Page, Arizona is an interesting town. Drive right through it, and you might not have a second thought about it. That’s because most everything magical about this place is hidden. You have to know where to go, and if you DO know where to go, your mind will be blown by what Mother Nature has to offer here.
We visited Page last week, as Ben was teaching with The Digital Photo Workshops. This was our first event with these guys, and it was just great. In my opinion, any time you can learn and laugh at the same time is a GOOD experience. Not only was this workshop fun, but it had a very friendly, non-intimidating feel. Jeff and Randy, who run the workshops, are VERY knowledgeable, yet VERY approachable and fun. The workshop ran from Thursday evening through Sunday afternoon, but man did they pack a lot into those four days. I mean HOLY COW!
The first night was classroom only and included an orientation and some introductory lessons. The shooting started the following morning, with Antelope Canyon, and what a way to start! You’ve all seen the photographs of this slot canyon. It’s iconic. But remember how I said that many of Page’s treasures are hidden? Well you could walk right over Lower Antelope Canyon, and never even know it was underneath you. You literally have to slide/climb down through this big crack in the ground, and once you’re under, a vibrant, curvy corridor of rock opens up to you. It’s a fantastic place to shoot, and all the photographers in the workshop loved it. In most places, the light is soft and beautiful. Mix that with the brushed textures and beautiful colors and you’ve got a place where it’s hard to make a bad photograph. Our group got special photographers passes so we could be down there for two hours. The standard tour of the place is one hour and you have to stick with a guide, so that would pretty much be a no-go for us. For this trip, we stuck with Lower Antelope Canyon and avoided the Upper. Upper Antelope is breathtaking, but unfortunately, it’s more crowded than Disney World. You literally cant move in there. Ben and I did a photographer tour in there during a recent visit and it was so hard to maneuver and deal with all the people around you. The guides cleared out areas for 20-30 seconds at a time so we could shoot, but it was sheer madness and would not be suited for a workshop.
After the morning of shooting in the slot canyon, we all went to lunch and then returned to the classroom for a few hours of photo editing and lessons. In the late afternoon, we all took off again and headed to an area called Cliff Dwellers. We would be light painting there that evening and wanted to get there in time to frame things up before it got too dark. Cliff Dwellers is about 45 minutes from Page, and is really just a few old, run down dwellings surrounded by rocks but it was a great place for some night photography. Everyone had some fun shooting there before the sun went down, and once it got dark, Ben worked his magic and showed everyone how to paint with light. He covered a lot of techniques and everyone had a blast. Ben even has an e-book on light painting that will be hitting the virtual shelves just days from now.
The following morning, our shooting destination was Horseshoe Bend, and in order to get there while the light was still soft and pretty, we had to wake up at THREE AM. Now, mind you, Ben and I are night people. To us, three a.m. registers as night, not morning. When the alarm went off at that hour, my body was in a state of nauseated despair over the idea of waking up, leaving the bus, and hiking in the dark toward a giant cliff. LUCKILY, this feeling passed quickly. I am, after all, a photographer. I knew this would be worth it, and of course, it was. Horseshoe Bend is a spectacular sight at any time of day, but it’s very hard to get nice light that’s not to contrasty. At about 5 a.m., just before the sun came up, we got that nice light and were all shooting away.
This is another one of those places where you could drive right by it and never know it was there. Even as you’re walking toward it, the view is hidden. It’s not until you get within yards of the edge that you can even see what’s down there. Now, here’s the other thing about shooting Horseshoe Bend (other than the 3 a.m. wake-up): In order to get “the shot,” without cutting off any of the water below, you almost have to be hanging off a cliff. Literally. Personally, I’m pretty freaked out by this. When you’re shooting, it’s easy to get caught up with making a photograph and forget where you put your feet. So every time you see a shot of this scene without any rock in the foreground, you can be pretty sure that photographer had moxy.
After another couple hours of classroom time, we all got back in the cars and headed toward Monument Valley (2 hours away) to shoot sunset. Just like many of the areas in Page, Arizona, Monument Valley is Indian territory, and we got special photographers’ passes to shoot there as well. (You don’t NEED a special pass to photograph there, but we were a group and we wanted access after sunset, when the gates usually close to visitors.) This is one of those epic, humbling places that makes you feel very small when you’re there. Some of the workshop attendees said they expected to see John Wayne riding by on a horse at any moment, and that’s really how you feel there… like you’re in the middle of a western movie. (Actually, a few John Wayne movies were shot in and around Monument Valley.) We didn’t have time to drive completely around the valley because every time we stopped the cars we’d get out and shoot for 30-40 minutes. And that’s really what it’s all about, right?
The giant rock structures you see here are called buttes, and during the course of our shoot, this word got a lot of corny abuse. You’d here everything from “Isn’t this place butte-ful!?” to “Get your damn butte out of my shot!” We stayed until just after the sun went down, then got back in the cars for the 2 hour drive back to Page.
Here’s just a side note for anyone planning to visit the Page area. Most restaurants and bars close down early there. Like 9:00… even on a Saturday. If you’re used to eating late and staying out late, this could be a bit of a frustration. After our super long day of shooting and driving, we all got back to town, looking for a place to grab a beer/cocktail/etc. and what was the best we could do? … A bowling alley. Yup. Hey, at least we’re making memories! (We actually had a lot of fun there. It was a smoke-free place called “The Bowl.”
Sunday morning was our last shoot of the workshop, and got up around 4:00 a.m. (which felt like sleeping in compared to the previous morning!) and drove to a close-by area on Lake Powell, in the Glen Canyon recreation area. It was an interesting place to shoot, but not as spectacular as some of the previous locations. We could climb around on the swirly rocks to get different views of the lake and the canyons in the distance. The clouds started out pretty cool that morning, so they were a good photo subject too.
There was one more afternoon of classroom time, where the guys gave a few more lessons and everyone shared their images from the previous days. In the end, a great time was had by all. I got some really nice images, made some memories, and really enjoyed the company. All of the people attending the workshop were just great… great to shoot with and great to hang out with.
I made a video from the event, and you can check that out below. If you’re a photographer and interested in joining us on one of these adventures, Ben is teaching with the DPW gang in Zion National Park and at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, both in October. You can check those out on the workshops page of www.DigitalMastery.com.
More to come!
For more great stuff from Page, Arizona, check out my blog post from last year. It includes additional awesomeness, including The Wave, which is one of the wildest places I’ve ever seen. You can read about that HERE.