Setting the Scene – The Iconic Horseshoe Bend in the Colorado River
There are some iconic places in the world that are immediately recognizable. These places have been featured in thousands of photographs, and I am sure many of you can find them on a map without inputting the location.
One such location is the iconic Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River. This meander in the Colorado River has become synonymous with the state of Arizona, and the Grand Canyon. It sits to the south of the city of Page, and north of the Marble Canyon, and the Grand Canyon. Oftentimes, it is known as the East Rim of the Grand Canyon.
To access this natural feature, you must hike for approx. 1.2km from US Route 89. The walk is relatively easy, and there is a sizeable, dedicated parking lot for the Horseshoe Bend. I love the epic scenery here of the Arizona wilderness – it compares to nothing else and stirs up visions of ages past and the Wild West.
Throughout the length of the Colorado River, you can find amazing meanders and shapes such as this. The mighty river has carved a path through this wilderness and has evolved the landscape over millions of years. The sad thing is, is that eventually, the river will simply cut the horseshoe bend out. It will break through the rock and carve a new path – this will leave the horseshoe bend dry, but still an impressive sight, nonetheless.
Creating the Composition – Wide angles for maximum impact
For this adventure, my original intention was to create some sunset time-lapse footage of the Horseshoe Bend. The temperatures were high, but it was incredibly windy! As you can imagine, standing at the edge of the basin subjects you to blasts of wind.
I, unfortunately, paid the price here! If you zoom in on this photo in the bottom center, you may notice what looks like a GoPro. Yes, that is my GoPro! The wind took it from me and it plummeted to the bottom of the Horseshoe Bend! If you venture to this spot, I can't stress the importance of keeping your gear safe enough.
Regardless, I still managed to take some amazing photos as you can see from this example. I suppose it makes a good story to tell too!
For landscape photography, a wide-angle lens can help
When photographing the Horseshoe Bend, you need a wide-angle lens. If you don’t have a wide-angle lens, you may not be able to capture the entirety of this landscape in one shot.
You can of course make a panorama, but I feel using a wide-angle lens (with a focal distance of 35mm or less) is far better. The time of day is also important so you can create enough contrast in the landscape and bring out the beautiful colors of the rock faces.
This photo didn't require any special techniques. It was just a case of getting the right exposure and using a small aperture so that the whole landscape was in focus. You could potentially try a long exposure shot here to create a smoothing effect on the Colorado River, but I just wanted a natural shot where the water showed its undulations and current.
The overall effect is pleasing. You can easily gain a sense of the vastness of this bend. Also, I feel it emphasizes the curve of the river, and the path it has carved perfectly. The colors of the wilderness also look superb.
What Makes This Photo Stand Out?
This photo has so many elements that make it impressive. Firstly, the subject itself is awe-inspiring. It’s difficult NOT to take an amazing photo of the Horseshoe Bend. Even beginners could create a decent photo – the landscape does most of the work for you!
However, I must give myself some credit! Using a wide-angle lens is of course a must. Without a wide-angle lens, you would not be able to capture the enormity and span of this natural meander. My Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 is a brilliant lens and perfect for sweeping landscape shots like this.
Also, the colors and contrast in this photo are perfectly balanced. Firstly, you have the varied, beautiful hues of pinks, oranges, yellows, and reds of the canyon-like rock face. This is contrasted with the deep, dark blues of the mighty Colorado River.
The shapes and curves of this photo are also pleasing. The sweeping bend of the Colorado River is mirrored perfectly by the natural curve that it has carved-out in the land. What can I say – I am certainly not the first person to photograph this epic natural landscape. However, I believe that as photographers, we should still create our own versions of these iconic locations and put our own skills to use regardless.