Posted by: kerryl29 | July 19, 2021

The Desert Southwest: White Pocket, Part II

One oversight I was guilty of during the first afternoon/evening at White Pocket was not paying enough attention to scouting locations for the following morning’s sunrise. So when we got up and out during the predawn light of the morning, it felt like a bit of a scramble. Predicting exactly where the best color in the sky would be ahead of time was, shall we say, impossible, due to an unexpected cloud bank that absorbed much of the best light (see the second image in this sequence). It’s not that it wasn’t a good sunrise, because it was. But my compositional/orientational predictions ended up being a bit off.

White Pocket Sunrise, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona

Shooting at White Pocket, suffice to say, isn’t anything like photographing at an overlook (like Little Cut), even an overlook with an extensive array of directional options (like Stud Horse Point). At White Pocket, potential compositional options are almost literally everywhere, and that sounds great…and, in many ways, it is. But having compositional options everywhere doesn’t necessarily mean that there are great compositions everywhere. And I found myself battling with that precept during sunrise that morning.

White Pocket Sunrise, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona

And when the light started to go, it went very quickly. Again, due to being unable to predict in advance where the best sky color was going to be and when that color was at its most expansive, I found myself with a disappointing composition. I made the image anyway.

White Pocket Sunrise, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona

As the color faded, I started to move, heading off to the “lone tree” area where I had photographed the previous day. My expectation was that the light would become harsh quickly, so I basically ran over to this area and, with very different light than had been in evidence the previous day, adjusted my compositions accordingly.

White Pocket Reflections, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
White Pocket, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
White Pocket Moonset, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
White Pocket, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona

Jason found me at this point, just as I was getting ready to move on, and we decamped to the quadrant of White Pocket that had been so productive for us the previous day. But before we got there, we spent some time at an interim spot that I had effectively ignored the prior evening.

White Pocket, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
White Pocket, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona

We were staring at mostly cloudy skies at this point. The sun would peak out now and again, but it was almost always diffused. While this prevented us from getting truly dramatic angular lighting, that wouldn’t have lasted very long. In fact, if the sun had been out in full force that morning, the shooting day likely would have been effectively over at this point, at least for color photography. But we ended up with an extended period of this diffused lighting. The rest of that morning’s shoot produced a combination of color and monochrome imagery. Once again, I was forced to confront any preconceived biases I had about when black and white photography was called for. I had to remember that the subject matter–not just the lighting–was a massive factor in assessing which direction to go. (I’ll flesh out my thoughts on this concept more fully in the next thematic post.)

White Pocket Black & White, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
White Pocket, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
White Pocket, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
White Pocket Black & White, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona

We gradually moved toward the active quadrant of White Pocket, but kept stopping along the way when things stimulated our interest.

White Pocket Abstract, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
White Pocket Black & White, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona

The previous afternoon, I had explored a small alcove, cut into one of the rock formations, that formed a kind of box canyon. The light had been unflattering to the location then, but now it was much more conducive to photography, so I returned and tried to do the place justice.

White Pocket Reflections, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona

What I found particularly compelling about this area was the set of sweeping lines, cut into the rock face striations.

White Pocket Intimate, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
White Pocket Intimate Black & White, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona

Most of this imagery was created by placing the tripod as low as possible and then making copious use of the camera’s focus stacking feature.

White Pocket, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
White Pocket Black & White, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona

We finally made it down into the “valley,” near the bottom of a decline (as seen in the two images immediately above).

White Pocket Reflections, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
White Pocket Black & White, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
White Pocket, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
White Pocket Black & White, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
White Pocket, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
White Pocket Black & White, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona

About this time, most of the cloud cover had lifted and it became mostly sunny. The light was becoming quite harsh, so we headed back to the parking area.

This might have been the end of the morning’s shoot, but Jason had found some GPS coordinates for an area very nearby that was reputed to have Moqui Marbles. We had both seen marbles before, but we were pretty excited at another opportunity to see–and possibly photograph–them. I punched the coordinates into my GPS, which estimated the location about a mile away, as the crow files, from our present location. (This was still part of White Pocket, but separated from the main area of rock formations.) The hike there was modestly longer, because we had to follow topographic features, but it was a bit of a slog because part of it was through deep, loose sand. It wasn’t really all that difficult, just kind of annoying. There was a trail, of sorts, to follow and eventually we found ourselves in another bowl of sculpted Navajo Sandstone.

And there were the marbles. We were pretty disappointed. They were quite small and, more to the point, there really weren’t all that many of them. But I thought the patterns they formed, in the stone crevices, were kind of interesting. Besides, there was a wall–in open shade–right nearby, that I thought lent itself to abstract compositions, so I produced a few images, of both the wall and the marbles.

White Pocket Intimate Black & White, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
Moki Marbles Black & White, White Pocket, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
White Pocket Intimate Black & White, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
White Pocket Intimate, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
Moki Marbles Black & White, White Pocket, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona

As we were hiking back to the parking area the sky was clouding up and the wind had also kicked up pretty significantly (the forecast had called for both of these developments). These conditions caused us to decided to pull up stakes and move on from White Pocket. But that wasn’t the end of the day’s photography, as I’ll detail in the next chronological post in this series.


Responses

  1. Wonderful pictures

    • Thanks very much!

  2. Beautiful in both colour and b&w. You mention about planning Your composition ahead of time. What would you have done differently?

  3. You have definitely shown us that the White Pocket landscape is full of photographic opportunities, and it looks like you were able to take advantage of them.

    • Thanks, Ellen.

      I was able to take advantage of some of White Pocket’s photo opps. I think it would take a lifetime or two to take advantage of all of them. Maybe not even then.

  4. Incredible landscape and shots!

    • Thanks very much!

  5. Kerry, I’m really enjoying your White Pocket posts. It’s nice to see the mix of color and B&W. Although the rocks make wonderful B&W comps, I always feel a bit sad when giving up such dramatic color. It’s a difficult decision at times. Very nicely done!

    • Thanks, Steve!

      Regarding the color/BW choice…it doesn’t have to be one or the other. From time to time I run across an image that I think works both ways and, if you look carefully at the photos in this post, I’ve managed to sneak in a couple that have been processed both ways. FWIW, I always shoot in color and convert to monochrome, even for those images that I only intend to render in black & white.

  6. Wow, so wunderful Photos and very nice Landscape!

  7. I’ve not heard of White Pocket before, and I’m wondering why. Thanks for this inspiring introduction.

    • Hi Gary. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

      I don’t think White Pocket is all that well-known. It’s dramatically overshadowed by The Wave, which is relatively nearby (also in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument), and getting there is pretty involved.

  8. […] I want to discuss the subject in the context of my experience at White Pocket, which I’ve chronicled in the previous two posts. It’s no accident that many of the images accompanying these two […]

  9. […] the morning shoot at White Pocket on the second full day of the trip, we had a decision to make: stick around White Pocket for […]


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