Mesa Arch and Star Trails - Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Nikon D5, 14-24mm f/2.8
Mesa Arch is an incredibly popular shooting location in the Moab area. I’ve been there many times and every single visit requires a lot of “jostling” for position to get sunrise pictures without someone else’s leg in your image. The best strategy to stake a position is get there well before everyone else. My habit is always to get there about two hours before sunrise. Even that early doesn’t guarantee you first access.
Presuming really dedicated people would get to the Arch by five am with the sunrise at 7:30 and I wanted to get 2 hrs worth in star trails, that meant I needed to start shooting by three am. Good thing I got there early because I had problems and didn’t start shooting until 3:30.
By far the biggest challenge in night photography is focus. Focus is such a basic thing in photography but it’s very difficult when you can’t see anything in the dar. When your subjects are really far away--effectively at infinity--the challenge is much smaller but still substantial. When you’re trying to make a composition that has near and far elements, it’s really difficult. That’s why it took about 30 minutes for me to setup this image. I got to Mesa Arch on time, about three am. But, it took 30 minutes of mostly trial and error to set the composition and make sure the image was sharp throughout. Unfortunately, this meant my star trails aren’t as long as I hoped because sure enough, people started to arrive at five am. I only got about 90 minutes of star trails instead of two hours like I desired.