Yellow Rock, Utah: Sunset in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

Sunset atop Yellow Rock, Utah, Southwest USA
Yellow Rock within Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is one of many fabulous natural beauties!
Yellow Rock, Utah remains one of the most unique and beautiful locations I've ever visited.  I've traveled in pursuit of great photo locations for 12 years now and Yellow Rock remains one of the most photogenic in memory.  I visited this remote location once, in 2008 (before blogging, so I thought it deserved a blog post now).  After 9 years, this photo remains one of my favorite.  I'd ascended the monolith, huffing and puffing, until I reached the top.  I searched around, looking for good photo subjects.  I discovered this wavy line of white and deep purple etched on the yellow sandstone.  Just about this time, sunset happened and the last sun rays shone on the distant cliffs and clouds.

Processing note:  This photo was before HDR and multiple exposure blending.  I shot with a Lee graduated neutral density filter to balance out the exposure.  Later I developed this in photoshop with small adjustment using the screen and multiply layers.

This year I will return and hope to photograph a scene equal to or better than this old gem from a great hike.  

Beachy Head Photography Guide: White Cliffs and Surroundings

Red and White Lighthouse in United Kingdom
Beachy Head Lighthouse, as seen from the cliffs high above
Beachy head is extremely photogenic.  Some pictures of those massive white cliffs are instantly recognizable as England.  They are featured in several movies.  Though the "white cliffs of Dover" are what we learn in school, Beachy Head is what we see in the pictures.  Dover is a bit further east but not as spectacular.

What is there to photograph here?
1.  The White Cliffs of Beachy Head can be shot in isolation or with some of the sea birds to give sense of scale.
2.  Coast Guard Cottages -- these are further west and require a circuitous drive but the view with the white cliffs in the background is unparalleled!
dawn at the coast guard cottages with white chalk cliffs
Coast Guard Cottages and the White Cliffs at
Beachy Head, United Kingdom
3.  Birling Gap -- This looks west towards those Coast Guard Cottages and shows the "Seven Sisters".
View of Birling Gap and Seven Sisters
View towards Birling Gap (lighthouse in distance) with
Seven Sisters -- the chalk cliff peaks
4.  Beachy Head -- the cliffs directly above the lighthouse are spectacular, scary and straight down!  Don't get too close to the edge.  It doesn't look very stable to me.
Beachy Head Chalk Cliffs and Green Grass
Chalk Cliffs at Beachy Head.  The lighthouse stands in the
sea at high tide.  At low tide the land stretches out to it.  
5.  The Beachy Head Lighthouse.  I captured this in many shots but found the isolated shot with the house surrounded by the angry ocean to be my favorite.

And nearby:
1.  The Long Man of Wilmington
Long Man of Wilmington Chalk Drawing Hill
Long Man of Wilmington, near Beachy Head, UK
2.  Lovely photogenic village of Alfriston.  This little town stole my heart.  It's picture perfect and has most-welcoming residents.  Do stop by and visit their lovely church.
Church and Cemetery with flowers in Alfriston, UK
Alfriston Church and Graves with beautiful flowers


Gordon Smith shooting a wedding
Using the 5D Mark IV is a breeze.
I got a new Canon 5D Mark 4 (5D Mark IV) 6 months ago.  I’ve put my Canon 1Ds Mark III into semi-retirement.  I thought it might be worthwhile to compare the two exceptional cameras.  If it’s possible to love a piece of magnesium alloy housing mirrors and computer chips, then I loved my 1Ds Mark III.  I still do. 

After shooting for half a year, I discovered my new 5D Mark IV can do everything my 1Ds Mark 3 did and more.  What can it do better than the 1Ds Mark III?  Here’s my much-anticipated list of my favorites:


10.  Touchscreen can be used for menus, zooming, shutter, focus and much more.
9.  Optional battery grip:  you can go "big camera" or "small camera" as you prefer.
8.  Fast frames per second with a larger buffer for those large files.
7.  Multiple Speedlite control remotely from the touchscreen!
6.  Self timer option allows multiple exposures.  You set the frames and interval to whatever you want.
Photographer Gordon Smith in the United Kingdom

5.  HD and 4K movies.  Heck, any movies are better than no movie mode at all that I previously had.
4.  ISO that lets me shoot in the dark.  Previously my ISO limits were 1600.  Now it’s nearly infinite with choices of 3200, 6400, 12800, 25600 and even more.  This is a big plus and the image quality at these higher ISO is vastly improved!
3.  auto ISO choice makes quality shots quick and easy.  That was very handy at a recent wedding shoot.
2.  Built-in level within the viewfinder.  Never shoot a slanted horizon again!
1.  GPS tagging photos automatically.  As a landscape photographer, I love this feature!

photographer Gordon Smith

Hell Hole Canyon Beauty

Tree with purple blossoms in Hell Hole Canyon, Utah
Purple Blossoms of Spring as seen on the Hellhole (or Hell Hole) Trail in Red Cliffs Desert Reserve
The Red Cliffs Desert Reserve is a vast area north of St. George.  The reserve was initially formed, in part, because of the desert tortoise.  These seldom-seen residents are a threatened local species.  The reserve status protects this land for recreational use and I’ve enjoyed several jaunts into various parts of the reserve.  Some have famous names like Yant Flat or the Vortex.  Others are unknown. 

On this day I hiked into an unknown area named “Hell hole” because of the miserable heart in the summer.  My visit had clouds and rain and I felt it more like a desert garden than a pit of despair.  I know that a waterfall can appear from the high cliffs if it rains enough.  I hoped for a waterfall appearance . . . but got something different. 

The trail heads up a wash on the west side of Red Mountain.  The sandy going makes for slow travel.  Raindrops falling on and off had me donning and doffing my rain jacket several times.  The sheer cliff walls get closer and closer until you cannot go any further.  The hike ends at the cliffs. 

This furthest-possible location holds some beautiful scenery.  A handful of healthy cottonwood trees hide beside some muddy watering holes.  In March they are freshly green and vibrant against the sandstone backdrop.  After taking a few pictures here I explored a bit more and found my greatest prize:  a large bush blooming with purple flowers.  Desert blooms are rare and beautiful events.  This tall bush was at peak for color and evenly covered with blossoms on every branch!  Even more unique, there wasn’t another bush like it anywhere.  I photographed several angles and perspectives in the light rain and left feeling satisfied that’s I’d captured something rare and wonderful.