Day 4 – U.S. Route 89 Loop

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This is a series of blog posts where I recap my latest photography trip to American Southwest.

Southern Utah – Northern Arizona Loop

Day 4 of the trip was a driving day. There was no hiking or climbing involved.

Originally, I discovered Hwy 89 Loop by accident because of my poor planning while visiting Southwest for the first time. I was on my way from Grand Canyon to Kanab with the plan to visit Lake Powell but due to the landslide the Hwy 89 was closed and I was forced to take Hwy 89A instead. Since then, the Hwy 89A became one of my favorite driving destinations.

This year I decided to complete 300km loop counterclockwise, taking 89A first and on the way back to use 89.

My plan was to visit and photograph the following destinations: Vermilion Cliffs, Marble Canyon, Lees Ferry, Echo Cliffs, Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell, Grand Staircase. It is amazing that all that could be accomplished in only one day.

Horseshoe Bend

I was very excited about visiting Horseshoe Bend for the first time. I’ve seen hundreds of photos of the bend but not too many of them really impressed me. They all looked very similar without any compositional variety. I was hoping to come up with something different.

When I reached the bend I understood the reason for the lack of the variety in photos and challenges facing every photographer.

First of all, the bend is enormous and it is hard to grasp the scope of the place looking at photos. Even with the widest lens (10mm) it is impossible to fit all elements into one composition. And if you want to step back to use wider perspective, the edge of the cliff abstracts the river below.

I also discovered that there are only a few spots from where you can capture the entire bend.

On top of everything, after I managed to take a couple of shots, the rain started to poor and I had to wait at least 40min before I could resume shooting.

This is when I realized that my photos would not be too different from the rest.

Arizona. Horseshoe Bend
Loc: 36.878861, -111.513808

To give you the better idea about the scale of the bend, I included 100% crop of the area of the Colorado river from the right side of my photo where you can see the paddler.

Driving on U.S. Route 89A west to east.


Shooting & Processing

As I mentioned earlier, the main challenge was the enormous scope of the scene. When I took the test shot using the widest possible focal length of 10mm, I could see that if I included all elements of the bend there was absolutely no room for the sky. This is when I decided to use vertical panorama technique.

I took 2 shots (see images below) and stitched them together in Photoshop.

First, applied HDR Blend present from my Landscapes Collection (you can always download free lightroom presets here) to both images and loaded them to a new Photoshop document on separate layers. I used transparency masks to blend them together.



Deconstructing Featured Photo

Camera: Sony a6000
Lens: Sony 10-18
Focal Length: 10mm
ISO: 100
Aperture: F10
Shutter Speed: 1/60
Tripod: FEISOL Tournament CT-3442  – Check my FEISOL Tournament CT-3442 Review.
Ballhead: FEISOL CB-40D

Processing: Lightroom HDR Preset Based Workflow

Lightroom: import, tagging, preset based processing (PHDR Blend preset from Landscape Collection)
Photoshop: vertical panorama blending, contrast, color correction, cleaning, masking distractions (rocks) with the help of the stamp tool.

Photoshop Plugins: 

  • Topaz DeNoise was used to reduce digital noise (sky, river).
  • Topaz Clarity was used to enhance details and boost colors (rocks mostly).
  • I just got back from Utah myself so I understand what you mean by the grand scale of what I saw. What got my attention was you mentioned vertical panorama. I did something similar at Deadhorse State Park near Moab, nut I turned my camera in the vertical position and took several shots from left to right. Then I blended them together in the “merge to phptpshop panorama” from lightroom. Turned out pretty good, HUGE image size!

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