Photographing Mesa Arch at sunrise in Canyonlands National Park has been on my bucket list for some time now, and I finally got to go! This stunning canyon vista framed by Mesa Arch took my breath away. I will never forget waking up early, hiking in the dark, and being surrounded by like-minded photographers. After I found my spot, I stood there, huddled close together with the others like sardines in a can, and anxiously awaited for the magic to begin. Weather conditions favored us that morning, casting a beautiful sunrise! Mesa Arch was well worth the trip and will be a cherished memory of mine forever. I want you to experience this beautiful arch for yourself! In light of that, here are five tips to help you photograph Mesa Arch at sunrise!
Tip #1 Photographing Mesa Arch at sunrise can get crowded so be sure to arrive early
When we went to Canyonlands this past April 2019, we stayed in the Holiday Inn & Suites in Moab. This was one of the closest hotels to Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, shy of camping.
We left the hotel at 5 am, hoping to arrive in time to get parking and to hike to Mesa Arch before the sunrise. If I remember right, sunrise was supposed to take place around 7:20 am.
Sunrise is the perfect time to photograph Mesa Arch because the arch beautifully frames the rising sun and landscape. Another effect that takes place at sunrise is the lighting on the arch. The rising sun illuminates the underside of Mesa Arch, casting a brilliant orange hue to the arch.
Because this vista and lighting phenomenon are so spectacular, it can get crowded quickly. When I arrived at Mesa Arch at 6 am, a sea of photographers already dotted the landscape. I was thankful that I was able to find a spot to squeeze into. Another latecomer arrived and we shared tripod space so that he could also photograph the arched sunrise. One photographer had been there since 3 am to secure spots for himself and his clients. Thankfully, everyone was friendly and there was a feeling of camaraderie and love.
Tip #2 Bring a flashlight and map out the trail ahead of time, if possible
This tip is a lesson learned for me. I had never been to Mesa Arch in Canyonlands before. I thought the hike would be an easy one. That said, in the dark it proved difficult to follow. I used my phone as a flashlight, but even still, I couldn’t see where the trail led.
My husband, kids, and I veered off to the left. At one point, we could see the arch off in the distance. As I looked at the path ahead, I realized that it was a steep drop off. Surely there was a safer way to get to Mesa Arch. Thankfully common sense kicked in and we chose not to go repelling in the pitch black with no ropes.
I will blog about the hiking path to Mesa Arch in detail in a different post. For now, suffice it to say that we had to backtrack our steps and wander around until we found a safe way down to Mesa Arch. As it was, we descended too early and had to traverse slick rock. Thankfully we found a very safe and easy path to follow on our way back up.
Tip #3 Bring a Wide Angle Lens and tri-pod to photograph Mesa Arch
Back to photographing Mesa Arch. The biggest tip I can give you is to bring a wide angle lens and a tri-pod. I used the Cannon 16-35mm L Lens on a full frame camera. Photographers at Mesa Arch are lined up right in front of the arch to get the best framed shot of the canyon in the background. This angle requires the widest lens you have.
I was thankful for my wide angle lens and my Vello FreeWave Plus Wireless Remote Shutter Release. With my camera set up on a tri-pod, I was able to focus my lens, get my settings, and step back and take photos without getting in the way of the other photographers.
As the lighting conditions changed, I adjusted my settings periodically to accommodate. I am really pleased with the results.
Tip #4 Get to know your camera settings and your lens’s optimal f-stop for desired artistic effect
This tip is purely up to personal preference. I enjoyed playing around with my camera settings to get different photographic effects. When the sun crested the canyon walls, I used f-22 to get a sun star.
For the rest of the other shots, however, I kept my f-stop around 5.6-9. This is the optimal range for my Cannon 16-35mm L Lens. Other lenses may be a bit different, but will fall in a similar range. As I had a tri-pod, I also kept my ISO at 100. I adjusted the shutter speed based upon the changing lighting conditions as the sun rose.
Tip #5 Use filters and post-editing for more dramatic effects
The last tip I have on photographing Mesa Arch at sunrise in Canyonlands National Park is to bring a filter. Sadly, I left my polarizer and graduated neutral density filters at home. If you are able to bring them, however, it will greatly improve your post editing time. A graduated neutral density filter will help take out the glare and overexposed highlights that come when the sun peeks over the canyon ridge.
Although having my filters with me would have been ideal, I was able to adequately edit my Mesa Arch sunrise photographs in Adobe Lightroom with great success. Adobe Lightroom has a dehaze tool as well as several settings which can help fix blown highlights and adjust white balance. My favorite tool is the brush tool where I can isolate which parts of the photograph I want to work on.
I hope you have enjoyed learning more about photographing Mesa Arch at Canyonlands National Park and that you get to visit this amazing park for yourself! If not, at least you can see it through my photos! Thanks for reading and sharing my adventures with me! Happy travels!
Do you love National Parks as much as I do? Click here to follow my blog and get a FREE NATIONAL PARKS MAP!
To purchase some of my photographs through the stock agency, visit Shutterstock or contact me today!
Please note, this website contains ads and affiliate links. Thank you for your support and for making this site possible!