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Strange Rocks

May 11

In In The Field at 11:02pm

In Moab, Utah, a good place to look at rocks. There are magic rocks, you know. Out west, certain formations have strange, almost mystical powers to make people disappear, or do odd things. Witness my bud Moose’s blog from a bit ago, where some guy named Joe Blow Tourist was sitting on such a rock, and simply vanished! Pixel dust. Ended up as a broken pile of bones at the bottom of the canyon.



The rock in question is not in Moab, it’s in New Mexico, the land of enchantment, brother moon, sister sky, and uncle indigestion. The magic of the rock was also visited upon Moose, albeit in a different way…..

Now here we are together, again, amidst the rocks. We went to visit a famous one this morning, dutifully arising in the blackness of the night, and traveling to meet the sun. Our group arrived in the gloom, and of course, there was already someone there, tripod arranged, clad for the long haul in the chilly darkness, shoulders set in absolute determination to get the shot. As we all would be, having spent half the night hugging a tripod, cold comfort indeed.

“Don’t cross that line,” was the cheery greeting to our gaggle of shooters. Understandable. Spending hours stamping your feet in the cold focuses both the mind and the camera, and it is natural to start to feel, well, proprietary, about this mute piece of stone. Reminding him that this rock belongs to no man, and we could all work together to secure a few precious frames produced, well, not exactly a gesture of teamwork.

But salvation arrived in the form of whole busloads of Asian tourists! I turned and saw so many of them flooding into this little piece of canyon land I thought I was watching a battle sequence from The Last Samurai. Bubbling with enthusiasm, each with a point and shoot in virtually every pocket, they quite wonderfully turned the steely, territorial attitudes of the pre-dawn into a something akin to a celebration of spring and sun on the rocks.



Being a people shooter more than a rock shooter, I applauded this event. These folks were great. Talked to a few, shot some pix with them, and then I noticed the gentleman who seemed to have developed a portrait franchise on the left edge of the arch. He posed everybody carefully, shot multiple frames, got subjects to twist hips and legs just so. I think, you know, I look, well, for 6am, damn good.


It was just a terrific, energetic morning. I love watching folks with unabashed photo enthusiasm, all shooting each other against this most famous of rocks, and shooting “me and my baby” shots. There were a few crusty moments as the mentality of “shooting the rock” met head on with the mentality of “shooting me in front of the rock.” But it was cool, and made the whole trek out there worth it.

And I did, at the end, get a rock picture.


Night before our canyon adventures, we had very different subject matter–an old ramshackle town called Cisco. I guess there was one similarity. Just like in the canyon, the old shacks and decaying junk around Cisco did not move. Usually I regard locations such as this as portrait settings. Tina, one of our participants, agreed to be a subject in front of an old trailer. Sun was pretty much down, so a put a flash in the distance, roughly at the angle where the sun had been.


Got an angle of incidence/reflection highlight, and then moved Tina’s wonderful face into the frame, lighting her with an EzyBox Hotshoe softbox (24 inch). Two lights, TTL, done deal.


Off to San Diego shortly, to the NIK Summit. Organized by the legendary Tony Corbell, this gathering should be very cool, and in, of course, a cool place. I feel bad going there actually, ’cause my arrival will probably interrupt their non-stop run of beautiful sunny days. Weather Jonah Strikes Again! Alan Hess already tweeted that he is sandbagging his house and preparing for the torrential rains and flash floods that will attend my arrival. More tk….

Alan Hess says:

on May 11, 2010 at 11:13 pm

the rocks look great but it must be hard getting them to pose just so.

As for the weather, I have laid in a supply of food and water just in case the water levels rise to flood levels.

I am actually sorry that I will not be able to make it to the Nik Sumit because of prior shooting commitments in Anaheim on Thursday and at the House of Blues on Saturday night. Looks like a good time with great shooting locations. If I don’t see you in here (you know, because of the rain and flooding) I’ll see you in Vegas for Photoshop World.

Duane says:

on May 12, 2010 at 1:19 am

The Moab area is one of my family’s favorite places to travel to with our Airstream. We’ve made the trek there the last two falls.

