A Photographer’s Guide to Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park

Wandering around Goblin Valley State Park in the winter is likely about as close as one can get to taking a stroll on Mars.  It’s cold, desolate, weird, red and you’ll feel like you’re the only person on the entire planet.  It’s a strange feeling but give it some time and you’ll settle into it.

The park derives its name from thousands of whimsical sandstone hoodoos, or goblins, of various shapes and sizes that haunt a long, narrow desert valley in the San Rafael Swell.  There is no trail through the goblins.  You leave the parking lot, with Wild Horse Butte towering behind, and descend a steep but short bluff into the alien landscape.  From there, you’re free to roam at will.  While the formations near the trailhead are interesting, you’ll find the most fascinating and photogenic scenes at either end of the valley.

The southwest end of the valley provides views toward the Henry Mountains, which are typically snowcapped from November through April, and can be framed through windows in or between the goblins.   The northeast section is a shorter walk and I find it to be the most interesting part of the park.  The valley abruptly dead ends at a cliff where your only options are to go back the way you came or scramble down a small pouroff that leads to a trail taking you back to the parking lot.  At this end of the valley you’ll find amazing views of a prominent butte named Molly’s Castle rising from a small but pretty section of badlands.  Some of the taller goblins also reside here and they make fantastic subjects for silhouettes against a colorful sunset sky.  Just don’t stick around too long as I’m convinced those goblins spring to life when the lights go out and march all around their domain!  Seriously though, this would be a great area to practice your light painting and star trail technique.

The Three Sisters is the most popular formation in the park, and with good reason.  Visible from the road that leads from the entrance center or campground to the main parking area, the Three Sisters offer numerous options for photography.  I visited in the winter and foreground subjects were few and far between.  However, I saw evidence of very large mules ear plants whose prolific yellow flowers would be amazing foregrounds in the spring.  I still managed to eke out a couple workable foregrounds as I found a well placed clump of Indian Ricegrass in one spot, and some fascinating ribbed rocks in another.  On the evening I photographed this formation I had some fairly dramatic storm light early in the afternoon and an insanely awesome sky at sunset.

I was in Goblin Valley on assignment, creating photographs that will illustrate a new naturalists guide and a welcome sign at the visitor center.  I wasn’t there to make my own images.  I had only two days and my client needed more “grand landscapes” than “intimate landscapes”.  Still, when the opportunity presented itself, I had to give in to the impulse and photograph some intimate landscapes.  Several small sand dune areas offer some interesting opportunities but my favorite image from my time amongst the goblins was found within a small wash, where patterns in the sandy mud practically begged for camera time.  A little black and white conversion and voila – an abstract, somewhat surreal vision comes to life.

Wild Horse Butte borders the western edge of the park and makes for an interesting subject when the right conditions collide.  Sweet light (at sunrise or sunset), a killer sky and perhaps some colorful wildflowers would make for an ideal situation.  Even without this trifecta, you might find workable compositions from within the valley, using a couple goblins to frame the striated form of Wild Horse Butte looming above.

As wonderful as the park is, don’t forget you’re in the San Rafael Swell, which is chock full of slot canyons.  The most popular, Little Wild Horse Canyon, can be combined with Bell Canyon for a challenging hike that requires some scrambling to successfully navigate the entire loop.  Some areas of Little Wild Horse Canyon are so narrow that you can’t even stand with you feet side by side!  As with all slot canyons, the best light is found mid-day when the sun is high and light bounces from wall to wall, getting warmer and more intensely colored as it reaches deeper into the canyon.  Every one of these slot canyons is subject to flash flooding.  Be sure to check the weather forecast for the area up-canyon before beginning any canyon hike in the Swell.

Nearby is Temple Mountain and the Temple Mountain Town Site, which now consists of a few old buildings in various stages of disrepair.  You’ll also find some interesting Native American rock art if you know where to look.  By now you’ve probably determined that there is no shortage of subjects to photograph in the area.  If so, you’d be right.  And, this isn’t even an exhaustive guide.  Just be sure to arrive with fully charged camera batteries and a couple extra memory cards.  You’re gonna need ‘em!

This Blog Is Moving

UPDATE: The new blog is live! I fixed the incorrect links below and all should work properly now. All new content will be posted to themes blog site. Thank you for your continued support!

If you’re a regular reader of my blog and one day soon find this link inactive it’s because I’m moving the blog. The new Bret Edge Photography Blog will be online within 10 days. Bookmark it at http://blog.bretedge.com. All of the current content will be imported to the new blog…or so they say.

On another note – epic conditions in the Tetons this morning. Been shooting for 2.5 hours non-stop. Can’t wait to share some images with y’all.

Have a great week!

