In early December we flew out to visit family down in Sedona, Arizona, where I have never actually been before. I have heard lots of great things about the landscape out there, especially the rock formations and valleys surrounding Sedona proper. We would only be there for a few days, but I wanted to try to get out at least a few times to shoot, not knowing when I would be back. I rented a brand new Canon 16-35 2.8 MkII specifically to capture some landscapes and hopefully starscapes. The first shot was taken on our way down to Phoenix, somewhere out over southern Colorado I believe. Being from Illinois it was amazing seeing such beautiful mountain ranges.
We landed in Phoenix and hopped a quick flight up to Flagstaff, then driving down to Sedona. The first day the weather was not cooperating at all, it was very overcast, chilly, and a little drizzly here and there. Our first stop was Midglee Bridge Park, just north of Sedona on the 'Y'. Its a beautiful park with tons of footpaths and a very large steel bridge over the canyon supporting the road above. Even though it was so cloudy I knew I could probably get some nice black and whites, so I took quite a few photos as I tried to soak in the amazing scenery.
All the rock formations and ranges have names from what I gather, I'll have to do some research to find them all. The paths around the park went from flat and even to downright dangerous, even I had a tricky time navigating some. After about ten minutes there I felt a longing to just quit my job and come out to shoot landscapes for the next year or two. Thankfully my wife was there to snap me back to reality.
We found a large number of aloe plans scattered throughout the park and I was surprised at how large they were, probably a good two feet in diameter with these razor sharp leaves fanned out in all directions. I had never seen anything like it before.
Passing down below Midglee Bridge to the south side of the park there is a ledge looking out over Oak Creek and Wilson Canyon. There is a small path that heads back off to the east with a wonderful view of Steamboat Rock. Thankfully about 15 minutes into my hike the clouds started to part a bit, allowing the sun to shine down on Steamboat enough to get a few shots in.
Just up the road from Midglee Bridge Park is another one you can very easily miss, Grasshopper Point. It's almost a hidden turn off, and you wind your way down to the bottom of the canyon. We went down during the day to explore, but it was misty and very overcast. We met a family who were hiking down to the Oak Creek to go fishing. After exploring a while we headed back to the hotel for dinner and family time. The number one shot on my wishlist was a starscape with the rock formations in the foreground, so when it cleared up that night I headed back to Grasshopper Point, but to my dismay it was a full moon - the absolute worst time to shoot stars. Since there is very little light pollution the moon lit everything up to where an exposure over 15 seconds looked almost like daytime. I took a few shots while I was down there, but was heartbroken that I didn't get many more stars than I usually get in the Chicago suburbs. On the upside I guess its a great excuse to book a trip back when its a new moon.
The next morning I got up early to go catch the sunrise from Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park, a small park at the base of Chimney Rock. I got up to the park and hiked around for a while before the sun started cresting over the surrounding rock formations, finding some great locations to shoot from. The weather was a complete 180° from the day before - it was a crystal clear blue sky and a very comfortable temperature hovering in the mid-50's. I have never shot mountainscapes before so I really had to remember pouring over Ansel Adams books when I was younger, and try to capture a tiny sliver of the magic he was able to. I found an interesting patch of cactus to put in the foreground of some early shots as the sun painted the rock face with very warm light.
The park is located at the base of Chimney Rock to the west, panning around to Coffeepot Rock on the east edge of the formation. The morning was almost a scramble to get as many shots as I could as the lighting was perfect, and I had so much area to cover. Here is Chimney Rock right at sunrise, I love how the warm morning light really brings out how red it really is, contrasted against the deep blue sky.
Even at 16mm there was no way to get everything in one frame, or even two. Thankfully I have been practicing shooting panoramas the month before, so took a few minutes to visualize a few large panoramas. This next shot was a four frame panorama panning from west to east.
On some of the conversions Photoshop got rather confused by the deep blue skys and attempted to merge them together with interesting results - the sky would skew up another 3000 pixels in the center of the stitching. I got a few other panoramas, but none better than the nine shot panorama of the entire formation that morning.
I genuinely wish I had a few weeks to just camp out and shoot landscapes, but alas I only had a few hours to spend in and around Sedona. It is one of the most beautiful locaitions I have ever seen and really hope to get back some day.