Willa Cather’s quote depicts the theme we pursue in the Canyonlands National Park. The endless canyons, towering mesas, pinnacles, cliffs, and spires stretching across 527 square miles inspires the creative photographer to capture a world that seems inverted, in a land formed by the currents and tributaries of Utah’s Green and Colorado rivers. We will not hurry; we will explore and photograph moments of sublime solitude in the more remote stretches and create our own version of the West’s most photographed landforms, Mesa Arch, Fisher Rock, White Rim Road, and more. We will let the nature of the Canyonlands sneak up on us and take root in our art photography, and in our hearts. Beyond the roads, and often far below the sky, we will absorb what must be consciousness before there was so much of it.
Canyonlands Art Photography
Canyonlands is one of those rare places for the landscape photographer seeking diverse self-expression opportunities. Our goal as a landscape artist is to express our subjective thoughts, feelings, and perhaps our personality. Light-reflecting from landscape forms and objects — sky, ground, trees, rocks, waterfalls, etc.—seems to make photography more suitable for documentary images, rather than for creating expressive landscape art with an emotional range that is beyond the lens. This is because, in photography’s early days, the purpose of the camera was to document reality with remarkable accuracy.
Over time photographers moved the creative needle from documentary to narrative, and photographic art appeared from developer chemicals of those early darkrooms. Compared to painters, writers, and other artists whose media allows them to conjure whatever concepts necessary to fit their expressive thoughts, photographic artists must work with a core subject captured from reality. Expressive photography requires an investment of emotion and perceptive effort beyond photographic tools and postproduction techniques. The art photographer needs to develop a degree of maturity and depth and an understanding of visual sense—specifically, how visual signals can be employed to extract known responses from viewers. And that is what we teach in the Canyonlands Masterclass.
Canyonlands is not so much a landscape structure as it is a complex confusion of clefts and spires between two rivers that form a remote region of pristine solitude. It is a right-angled country of standing rock, and the high mesa known as the Island in the Sky is where we will concentrate our photographic work. On every side the ground drops in great stairsteps or with a direct falloff. The park’s isolation and preponderance of backcountry make landscape art photography a spectacular experience, and with our four-wheel drive vehicles we will explore landscape locations that few photographers ever reach.
Our Masterclass selects locations that yield thematic opportunities for photographers to grab the hidden wonders of the White Rim Road and Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River that are lit by spears of sunlight. After all, we are here to create images that are a vision beyond documentation in a land barely documented.
Inspirational Visualization Rules the Day
No matter how much research and instructor assistance you get, when we come to a new location, we see the landscape for the first time. Some scenes and light patterns will inspire us, and others will be ignored or overlooked on our first visit. Moreover, time of day and weather can change our inspiration reaction as well.
For example, everyone who has been to the iconic Mesa Arch feels compelled to squeeze the shutter at every twist and turn. But in our Masterclass, we teach photographers to slow down and internalize what they see with terms that articulate what they feel before arriving at a composition frame. Your photograph is a symbol for your feelings and for the things you wish to express—something that will evoke a desired response from your viewer. So, it is critical to visualize the image in terms of capture, postproduction approaches, and ultimately an image that is a vision beyond documentation
Consider the postproduction steps that you will take while still capturing the image(s). There may be none, a few, or many if you are repurposing the image. We often refer to this as post visualization, a process where we relive our capture experiences and create work beyond our lens. During our masterclasses, we spend time in postproduction classes growing our art with basic and advanced techniques.
Canyonlands is a one of the most unique opportunities available for the landscape photographer who wants to advance his craft and craft images that portray self-expression and interpretation of our shared American Landscape.
In Canyonlands there is this sense that one will know the Grand Scenic image intuitively but recognize that the details are where the creative image lies. Here the inverted land is a mixture of dark shadows and white Navajo rock tops, nestled between red plateaus that between and inverted sky and earth. Some things are a constant in our National Parks and all things become a memory captured for the landscape art photographer.
This is why photographers come here.