I think we can agree that with the exception of a photojournalist working in a war zone, most people would not consider photography to be inherently dangerous. That is unless we decide to push the limits ourselves by taking some risks. Over the last several months I have seen some photos that clearly involved people putting themselves at some kind of personal risk to get the photo they wanted. Frankly, this is something I didn’t think about all that much. As I have shared with you all before, I enjoy sports action photography and cityscapes the most. When I am taking photos at sporting events, it’s pretty easy to position myself so I don’t get run over by basketball or football players. And when taking pictures around the city, the only thing I need to worry about is not crossing against the light and getting hit by oncoming traffic.
|Entrance to the Upper Antelope Canyon near Page, AZ|
However, I have recently decided to spend more time taking pictures of the Arizona landscape. Most people think of this part of the country as desert. That is true to some extent, but northern Arizona is all mountains, gorges and canyons. In fact, Flagstaff, AZ sits at a higher elevation than Denver, CO (my hometown). Last spring, one of my very good friends came to Phoenix for a wedding, and we decided to take a day trip to Antelope Canyon, which is near the town of Page, AZ. I had seen some pretty amazing shots of the canyon, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to get some good practice at landscape photography. There was only one problem. Antelope Canyon is a very popular tourist stop and we were going at time when things were just starting to get busy. We paid for a standard tour. There were also guided tours that were especially set up for photographers, but they cost quite a bit more. It turns out that it wasn’t that great an experience. It was very clear that tourism drove the local economy. And these tours ran like clockwork. The guides didn’t really allow time to take any quality photos. And the interesting thing was that the tour guide companies were conducting the photography tours at the exact same time. So they weren’t really getting a whole lot of opportunities either because that part of the canyon was packed with tourists. If I had paid for that tour, I would have felt like I’d wasted my money. I took several dozen photos, but even without looking at them, I had a sense that I didn’t get anything all that memorable. I was beginning to think that aside from having the opportunity to catch up with my friend, the trip had come up short of my expectations.
We decided to drive over to Horseshoe Bend, which was only about 15 minutes away. This is another very popular spot where the Colorado River make sharp 180 turn through Glen Canyon, which is about 140 miles from the southern rim of the Grand Canyon. I believed that I could still salvage the photography part of the trip if I could get a good shot here. It was about a 20 minute walk down to the edge of the canyon from where we parked. The first thing I noticed as we approached was that there were no guard rails to keep people back from the edge. I had a couple lenses to choose from including an 18-55mm and an 18-105mm. So the question became just how close I was willing to stand to try and get a shot of the entire Horseshoe. I wouldn’t say that I have a fear of heights; just a healthy respect for high altitudes. I tried taking some shots standing about 10-15 feet away, but even at the widest angle I wasn’t coming close to getting everything I wanted. And the higher rocks were too far back to get the bottom of the Horseshoe. So my only option was to try and get a little closer. I wasn’t going to be one of those daring people who dangled their feet over the ledge to get the shot. The drop is over 1,000 feet to the bottom of the canyon, and I’ve seen my share of photos on the internet taken moments before someone took a wrong step and fell. So I decided to sit down and move within about three feet of the ledge. That way I would still have a nice solid base. Then I just held my camera over my head and took a series of shots hoping I could capture one that worth keeping. I didn’t have the right lens to get the entire horseshoe bend and the talk rock on the opposite side of the river. But I was able to get one that provided some great perspective on the sheer enormity of this part of Glen Canyon. If you look really close, you can see a boat on the river. At over 1,000 feet away, it appears to be a small white dot.