Horseshoe Bend: New Favorite HDR Photo

After hiking the 3/4-mile sandy trail to Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona, 3.5 times already, I wasn’t really sure I wanted to hike out there again. But I still set my alarm for 5:45 am so I could take a quick look out the hotel room window and decide if another trip out there would be worth it. One peak out the window and my sleepiness subsided, my gear got assembled and my pajamas became blue jeans.

I was out the door in 10 minutes, made the five-minute drive to the trailhead, and was out to the lookout point by 6:10. At that point, I just had to wait until the lighting was just right – but that didn’t stop me from snapping a bazillion other photos in the interim. Just as the morning sun started hitting the highest peak in the distance, I captured five photos at different bracketing exposures (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2). Since I hit the road soon after my last photography excursion to Horseshoe Bend, I didn’t get time to review this photo until days later – but what I saw when I merged the five photos together was amazing!

Photo Horseshoe Bend sunrise clouds

After seeing the photo, do you know why I was in such a hurry to get out there for sunrise? The clouds. The three other times I made the hike out to the point, there were no clouds in the sky. The lines of clouds in the sky were a perfect ending to the Utah Photo Workshop trip, and I was able to apply all of the skills learned (or refined) during the trip toward this single photo – which has become my “Best” photo from the trip.

I think this is the second time I have made reference to the fact that I hiked out to this location 4.5 times during the four-day workshop. Well, here’s why… The first morning I was there, the plan was to meet up with the others in the group at 12:30’ish. So, I had some time in the morning to waste. I did a sunrise shoot at the overlook to the Glen Canyon Dam, went back to the hotel, got bored, so decided to hit up Horseshoe Bend. Trip #1 was made at roughly 11 am, and the position of the high sun was leaving harsh shadows on much of the formation, so I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the way the photos were turning out. Trip #2 was at sunrise the following morning, but there were no clouds in the sky and I wasn’t “sold” on any of the photos I captured then – I still had a few things to learn at the workshop.

Trip #3 can only be considered a half trip because I only went half-way there. My intent was to photograph the wonder at night, capturing some star trails, and allowing the moon in the sky to help illuminate the landmark. When I pulled into the parking lot after the sun had set and nothing but the moon and stars was lighting the earth, the last car was pulling out of the trailhead parking lot, leaving me all alone. I wondered if I should just not worry about it, since I didn’t have a partner with me, but I wanted to be brave and I REALLY wanted a great night shot of Horseshoe Bend. I loaded up all my gear, grabbed my LED light, flipped it on, and started down the trail. The further away from my car I walked, the more alone and vulnerable I felt in the middle of nowhere. I wasn’t entirely sure if there would be animals in the area that would surprise me. I did know that once I got to the end of the trail, I would be standing with my tripod on the very edge of a rather steep cliff. If I fell, the only way someone would know I fell was when they found my camera gear unattended in the morning. Not how I wanted to go out. Plus, I had family back at home and I didn’t want to do something stupid and have it impact them. So, I chickened out and turned back to my car. Thus, it was only a half-trip, bringing me up to 2.5 trips!

The following night, my group in the workshop hiked out to Horseshoe Bend to photograph sunset, so that brings me up to 3.5 times. While it made for some great photos, the cloudless sky and shooting directly into the setting sun didn’t make for the great photos I was hoping for. That brings me up to the following morning when I decided to take a quick glance out my window to see what the sky looked like, which was the start of trip #4.5. So now I have a really cool story about how I hiked to Horseshoe Bend 4.5 times during the photo workshop, which is why my souvenir patch for this trip was of… drum roll please… Horseshoe Bend!

~signed, Carltonaut

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