Give the Bird to the Rule of Thirds

If you’ve ever read a photography “how to” book you are no doubt familiar with the rule of thirds.  If not, here’s a brief explanation.  Imagine two horizontal and two vertical lines running through your viewfinder, dividing it into equal sections.  Where those lines intersect are the sacred “sweet spots”.  If you were to compose an image using the rule of thirds you would place your main subject at one of those intersections.  Simple enough, right?

Back when I was a newbie photographer I obsessed over the rule of thirds.  Never would I compose an image with the main subject smack dab in the middle of the frame.  Blasphemy!  But here’s the thing: the rule of thirds is a guideline, a suggestion.  It is not an absolute. 

I’ll be the first to admit that more often than not using the rule of thirds as a compositional aid will result in the most dynamic photo.  I no longer obsess over it but I’ve been at this photography thing for 11 years now and building compositions is a lot like breathing – it’s just automatic.  I arrange the elements within my images such that main subjects are right there in the “sweet spot”, even though I didn’t make a conscious decision to put them there.  Every once in a while though, I get a little rebellious.  Every now and then, I’ll center my main subject.

When is the right time to give the rule of thirds the bird and create a centered composition?  I don’t really know.  The best answer I can offer is to say, “When it just feels right.”  Yeah, I know – how very new age of me.  The reality is that photography is not a science.  It is an art.  Even in today’s high tech digital world, where cameras are nothing more than small handheld computers, what comes out of them is art.  By it’s very nature, art is subjective.  We all see the world through different eyes and what I think is a masterpiece, you may consider a master piece of crap.

I think the best way to learn when the time is right for a little breaking of the rules is to experiment.  When you’re working a composition try using the rule of thirds.  Then break the rules and place your subject in the center.  Most of us use digital cameras and it doesn’t cost a single penny to click the shutter.  Be liberal with that sucker!  The more you photograph, and the more you experiment, the more adept you will become at recognizing when a centered composition is the right choice.

Take a look at the two images in this post.  What do you think of the compositions?  Was centering them the right choice?  If so, why?  If not, why?  What would you have done different?  Let’s get a lively discussion going.  Maybe it’ll give a newbie the inspiration to offer a middle finger salute to “the rules” and start experimenting with centered compositions?

Jackson Hole, Here I Come!

Hey folks,

In a few hours I’m headed out to Jackson Hole for two weeks of photography, hiking, camping and fun at our workshop June 10 – 13.  I won’t be active on the ol’ blog while away but I do have a post scheduled to go live next week.  Be sure to check back as it’s a good one.  Well, I think it’s a good one.  Guess I should leave it to you, my readers, to ultimately make that decision.

I’ll most likely post a short trip report here when I get home and have a chance to dig through all my images.

Until I return, may the sweet light be with you!

Sneak Peek – iFotoGuide: Grand Canyon

Dan and I are almost finished building iFotoGuide: Grand Canyon!  We were fortunate to partner with tremendously talented photographer, former Artist-in-Residence at the Grand Canyon, and all around nice guy Adam Schallau to produce this guide.  Adam’s intimate knowledge of the Canyon’s many moods and locations combined with his breathtaking photos have allowed us to create a photography guide that virtually guarantees you’ll make amazing images on your next trip to the Grand Canyon.

We expect iFotoGuide: Grand Canyon to be available for download for $4.99 in the Apple iTunes App Store in late June.  This price includes lifetime updates that will include new locations, discounts on photo gear and services from some of the biggest names in the industry, and more.  All iFotoGuide apps function on the iPhone and iPod Touch.  You can learn more about iFotoGuide here.

Currently available in the Apple iTunes App Store are iFotoGuide: Arches (on sale for $2.99) and iFotoGuide: Yosemite ($4.99).

Here’s a sneak peek at what we’ve been up to over the last few weeks.

The Beckoning Desert

Over the last few days I’ve spent hour after hour sitting at my desk staring at the computer while processing images for my redesigned website.  My new gallery structure consists of four portfolios: New Images, Adventure, Desert and Mountains.  As I worked through hundreds of images one thing became abundantly clear: I am a desert rat.

I was born in Los Angeles, where I lived for the first six years of my life.  After that we moved to Phoenix for a year, then Atlanta for six years, then back to Phoenix.  The day after high school graduation my Mom and brother moved back to Georgia.  I stayed in the desert.  I spent eighteen years in Phoenix, and I still consider it home.  In 2002 I decided it was time for a change and I moved to Denver.  Rocky Mountains, here I come!  No more oppressive heat, thorns in my mountain bike tires or rattlesnakes at my feet.  That lasted three years.

What happened next was kind of a whirlwind.  I got laid off from a job I’d held for 13 years, got married, took a 4 month road trip throughout the West and finally settled in Moab.  Another desert.  A high desert, but a desert just the same.  We’ve been here four years this month.

Clearly, I’m drawn to the desert.  Wide open spaces, hundred mile views, deep blue skies, cactus and canyons and coyotes – they’re all here.  Not to mention monumental sunsets, wildflowers eking out a brief but glorious existence from the scorched earth, sand in my ears, sun on my back and those moments of pure serendipity when I stumble upon a ruin left behind by the ODR’s - Original Desert Rats.

