Dawn at Deadhorse

I’m sharing the first of a few images taken at Deadhorse Point in March. The location seemed incredibly challenging to shoot. The roads below are part of it, but I decided they are part of the place, and I had driven on them the day before. My plan was to go with tighter scenes, and I’ll share a couple of those later, but this one had the anticipation of glow, and a much more pleasing sky than occurred once the sun began to rise.

What technical feedback would you like if any?

Any you got

What artistic feedback would you like if any?

I’m interested in whether the composition works for you, whether the image as a whole is pleasing to you and why. As always, I’m also open to yawns of boredom and ‘those roads ruin it’ kinds of comments as well.

Pertinent technical details or techniques:

(If this is a composite, etc. please be honest with your techniques to help others learn)
Single image, cropped and minimally processed in LR.

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You may only download this image to demonstrate post-processing techniques.

Wonderful Marylynne! I’m intimately acquainted with the area, and your framing along with the light do it great justice. In many ways the light becomes the subject more than the details of the scene. You’re right about the road, but as you know it’s hard to find views that don’t include it and the White Rim road beyond. Tight framing is an option, but at the expense of the magnitude and grandeur of the canyon.

I agree with Hank Pennington, Marylynne. I’m not intimately acquainted with the area, but I sat at the rim once at the end of the day with my wife and kids in May, and we will never forget. For us, this was a Grand Canyon without the crowds; maybe another 5 people were there with us.
The problem with images of these well-known viewpoints is that “we photographers” often seem to wish to re-create them, because so many images already exist. This one is definitely not unique, but I feel the emotion again from the moment we were there. So it works for me, including the roads.
What I like as well is the discreet color of the image. I bought a book about the region at that time; it was nice, but the images in the book were so overly saturated, as if nature needed help to finish off the scene. That is not my taste (never bought any Fuji Velvia slide film in the old days).
Looking forward to the other images that you promise.

Marylynne, this is an excellent representation of this location. The morning dawn breaking scene gave me immediate recall. It is very recognizable to me and my brother. We did a sunrise take here years ago on a February morning. After spending 2 years in Alaska I was never as cold up there as I was perched on the rim of this canyon overlook all those years ago now. Thank you for posting this classic view & reminder of our trip back then…:+1:


This fabulous! I love this landscape image. I’ve never been and honestly don’t recall ever seeing this view. All I can ever recall are the countless images from the rim of the “horseshoe bend” - talk about iconic viewpoints…

The color rendering here is exquisite. There’s a very soft contrast between the warm and cool tones. Simply, beautifully rendered.

I appreciate seeing this view and I think the road is a big part of that. I now have a better sense of access to the classic views. Probably not quite as easy as Tunnel View or the Snake river overlook… but sure looks like it’s driveable…

Very minor, you might consider cloning/cropping to take care of the small, bright outcroppings along the lower edge, left of center. This one is certainly print worthy, so I’d make sure to touch that up before printing.

Superb landscape image.


I agree with you, it is a challenging vista to shoot. I’ve shot probably 10-15 sunrises and sunsets there and have only one or two shots that I really like. Because it is such a vast panorama, interesting compositions are difficult and then the image becomes mostly about the light, which we all know is a crapshoot. I’ve had better luck at sunrise than sunset. Regarding your shot, if it were mine I would crop a little off the bottom and the left side.

Hey Lon, I should let Marylynne speak first and I look forward to her contribution. But I can’t help piping in on the question of accessing the lower road.

From the top at Island in the Sky in Canyonlands it’s known as the Shafer Trail. Below the steep switchbacks a road enters from the left, specifically that’s Potash Road which starts just past the Colorado as you head north from Moab. If you continue past the Potash turnoff, it turns into the White Rim Trail.

Though I’ve seen rental cars in there, you have to be extremely careful about muddy or icy conditions, even when you have good ground clearance and 4WD. Continuing on the White Rim Trail to it’s intersection with the Island in the Sky Road north of the park entrance is most definitely 4WD in it’s last few miles. On top of that, driving the length of White Rim requires a very long day.

