Posted by: kerryl29 | September 26, 2019

The Story Behind the Image: Ingenuity?

Back in the spring of 2012, I undertook a photo trip to Utah and Nevada.  The final stop on the trip was Valley of Fire State Park, about an hour northeast of Las Vegas.  The park is phenomenal and I long to return there at some point.  One of the subjects I hoped to photograph during my few days in Nevada was the unofficially named “Windstone Arch.”  My singular experience photographing Windstone is the focus of this entry.

Windstone Arch was made famous by well-known landscape photographer David Muench, who most recently included a photograph of the feature on the cover of his book Windstone:  Natural Arches, Bridges and Other Openings.  (I received a copy of the book myself as a gift, 12 or 13 years ago.)  The “Windstone” name for the feature is colloquial and comes from the title of the book.  Technically, as far as I can tell, the feature is unnamed.

My experience with Windstone Arch is kind of interesting.  At least I think it’s interesting; your mileage may vary.  Despite having GPS coordinates and the knowledge that Windstone was within a couple of hundred feet of the park’s Loop Road, I found it remarkably difficult to find.  I’d spent some time during the previous day’s scouting session wandering around in search of it.

During that earlier scouting session, after wandering around for a good half an hour, I suddenly found Windstone itself.  The light that afternoon was awful; I didn’t even have my camera equipment with me, since I knew I wouldn’t be doing any shooting then, but I spent some time sizing Windstone up with the naked eye.  It’s essentially a small, delicate cave-like feature, with openings at both ends and a remarkably photogenic arch within the cave itself.  The classic shot is the one on the cover of the Muench book.  As luck would have it, this was the opening that I poked my head into first.  When I was there on the afternoon of the scouting session, direct sunlight was flooding into the chamber, but I knew that I was in the right place.  I took the time to climb down from the first opening and find my way up to the other side.  Again, sunlight was directly impacting the shot, but–weirdo that I am, I guess–I liked the composition better from this side–the shot that, as best as I can tell, people don’t ordinarily shoot.  I made up my mind that, the following morning, I’d produce images from both sides.

It was a good plan, but it was flawed, as I found out when I returned to Windstone on the morning of the next day.  I climbed up to the chamber from my preferred side–the non-iconic side.  There were two openings toward the rear of the chamber that the sun, in the southeast sky, was flooding directly.  Ah, I thought to myself…perhaps this is the reason no one shoots it from this direction!  You need the sun up to get the dramatic impact of the reflected light, but by the time the sun is high enough to make that happen it ruins the shot by pouring through those openings.  I fiddled around with multiple exposures so I could play the HDR game in post processing, but I knew even as I was doing so that it was a waste of time.  You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Very disappointed, I climbed down and went back up to the iconic side.  The sun was no problem from there; the openings were behind my shooting position and actually helped fill the chamber with indirect–but highly photogenic–reflected light.  So I produced the iconic-side image with my 14-24 mm lens.  You can see one of the iconic-side images below.   The sunlight openings I mentioned are behind the camera.  I was on my hands and knees in the cramped setting; my tripod was set up very low as a result.

Windstone, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

When I was done, I began gathering up my things, in preparation to move on to the next site, but before packing up for good, I took another look at the openings–the ones that were killing the shot that I really wanted–behind me.  They weren’t that large.  I decided to check them out from outside of the cave.  Because of the topography of the rock formations, I wasn’t even sure if I could get to the outside of the openings, but after a little bit of rock hopping and a 500-foot (approximately) walk, I found that I was in fact able to get there.  As I’d surmised, the openings weren’t huge.  They were, however, 2-4 feet above the rocks I was standing on.  I had a brainstorm; what if I could diffuse the light coming through the openings?  I had brought two diffusers with me; I’d used one of them–a white umbrella that makes for a wonderful hands-free diffuser–on a couple of occasions at other locations on this trip.  The other I hadn’t used to that point;  it was an over-sized disk reflector-diffuser.  Could I possibly rig something up that would solve my exposure problem?  It was a worth a try.

I ran back down to the car and grabbed both diffusers and ran all the way back up to the outside of the openings.  I then spent several minutes trying to prop the diffusers up in a way that they would both stay in place and block all of the light that was streaming through.  I thought I’d accomplished the task and ran back down to the cave.  Nope.  There was still direct sunlight hitting the walls.  Back up to the diffusers I went and adjusted them…and they fell down.  So I started over again.  After another few minutes I thought I’d done what was necessary and ran back down.  This time, it looked good.  I quickly gathered up my tripod-mounted camera, took it over to the other side and set up.  Perfect.  No direct sunlight and I instantly remembered why I had preferred this side the previous day.

Windstone Arch, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

When I finished at Windstone, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, given my moment of inspiration regarding the diffusers.  The moral of the story:  explore every possible alternative.


Responses

  1. Great lesson for us all…and beautiful images to provide further inspiration.

    • Thanks, Ellen.

  2. Wonderful light. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks very much!

  3. Worth reading. Really nice❣️

    • Thanks very much!


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