Well Isn’t That Iconic?

Icons. Photographers are drawn to them like flies to — you know. Every landscape photographer has a bucket list of places that must be visited and photographed, no matter how many millions of times that place has been captured before by others. They’re just too impressive to pass up. And Horseshoe Bend is such a place.

Horseshoe Bend is a horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River located near Page, Arizona. (Did he just say “meander”? He made that up!) Honestly, I’d never heard of a meander, either, at least not in describing a river. But it seems that when a river gets confused and starts meandering all over the place, just like Grandpa, we call that a meander.

And what a meander it is! It looks like the river intentionally came out of its banks and headed east just so it could carve this incredible horseshoe-shaped gorge. And, like so many iconic locations, this one requires you to sit right on the edge to get the shot. Remember last week’s dizzying views from the top of Angels Landing in Zion National Park? Well, this time the drop was only about 1,000 ft. (300 m), but with a surprise twist. It seems the sandstone that makes up the cliff walls where photographers perch is fairly brittle, and if you stand on an overhang on this precipice that has no support underneath, you could end up at the bottom very quickly. Not a good way to end a shoot!

As I’ve mentioned in other articles, back in the Spring of 2012 I went on a photography road trip with a couple of buddies, and the two (that’s right, two!) icons near Page, Arizona, were on the list. (The other is Antelope Canyon, which I wrote about last year.) We had decided to shoot Horseshoe Bend at sunset, just as the sun was going behind the horizon, so we could get a classic sunburst effect above the canyon. We pulled into the parking lot with plenty of time to spare, but before I could get my boots on, my buddies had charged down the trail to the overlook. I took my time, being in no hurry, and stopped to read the warning sign on the way — you know, the one about the brittle sandstone that you don’t want to stand on.

When I arrived at the cliff, I found my friends — you guessed it — standing on an overhang of sandstone with no support below it. And did I mention that Jeremy had the car keys, as usual? Naturally. So not wanting to hike down to the bottom to retrieve the keys, I told them about the warning sign and suggested they back away from the edge. They did, and we had no further incidents on this shoot. At least not in our group. As we sat nervously (at least I was nervous, but then I’m afraid of heights) on the edge of this 1000 foot drop, we watched other photographers arrive on the scene and choose their spots. One found a tiny ledge above and to the left of Jeremy, where he set up his tripod and then proceeded to stumble a bit. I tell you, if it had just been us, I would have been fine, but watching all of these other guys stumbling around the edge just made me want to get the shoot over with and get the hell out of there!

Anyway, I perched my camera and tripod right on the edge, looking down into the canyon, and tested it for balance. I didn’t want to die on this shoot, but I also didn’t want to lose thousands of dollars of camera gear, either. I took some test shots and settled down to watch the sun approach the horizon. Finally, the sun was low enough, and we all started firing away. Since this was a challenging scene with extreme dynamic range from light to dark areas, I wanted to have plenty of different exposures to choose from. I also wanted to have the proper raw material to put together an HDR (High Dynamic Range) image, if necessary. (HDR is a technique for merging multiple exposures of the same scene to achieve more range from dark to light than the camera’s sensor is capable of capturing.)

Horseshoe Bend at Sunset, Page, Arizona

The sun sets behind Horseshoe Bend in the Colorado River, near Page, Arizona.

Within minutes, the sun was gone. We needed to figure out where we were camping that night, so we packed up and headed out. I looked up at the mostly clear sky as it gradually deepened in color, wishing there had been some interesting clouds to enhance the shots. But when you only have a week to visit five distinct areas, as was the case on this trip, you don’t have the luxury to linger in one spot too long. That’s just how it is.

But that’s not necessarily the end of it. There’s lots to see in the Desert Southwest, and I can see myself returning to Horseshoe Bend again to take another crack at that iconic shot. I know I can do a lot better than what you see here. And after all, there’s no upper limit to the number of images of Horseshoe Bend that the world can stand!

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2 Responses to “Well Isn’t That Iconic?”

  1. Catherine says:

    The colors are breathtaking! Beautiful shot…

  2. Carmen says:

    Wow, this is amazing!