Sunday, May 26, 2013

Marble Canyon Splendor

Rising full moon, blue light and green airglow

I spent a couple days in the House Rock Wilderness south of the Vermillion Cliffs above Marble Canyon. This was a location I'd been to before, but my timing had been all wrong and had arrived at midday. I was going to make the most of this trip though and had this vision of a shot I might get. I imagined the canyon illuminated by both the blue light after sunset and the light from the full moon on the cliff faces. 

The first night I did my best to shoot the rising full moon, but the shots suffered from very windy conditions. My blue light capturing technique usually allows for a normal ISO setting and a long shutter speed. But gusty conditions had my camera and tripod vibrating like crazy. So, I was forced to use a high ISO setting to achieve a fast enough shutter speed to prevent camera shake. The shots were extremely noisy even with the noise reduction settings on the camera. Post-processing helped, but the light from the moon was only okay and most of the canyon was in shadow. A little green airglow on the horizon was a nice added bonus.

So, I laid down in the back of the truck that night with my fingers crossed the wind would dissipate by morning. I had one more shot at the blue light before sunrise. At 3 am, I peeked out to see the moon had gone behind clouds that had moved in. I was very happy to see some clouds, but It still didn't look good. The sky was a big flat gray mess. The moonlight was heavily filtered and like a giant soft box. That's good for portraiture, but bad for landscapes. 

Moonlight and Blue Light

I woke again at 4 am to see the moon was dropping below the clouds. I jumped out of the truck. No wind... I got really excited. I grabbed my camera gear and quickly walked to my vantage point. Was I going to get my dream shot? When I got to the canyon's edge, I could see the light was fantastic and much better than the night before. Moonlight was on the opposite side of the canyon and the blue light was hitting hard. Perfect. I must have taken 500 shots...

Sunrise over Marble Canyon

The clouds also provided a spectacular sunrise a few minutes later. You just never know if a sunrise or sunset is going to go off. I was confident it was going to be a good one though. The clouds weren't heavy, but light and wispy. It was very exciting to see the colors emerge and the sunrise do it's thing as the moon slipped below the horizon.

This is one of my favorite photographic locations in the state. The views are mind blowingly beautiful, almost too much so. Watching the full moon rise the night before was a very special experience and one that I will never forget. But it paled in comparison to the show I saw the next morning. 

There were even a few surprises... I was able to see where a couple river rafting companies had parked for the night below. Small headlamps and electric lanterns were tiny points of light along the beach. With my binoculars I could see the white-water rafts lined up at the beach along the Colorado River. I imagined what a good time they must have been having and what their day floating down Marble Canyon had been like. I'm pretty sure they missed the gorgeous sunrise so deep in the cut of the canyon though. The whole experience was nature at it's best and I felt very fortunate to be a witness.

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© 2013 G. Reid Helms / Arizona Panorama
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