A Sunset at the Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, UT


The Delicate Arch may be the most photographed natural arch in the world and is clearly the most famous.  Every photographer wants this shot.  Arches National Park is conveniently located near the town of Moab, UT, the jumping off point for great outdoor fun.  The following is our experience photographing the Delicate Arch.

The Plan – the Delicate Arch is a sunset shot.  It takes about 30-45 minutes to get to the parking area from Moab AND it is always busy and often times full.  The overflow parking can run for a half mile or more from the trail head.  You also want to be in position at the right time.  I would estimate you will want to be set-up and ready to shoot at least an hour before actual sunset, so plan accordingly (see below).

The Hike – Mary and I are in good shape, but the hike is no picnic.  It is 1.5 miles uphill the whole way and can take 40-65 minutes.  Granted I saw little kids up there and many people that looked out of shape.  The only question to ask is how much time and pain you want to endure to see this fantastic arch.  After the sun goes down, you should plan on having a flashlight or headlamp as the hike down will be in the dark on slippery rock.

The Crowd – There are two kinds of people here.  The serious photographers are lined up on the west-side or right-side of the arch in a semi circle waiting for the light to be just right to get their sunset shot.  The tourists are lined up on the east-side or left-side taking snap shots and silly poses under the arch.  This inevitably leads to conflict.  The only saving grace is after the light gets to low, most point and shoots can not handle the low-light conditions and eventually people stop walking under the arch.  They also stop because the photographers are yelling at them.

The Light – Most of the photos you will see of the Delicate Arch have beautiful golden-yellow side-lighting from a setting sun.  We did not.  You could sense and see the growing frustration with the photographers as the overcast sky “blocked” the sunset.  Tensions and disappointment oozed through the air.  After a 45 minute hike hauling all of your gear, waiting patiently for an hour for the right light, and enduring the tourists in your photo, the fact that there would be no sunset light created a lot of stress and disappointment  for our photographers.

Composition – Well, I do think you should do both portrait and landscape.  I like the landscape orientation myself.  You can also decide how much foreground you want and how much sky.  There is an open question about what you put into the arch and how much of it.  The La Sal Mountains are behind the arch and I have seen many photos with nice snowy mountains.  You can also move to the right and get a little different angle on the arch.

Conclusions – Mary found this outing very unsatisfying and stressful.  The hike was unpleasant.  The crowd was overwhelming and unfriendly.  It just did not lend itself to a peaceful, relaxing nature experience.  This, my friends,  is what we call “combat photography.”  You may get your shot, but it will be a battle – physically and mentally.

Oh ya, as the sun sank in the west, so did our hopes for a light bounce off of the arch.  Then, out of nowhere, the La Sal Mountains lit up like a pink Christmas Tree.  The camera shutters sounded like machine guns going off.  All was not lost.  The photographers who stayed and got THE SHOT hiked down in the dark – happy, chatty, and tired.  To see more of photographs, please go to www.pamphotography.com.

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