft beer micro breweries. From here it’s only a short drive to Las Vegas airport to fly home.There’s great value to be taken from photography road-tripping as they are not only full
of wonderful adventures, but also give you space for new ideas and help you improve your landscape photography skills, and you’ll come away with powerful compelling photo’s and a whole new way of seeing the world.
CAMERA EQUIPMENT ESSENTIALS: Sturdy tripod as it can get windy, remote release, ND soft graduated filters, ND filters, spare memory cards, selection of lenses with lens hoods, including a fast wide angle lens if you intend to do any astro-photography. Plus of course back up hard drives, laptop/tablet.
I RUN LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY ROAD TRIPS in South West USA each September, the next one starting on September 9th 2018. Maximum 4 guests only, with just 1 place left. Full details and itinerary can be found on my website HERE
I also lead travel and landscape photography tours and workshops in Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Wales & England: www.digitalphotographyholidays.com