I suspect I’ll always run to the mountains when I can no longer bear the summer heat.  Chances are I’ll even move away from the desert, most likely back into the Rockies.  There I’ll dream of the desert while napping next to an alpine lake.  Mid-winter, when the snow is flying and the temperatures are diving, I’ll escape to warmer climes.  Back to the cactus.  Back to the sunsets.  Back to the desert.

Please Make A Donation To Benefit Slain Officer Travis Murphy’s Children

In Valor There Is Hope

On Wednesday, May 26 Officer Travis Murphy with the Phoenix Police Department responded to a suspicious vehicle report.  Upon arrival to the area he and his partner split up to search for the suspect.  Officer Murphy located the suspect, shots were fired and Officer Murphy was struck several times.  He was rushed to a local hospital in a police vehicle where he was pronounced dead.  Officer Murphy was 29 years old.  He is survived by his wife, a 2 year old daughter and a 2 week old son.

An account has been established in his name at Wells Fargo for the benefit of his children.  Donations are accepted at any branch, whether in or out of the state of Arizona.  Please consider making a donation, no matter how small, to honor Officer Murphy’s dedication to duty, community and courage, and to thank him and all other law enforcement officers for the sacrifices they make on a daily basis.  I am making a small donation for my son, Jackson.

EOW: May 26, 2010  RIP, Brother.

Tripods on the Edge

I seem to be on a tripod kick lately.  I’ll continue that theme with what I hope will be a fun exercise with lots of involvement from you, my loyal blog readers.  The other night, while my tripod and I were perched in a precarious position about 40′ off the deck and literally on the edge of a cliff, I got to thinking about all the crazy places my poor old Gitzo has been set up.  I took a photo of it living la vida loca and am including it here for your amusement.  I’m also including the photo I made while teetering on the brink.  Was it worth the risk?  You betcha!

Here’s where the real fun begins.  Let’s see a photo of you and/or your tripod in a hairy situation.  Maybe it’s the edge of a cliff or waist deep in pounding surf.  Whatever, wherever – let’s see it!  You’ll have to post a link to the photo somewhere since you can’t upload photos directly in the response fields.  That would be cool, though.  Be sure to give us a little description, too!

Quick Tip: Explore Your Options

As nature photographers, we need tripods.  Shutter speeds during those few minutes of sweet light at sunrise and sunset are just too long to hand hold a bulky D-SLR camera and expect sharp results.  So, we’ve become accustomed to arriving at a location, setting up our tripod, mounting the camera to it and then getting to work.  But why must we be so confined?

When I arrive at a new location I’ll leave the tripod packed away and walk around for a few minutes exploring all the compositional opportunities through my camera’s viewfinder.  I’ll get down low to the ground, stand tall, move two steps to the right and one step back.  Maybe I’ll try using a foreground element or maybe I won’t.  Perhaps a vertical works better than a horizontal?  I find that leaving the camera off the tripod for a spell is very freeing.  I can wander around unencumbered.  Locking my camera on to the tripod feels sort of permanent.  Once I find the composition that best fits my vision for the scene I’ll bust out the tripod, secure my camera to my Acratech Ultimate Ballhead and get to work fine tuning a composition.

I made the image above earlier this week.  I liked the cracked rocks and knew I wanted to use them in the foreground but it wasn’t immediately apparent how best to place them.  I removed my camera from it’s home in my chest pack and walked around exploring my options before I finally settled on this.  I had to perch somewhat precariously on a rock just above and behind the foreground to achieve this composition.  Once I found what I wanted, I went to work figuring out how to best set up the tripod on the small pedestal.  Had I not wandered around without the tripod I likely wouldn’t have given this composition a chance due to the difficulty involved in setting up the tripod here.  Good thing I took my own advice!

Give it a try next time you head out for some photography.  I think you’ll like being free!

What do you think of this tip?  How do you go about finding the ultimate composition when you arrive at a location?  Let’s hear your routine!

Ask An Expert: Death and Your Intellectual Property

I received a question for the experts that I’m handling a little bit differently.  Instead of posing the question to them, I’m throwing it out to all of you.  Maybe there’s an attorney amongst my readership who can offer some solid advice?  If not, I think it would be interesting and useful to hear from a few of you how your intellectual property will be handled when you are no longer around to manage it.

The Question:

I have a question for your experts.  I think inevitably the answer will be ”Consult an attorney.”  Nevertheless, there may be things we should be aware of or consider when consulting an attorney.  I was just wondering what some of these experts have done for use of their intellectual property once they die.  I believe it’s something important thing to consider.

The Answer:

Leave a comment!  If you’re an attorney who deals with intellectual property regularly, PLEASE leave a comment.  I and my readers sincerely appreciate all responses.