Sedans might make the Shafer trail descent through the switchbacks from Island in the Sky. Note I said “descent.” I wouldn’t drive a sedan UP through the switchbacks. It can be passable to sedans if recently graded, but between gradings can built up rocks and cobble too large for low clearance sedans. Meanwhile you CAN most times enter the area on the Potash Road and drive to the base of the switchbacks on Shafer Trail. You can also drive a fair distance out White Rim Trail in a sedan.

Great trip obviously. I don’t feel that I’m hot spotting in posting this, because the info is readily available from the NPS and myriad sources in Moab. But as noted in Marylynne’s other recent thread on the switchbacks, local knowledge can help keep you out of trouble.

Marylynne, Really a beautiful wide view and absolutely wonderful colors. This iconic scene brings back fond memories of a shot I took of my parents sitting on a bench overlooking the canyon at sunrise. As far as the composition, I also like the way you handled the road and positioned it within the scene. Very nice work!

Thanks, Everyone, for the feedback. I’ll do a little edge patrol @Lon_Overacker and consider a crop @Tony_Siciliano. Thanks for the suggestions.

To echo what @Hank_Pennington said, the road you can see in the image is not the road one takes to get to Deadhorse Point, nor can one get down from DHP to that road directly. It’s maybe 1000 feet below, and it’s definitely a half- to full-day drive at least to go from Moab to Island in the Sky down Shafer Trail and out Potash Road to Moab. What’s more, the view of the horsehoe bend from Potash road is not nearly as spectacular from that elevation. I was surprised by that. I figured the Potash Road and Thelma and Louise Point would be really the ideal location for shooting that bend, but it just looks different from down there. And from DHP, I was unable to find any location that had a clear, unobstructed view of the bend, showing both banks of the river. One of the mesas projects toward it making most angles a little unsatisfying. I think too some of us (myself included) get this bend confused with a few others that are a little more dramatic. Horsethief, Horseshoe, Dead Horse, Wild Horse–Lotsa horse references out in these parts.

One of the reasons I am sharing these images from the trip last is they they did not turn out as I had envisioned them, so it is taking me longer to decide a) which ones to process, b) how to process them, and c) whether they are good enough to share. Your response to this one is emboldening me. I hope the other couple don’t disappoint :star_struck:

Feel free to follow Hank’s link to my discussion thread. Those switchbacks on the Shafer trail can be slick or cobbled, and either way, there is not much room for error. It takes steely nerves to go down in the damp conditions I had. We were in a 4WD Jeep (a shorty, like a Sahara) in 4 LO and still slid a few inches on a short patch of slick clay. One switchback was tight enough that we needed to take it like a three-point turn of sorts to make it. I can only imagine what it would be like in a full size long-bed pickup or even a Ford Explorer length SUV. I hear that a full expedition of the White Rim Trail is a multi-day affair (if stopping to enjoy).


Thank you @Hank_Pennington and @Marylynne_Diggs for your detailed explanations and descriptions. I did read Marylynne’s post about the treacherous travel - I just didn’t put 2 and 2 together regarding this image post.

Clearly it’s not a journey for the faint of heart or ill prepared. Shows my lack of knowledge for the desert Southwest. Has everyone been there but me?

No worries. It was my first trip there and an eye opener in many ways. FWIW, one could drive from Moab along Potash Road to that bend and never deal with the unstable, steep, rockslide onto which Shafer Trail has been etched. Less adrenaline and all the same beauty would be a win win for most.

Marylynne, I’m coming in late here, but my thoughts about shooting at this location mirror those of @Tony_Siciliano, I’ve shot here 7 or 8 times, and have usually come away with less than I hoped for, unless there was great color and clouds in the sky. If you have a cloudless blue sky like this morning appears to be, then shooting in the pre-sunrise blue hour like you did here is often the best choice, aiming to capture the delicate pastel colors.

I think this is such a frequently enough shot location, that most photographers have come to accept the road as part of the scene, we are used to seeing it in DHP shots.

I know you were going for a twilight mood, but to my taste the image feels too dark. I also think the landscape (but not the sky) could be warmed up slightly without losing the pastel twilight look. Here is my rework along those lines. TK subtracted luminosity mask D2 -D5 to lift shadows in landscape, warming applied primarily to land, only slightly to sky. I may have gone a little far with the processing, but I think something directionally like this would help.

Hang in there with your processing of images from this trip, you can still wring a lot out of mornings like this with careful processing.