Shots of Monument Valley, Utah. This is on Navajo lands, so you must hire a Navajo guide to do a guided tour, which I recommend over driving your rental or your Prius over the very rough terrain of the 17 mile road that goes into the Valley. Navajo guides also get you into spots that the self-guided tour don't allow access to.
We started at dawn, by pre-arrangement with our guide, meeting at the parking lot of the famous View Hotel (owned by a Spanish couple, not Navajo, go figure). Monument Valley is worth arriving at in time to get the sunset and sunrise, both of which can be shot from the parking lot of the View Hotel. Check local times; you're on Navajo time there, and if we hadn't seen the clock at the hotel the night before the tour with the sign "Navajo Time" showing local time an hour ahead, we would have been an hour late for our morning tour.
Our guide pointed out good spots for the sunrise. I generally used prime lenses (20 mm or 24mm) for the sunrise shots. There is some flare as the sun rose over the left "mitten" (the two hills are called the "mittens" because they look like a left and right hand standing up beside one another). The flare was caused by my use of a magenta and neutral density grad filter, which stopped me from being able to use a lens hood to bead down the flare. Up to you to use or not use filters at sunrise.
Out in the Valley, you'll be brought to a small Navajo trading site, where a fellow dressed as the Marlborough Man will ride out onto the rock ledge, on the same spot where the iconic cigarette ads were taken. The fellow you see in my shots was sitting on his horse when we arrived, so I snapped a shot and was yelled at by a female vendor nearby who said that I now owed him money for his posing. There are no signs to indicate this, but once on Navajo lands, I found everything from parking to looking cost a fee. Fair enough, it's their land and tourist dollars are a key revenue source. That's just how it is, and I'm only reporting exactly what happened to me so that others reading this may be prepared. Our Navajo guide, Byron, was very accommodating and played us a traditional, original drum and flute piece to get us home safely on our travels. My plan was struck by lightning on approach to the airport at Montreal, and all was well besides the surprise of a bright light in the cabin, so I highly recommend a guide who does a traditional song for your safe arrival home.
I paid the ersatz Marlborough Man for his posing, and we continued driving through the valley after sunrise. Shooting in the valley mid-morning requires some consideration with your exposure rates. Large, impressive rock formations up close (arches, the Whispering Ear) require a tricky balance for bright sky and darker rock. I shoot on manual and check each shot carefully using a Hoodman loupe to really see into the corners. Checking histograms is important to get correct exposure.
The broad open areas of sand in front of the famous "totem pole" were shot with my lovely Zeiss 20 mm, no filters, just a lens hood. The color saturation, clarity and sharpness of that lens makes it imperative to have for landscape work, with minimal filter additions or Photo Shop post-production. Our guide also took us to see some ancient petroglyphs, which are rock-carvings where the surface rock is abraded by the artist. Use of paint on rock walls are pictographs as I learned.
Be safe shooting out there.
Chris Kiez, a hardcore photographer since the 80's, learned to take a picture before the age of selfies and cell phone photography, training on mechanical cameras and film. After years of taking photos of all manner of subjects and people, he did over a 10 year stint as a crime scene photographer on two continents. Now, he does portrait and landscape photos, and is currently distressing the world with his relentlessly, excruciatingly boring blogging. To buy what you see on this site, click here!