PHOTOGRAPHING THE WINDOWS SECTION OF ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

Finally my “Mountain to Sea Photography Journey” led me to the incredible Arches National Park in Moab, Utah in the fall of 2018.  After 4 weeks of fleeing wildfires I was thrilled to arrive to such perfect Moab weather.  With plans was to stay in the area for a month, I took my time exploring and photographing the area never realizing just how little time I was going to have in the area. Yes, mother nature had yet another surprise in store. But for now I had incredible red rock formations to photograph under beautiful conditions. 

ARCHES WINDOW AREA

The Windows Section of the park is about 11 miles from the park’s main entrance and contains many of the park’s more popular arches. Once in the Windows Section, there are two distinct areas of arches.  On one side of the parking lot a trail leads to North Arch, South Arch and Turret Arch.  On the opposite side of the parking lot a trail leads to Double Arch and the beautiful surrounding rock formations.

map of Arches National Park location

North Arch

North Arch is a very popular spot for both sunrise and sunset photography.  In fact, the opening in North Arch is frequently used as a frame for sunrise images of Turret Arch.  But it would be a mistake to limit compositions to that one cliche image.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great shot but let’s see some other views of North Arch.  Since it was a full moon during my stay, I decided I would photograph the arch with the full moon in the arch. Of course I had lots of company that night.

North Arch with Full Moon in Opening

The next afternoon I returned to the area and headed to Turret Arch via the trail to North, South and Turret Arches.

Stairs to North Arch, South Arch and Turret Arch

The trail to these arches is comprised of a very gradual incline with easy steps making it accessible to most visitors.  

Fork in the Trail

 A short distance from the parking lot, the trail comes to a fork where hikers can pick between two different routes to the three arches. There is no wrong choice, however, I prefer to head to the right directly to Turret Arch in the afternoon then loop to the other arches. In the morning, I prefer to take the trail to the left towards North Arch and then follow the loop around to South and Turret Arches.  This route ensures I am mostly facing sunlit arches instead of looking directly into the sun. However, it really depends on your photography goals as well as the time of day.

Turret Arch

I love Turret Arch and think this is one of the most versatile arches to photograph.  It can be photographed from both sides and has a wide variety of compositional choices.  The side facing the parking lot is best photographed in the afternoon while the side facing the North and South Windows is best photographed in the morning light. 

Afternoon photo from roadside pull off:

Morning photo from the opposite side of arch with 17mm lens.

The above image was taken in the morning from the back of the arch.  Along the trail are great options for compositions of both Turret Arch and South Arch.  However, I found the best compositions were off the trail.  The above image was taken to the left of the trail by about 50 yards. So be sure to take time and walk around the area and create your own composition of Turret Arch. From Turret a trail with another series of very short stairs leads to South Arch.

Stairs between South Arch and Turret Arch. 

Also along this trail there are good afternoon photo opportunities of North and South Window.

South Window

North and South Window

Now let’s talk about photographing the Double Arch Area which is directly across the parking lot. Here you will find one of the park’s best arches, Double Arch.  Double Arch is best photographed in the early morning hours, dusk and/or dawn.  It is also a wonderful arch for night photography but expect company and lots of lights and head lamps.

Double Arch Area

I have barely touched on the photo opportunities in the Windows Section of Arches National Park and could spend a couple weeks photographing this one area. This is not an area for “shoot and run” photography. 

Camera Settings and Gear:

The majority of my images were photographed at apertures between F8 and F11.  Shutter speeds and ISO setting were adjusted based on available light.  Since I was always photographing from a tripod, I had a great deal of flexibility in my shutter speed choices but had little need for extremely slow shutter speeds on these images.

Gear:

Lens:  With the exception of the image of Turret Arch from the roadside pull off, I photographed this area with lens in the range of 17-50mm. For the roadside image, I used a 400mm lens.
Filters:  I used a polarizer sparingly.  Skies in this area can already be very deep blue and will become too dark when over polarized. Pay attention to how dark the sky is before cranking that polarizer up as I have previously ruined images with a polarizer.
Other Filters:  None
Other:  I did not use flash but did use a remote shutter release and mirror lock up setting at times.  
Note: The settings above were all for day time photography.  Night images required completely different settings best covered in a separate post.

Summary

  • The Windows Section of the Arches National Park can take days and many return trips to properly photograph in the best light. I recommend allocating at least three partial days to this area. 
  • Crowds-It is next to impossible to photograph this area without people in the scene so use them to illustrate scale and outdoor activities.  Even at 10 P.M. people were still walking all over the arches.
  • Double Arch is best photographed on a dark sky night when the stars can truly shine.  The full moon and clouds that occurred during my visit produced images with dull to no stars.  
  • My best photography times were in the early mornings from an hour before sunrise to about 45 minutes after sunrise. Also late afternoon was a good time.  However about an hour after sunrise and also right before sunset, busload after busload of tourists arrived making photography a bit difficult. For some reason, the tour buses were not as plentiful around 4 to 5 in the evening.  Everyone was probably eating dinner which made this a good time to visit.

I photographed the above areas over the course of 5 days, then moved on to begin photographing nearby Dead Horse State Park.  My plan was to return to Arches and photograph other areas in the park.  Update- Remnants of a hurricane with flooding rains arrived in Utah.  Say what? Well it forced me to flee my campsite and Moab. I now had to deal with remains of a hurricane in the desert southwest! 

As always, thanks for joining me on another Road Trip Friday Adventure and I hope to see you next Friday at another southwest location.

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