Chasing the Light at White Pocket

Stone-Plateau

Stone Plateau, White Pocket, Paria/Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona
Nikon D800, 14-24mm, 2 seconds, F16, ISO 200

Earlier this month I spent sixteen days in the desert southwest of southern Utah and northern Arizona. I led two workshops in Zion National Park (images to come), ran a private workshop, and spent some time camping deep in the heart of the Paria/Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness at White Pocket. The first time I visited White Pocket–with fellow Dreamscapes blogger George Stocking–I fell in love with the bizarre landscape. The shapes, lines, and unreal color of this city of stone are pure magic for a landscape photographer. Mix in some interesting light and weather and you have a recipe for some seriously dramatic images! By the way, a big thanks to George for taking me out to this location for the first time. We had a great time together and it fueled my desire to return each year since that first trip.

Tortured Earth #2, Paria/Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona Nikon d800, 14-24mm, 1.6 seconds, F18, ISO 100

Tortured Earth #2, Paria/Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona
Nikon D800, 14-24mm, 1.6 seconds, F18, ISO 100

The image above was made in the middle of the afternoon. The clouds were just beginning to build up after a day of completely clear skies, so I left camp to scout images. The light was too harsh for color landscape photography, but perfect for black & white work. Once I noticed the symmetry between the clouds and twisted sandstone, I knew I immediately had to pull the camera from my pack and get this shot before the clouds moved out of position.

Wonderland, Paria/Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona Nikon D800, 14-24mm, Forodiox CPL, 1 second, F16, ISO 50

Wonderland, Paria/Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona
Nikon D800, 14-24mm, Forodiox CPL, 1 second, F16, ISO 50

The amazing variety of shapes and colors at White Pocket can leave you speechless and completely overwhelmed. I always try to focus on a few basic shapes or set of lines to create a strong composition in my imagery. This location is one that I had stumbled across before, but never had the right clouds appeared to make a suitably dramatic image. That all changed this evening as a near-perfect set of puffy clouds lined up directly above. The lines in the stone and the line of the clouds came together to form a vanishing point towards the far buttes in the composition. I waited until the last rays of the sun were striking the foreground rocks before tripping the shutter.

Red Planet, Paria/Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona Nikon D800, 14-24mm, 1 second, F14, ISO 200

Red Planet, Paria/Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona
Nikon D800, 14-24mm, 1 second, F14, ISO 200

The following morning I awoke in the dark two hours before sunrise. I was happy to see the clouds that rolled in at sunset the day before had not disappeared overnight. After making some strong coffee, I hiked into the sandstone. I was not planning on shooting Lollipop Rock, as I have taken some great images of it before, but the clouds and light were going to go off behind this location. So I settled for a slightly different composition than I have captured in the past. The light was a brilliant pink and it lasted long enough that I was able to quickly move around to a couple other spots. The lead-in image for this post was made just a few minutes after this one.

Brain Matter, Paria/Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona Nikon D800, 16-35mm, Singh Ray LB Polarizer, 1/15, F11, ISO 200

Brain Matter, Paria/Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona
Nikon D800, 16-35mm, Singh Ray LB Polarizer, 1/15, F11, ISO 200

As the light broke over the horizon, I walked up to the top of Brain Rock Mountain, or so I like to call it. I knew the shape of the clouds would perfectly mimic the shapes in the rock. I needed to get the shot quickly as the early, low-angled light struck the rocks. A cloud bank was moving in to the east. Just a few minutes later the sun was gone, and so was the image. It pays to move quickly sometimes and have a set of images in mind. The only way this is possible is to study the location in advance and shoot there often!

My campsite under the stars. Nikon D800, 14-24mm, 230 seconds, F 6.3, ISO 400, Campfire light and lantern in the tent.

My campsite under the stars.
Nikon D800, 14-24mm, 230 seconds, F 6.3, ISO 400, Campfire light and lantern in the tent.

My camp below the stars, only minutes away from White Pocket. It was an amazing three days in the back-country and I can’t wait to get back soon!!

Come explore Zion and the Desert Southwest with me next November. I have a workshop scheduled for three days in Zion and three days in Page where we will hike the Virgin River Narrows, view secret slots with waterfalls, explore the slot canyons of Page, and chase the desert light in some truly awe-inspiring locations. Space is limited to 8–and we are already down to just a few spots. Click here for more information and to register.

Author: Joseph Rossbach

Joseph Rossbach has been photographing the landscape for over twenty years. Joe is a frequent contributor and blogger for Outdoor Photographer Magazine, and travels extensively each year creating new images and teaching others of the art and technique of nature photography.

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