Our favorite local is Dead Horse Point and crowds don’t seem to be as large. Plus from the campground there you can easily walk to the canyon where no one is around.

Plus the drive out of Moab along the Colorado River along Highway 128 is spectacular during the fall as the Aspens change color.

Nater Perkes says:

on May 12, 2010 at 2:15 am


Love the wit, and LOVE the photos, as usual! Thank you.

Barbara Thorbjörnsson says:

on May 12, 2010 at 6:40 am

The photo taken at sunset of the canyon, (the one with no people) is gorgeous. Absolutely beautiful!

karl bratby says:

on May 12, 2010 at 7:41 am

Some amazing shots Joe!

Lewis W says:

on May 12, 2010 at 7:55 am

That’s the spirit, Joe. The world is a better place because of your patience. It was the first time for a lot of those folks. Now just share the armrest to San Diego.

Howard Haby says:

on May 12, 2010 at 9:13 am

Great rock shot joe, and love the portrait of Tina. You’re a natural 6am model, I’m sure the asian tourist were thrilled. I hope the next blog entry isn’t going to announce that you’ve thrown the camera down for good, and will be embarking on a career walking the fashion runways of Europe! :) Good stuff. Oh, and the moose video gave me a two minute giggle. The music, moose riding the rock, funny man.

William Beem says:

on May 12, 2010 at 9:19 am

I can understand the dude’s desire to get his shot of the rock, but like you said, it belongs to no man. I was in D.C. last week for work and spent my evening shooting the monuments and tourist stuff. What do you know? Tourists were there. They’re crawling on the statues and getting their “I was here” shots.

All it took was a bit of patience and I got my opening to get the shots I wanted. Everyone has a right to be there. Even Alan.

Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld says:

on May 12, 2010 at 10:16 am

Great post, Joe! I love Moose of the West–very cute! And your rock shot ended up being very nice! Cindy

Ken Wilder says:

on May 12, 2010 at 10:38 am

Thanks for brightening our day Joe. Your blogs are a constant source of entertainment, education and wit. The rock and disappearing Moose are among the best along with the Samuari tourist brigade. k

Bill Bogle, Jr. says:

on May 12, 2010 at 10:44 am


Are you sure that the guy’s name who was lost over the edge wasn’t Content Aware Fill? Numnuts does CS5?

That is one spot that is on my bucket list of places to see and shoot. Someday.

Bill Bogle, Jr.

kcalumpit says:

on May 12, 2010 at 11:28 am

When you get to san diego make sure you go to Phils BBQ and be prepared to wait if you go to lunch or dinner when everyone else does. 😉

yeah im from sd btw(north county)

LGreen says:

on May 12, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Your video of Moose was hysterical…I love your sense of humor and that you didn’t “trash” the “others” that were there to get their Nat’l Geo. shot as well…ha We’ve all been there…so patient you were and got the shot you wanted…good job.

Girish says:

on May 12, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Funny video that.

Great shot that one of the rock and sun beams.

Diane says:

on May 12, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Hi Joe,

Loved this post!

Al says:

on May 12, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Best movie I’ve seen all year. Indie magic!

AlanB says:

on May 12, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Great stuff, Joe. Might you be able to show how you mounted two flases on the ezybox?

almostinfamous says:

on May 13, 2010 at 5:55 am

I love the portrait, and i’m probably gonna steal that angle of incidence thing you did for background light – that’s just genius!

Eric B says:

on May 13, 2010 at 6:10 am

Sorry Joe – we don’t buy the “busload of tourist” thing at Mesa Arch. I understand the crowd was really caused by a pilgrimage of Joe and Moose groupies. Nice try though.

Skip Barber says:

on May 13, 2010 at 8:10 am

Great blog, as usual Joe. I’ve been stuck on the east coast for too long. Someday I will get west and see those great sights. See you in NH.

Matt says:

on May 13, 2010 at 10:34 am

I don’t know why I bought this guys book if he’s going to give his techniques away for free on this blog…

Michael says:

on May 13, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Love the shot of the rock. How many speedlights did you use to pull that one off?

Jody says:

on May 13, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Hey Joe, on the final arch shot with the sunrise in the background, did you flash that with a CTO gel, or did you work some other magic to get the exposure even like that?

Muzna says:

on May 13, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Phew! Looking hot Mr M!

c.d.embrey says:

on May 13, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Joe, you are going to destroy your street cred by admitting you use TTL. 8-D

Noel Hannan says:

on May 14, 2010 at 2:40 am

great shots, great location and nice portrait of yourself…

I particularly like the shot of Tina, it has a wonderful feel to it – reminds me of Fuji Velvia, back in the days…

All the best,


Ken Toney says:

on May 14, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Joe, when was the Moose video taken? We had some rumbling in the ground here in SC the other day. By the way, how high up is that raock he’s teetering on? I would hate to fall off that one.

Lauran says:

on May 14, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Joe, agree with you, This is very great place to make photos …

DaleG says:

on May 14, 2010 at 4:38 pm


Thanks for the humor in relaying the events of our morning at Mesa. Watching you perform magic with light was absolutely one of the highlights of our time with you and Moose.

william says:

on May 15, 2010 at 2:52 pm

been following your blog for a while now. Hope you can post a followup on the NIK software summit. Any word on compatibility with AP3? are you an AP3 or LR fan?


Colorado Event Photographer, JasonG says:

on May 15, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Totally agree with DaleG – Your humor is always refreshing!!

Tirthankar says:

on May 16, 2010 at 12:12 am

On Moose’s blog there’s a shot of a tree lit up by flash against a very dark overcast sky. He said its your story to share. Mind sharing the secret of lighting up a tree with flash :)

ggaha says:

on May 16, 2010 at 1:33 am

You disappeared in the second picture?!How to do that?

Kurt Stenberg says:

on May 16, 2010 at 4:54 pm

great blog I love your colorful portraits! You were an inspiration to my initial photography and I have learnt a lot from you and your books. Great work!


Charlie Cotugno says:

on May 16, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Beautiful portrait of that gal, you are the master of the sppedlights!!!


Cat says:

on May 17, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Ahaha man I love your sense of humor 😀 (I’m reading your “The Hot Shoe Diary” and besides your very precious suggestions I laugh a lot :D)

Richard says:

on May 17, 2010 at 7:08 pm

I too have shot Mesa Arch at sunrise, but one time I happened to be there just after sunset, and I ended up being really pleased with the result…

Ravi says:

on May 18, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Two lights, TTL, done deal? Only the Mcnally master can say this.

Michael Wiesman says:

on May 22, 2010 at 11:34 am

Joe, Have you ever seen the work of Peter Lik? He’s what you would call more of a ‘rock-photographer’. Nice work.

I like to read about how you turned what a buss load of people could have done to rain on your party into something that everyone worked with. Afterall, like you said, you are a people guy. I have to ask, was the man posing people printing instant prints on site for them too? haha

Thanks for sharing another story, always enjoy the read!


p4pictures says:

on May 23, 2010 at 1:54 am

Love the portrait at the end, the thinking behind it is really what interests me most. I’m still a long way off getting to that level of thinking in my backgrounds. I can do the portrait but certainly wouldn’t have thought about the fake sunlight on the trailer.

Thanks, and not sarcastically, for the reminder that once you start this road you realise how much more you have to learn and shoot

Mike says:

on May 25, 2010 at 10:40 am

Wonderful entry. I really love the final shot. So simple to create and yet so effective. Well, I say simple; simple when you know how!

Beautiful work, Joe.

Philip says:

on May 28, 2010 at 10:30 am

who is the guy who fired the Canon Powershot G-series?
Not you, I suppose? :-)

Awesome photography, really!

Philip, Belgium.

matt haines says:

on June 1, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Nice little idea for the ‘fake sun’ on the camper! Nice, simple “motivated” light.

stinna arto says:

on June 8, 2010 at 3:34 pm

As all your other work!! Love it!!

Birgit says:

on June 12, 2010 at 11:23 am

what a horde of people watching the sunrise at Mesa Arch!

Just finished reading your book “the moment it clicks” and enjoyed it very much.

Best wishes from Germany :)

r*dean says:

on July 14, 2010 at 1:58 pm

simply love the picture of Tina.

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