In Canyonlands National park, Mesa Arch stands at the head of a cliff. Beyond the arch is a shear wall dropping about 600 feet to the Colorado River canyon below.
During our Moab workshop, we visited this arch two mornings for the sunrise. Both times other photographers beat us to the best spots. It is necessary to get there more than an hour before sunrise and stake out your real estate. There is room for only 6-8 photographers to have an unobstructed view of the rising sun through this arch. Once in their spots, the photographers do not move or give them up until the sun is up and they have finished shooting.
This shot was taken from the south end of the arch looking a bit north. As it was shot, I got another photographer in the frame on the far left and I had to crop him out.
When I approach an iconic scene that thousands of others have photographed, I like to try and find a different angle or perspective for my shots. This images in a case in point. Most photographers shoot this arch straight on, looking to the east and catching the sun as it rises above the horizon. Like this incredible image from my partner James Neeley:
I moved to the south of the arch opening and used the overhead sweep of the arch to create a more dramatic composition. The arch from right to left forms a set of powerful diagonal lines, leading the viewer's attention to the Point of Interest, the sunlit cliff through the arch. The use of HDR and tone mapping, brings out the texture in the sandstone.
This is what I try to teach in our landscape workshops--trying to get a shot that is a bit different than others take. I tell my students to design the shot in their minds before they look in the viewfinder and to use the compositional guidelines to give your image impact and interest.
Our workshop students also captured this arch at sunrise. To see some of their images, go to this group: