Photographing in Monument Valley,……….. News and Notes, Workshop Information


LEARN to SEE                              LEARN to THINK                           LEARN to CREATE


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JACK GRAHAM PHOTOGRAPHY   e books –available for purchase and immediate download


Last month I recorded a webinar for NIK SOFTWARE, entitled, “Keeping it Simple” ( that you can access via the Nik Software Webinar Library.

You can view it at:

I am presently in Monument Valley. We’ll be heading up to Hunt’s Mesa and Canyon de Chelley later this week.  I’ll be heading back to the Pacific Northwest next week. Then up to Whidbey Island and the Olympic Peninsula for two workshops in May.


2012 Workshop Info:

WHIDBEY ISLAND, Washington, MAY 2012 ( few seats left, not many!

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK..MAY 2012 – 1 seat left

COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE …JUNE 2012 – 2 seats left

THE PALOUSE, JUNE 2012, 1 Seat left


OREGON COAST 5 DAYS!—August 2012—2 seats open





Featured Article:

One or Two Days in Monument Valley Tribal Park …  ……A Photographer’s Paradise         © Jack Graham

Totem Pole, Sunrise ©J. Graham

After completing two workshops here in Arizona, I began the first of a two day One on One workshop with one of my attendees from the workshop which just wrapped up the prior Sunday afternoon.. Then mages found here were made during this workshop.

A One on One workshop is a great opportunity to interact closely not only for my clients, but for me as well. Though my group workshops offer some benefits, and I encourage you all to do some workshops in a group setting, private time with an instructor can prove extremely valuable.

In the case of this client, my goal is to not only get him to some wonderful locations in beautiful Monument Valley,, at the perfect time, but to help him grow as a photographer. For these two days I am here with a fairly advanced photographer, Jay Gould, (  an ex-pat now residing in Australia. Jay and I have done two other workshops. One was in the Eastern Sierra a few years ago and another in Death Valley. The one in Death Valley was a One on One workshop ( (actually a 2 on one as this was with his brother Steve Gould, a professional photographer in his own right!  My mission on this 2 day workshop is to give Jay some  quality  field time while working on seeing images as well as defining what makes a good image, rather than an average one.

Totem Pole Panorama ©J.Gould

My good friend and workshop assistant Greg Duncan is here as well. Greg’s is assisting on my group workshops before and just after the completion of this One on One workshop. Check out Greg’s work here. . He is a superb photographer.

Photographers flock to Monument Valley as they do to other National Parks. It is almost an event seeing the photographers standing in line to capture the iconic image of the mittens at sunrise and sunset from the parking lot near new large hotel here in MV. My suggestion to those of you reading this is article is the same as I recommend to my clients. Get that iconic shot and then work to create a different way of shooting the subject, perhaps with more of an artistic eye, and with the help of a required native Navajo guide wander off into the valley to find those areas not photographed as often.

Please note the differences in the 3 Totem Pole sunrise images. You’ll see 3 different visions of the same area. It’s always interesting to see how everyone sees differently.

Sunrise, Totem Pole © G. Duncan

Monument Valley is a Navajo Tribal Park. In Monument Valley, to get where you need to go, at the right time, you must use an authorized Navajo Guide. I recommend using Tom Phillips, , . Tom has been guiding here for more years than he will tell you and still can out climb most of us, when we scamper up a hillside or a slick rock. Tom has five full time guides and a fleet of Chevy Suburbans that are specially outfitted to maneuver the sand, rocks and obstacles that are often encountered in your day in the valley. Visit his website for details  .

On the first morning,  we started about 1 hour before sunrise. We left the parking lot and headed down deep into the valley for our first destination called the” Totem Pole”. Juat as an aside,  Paramount Pictures is currently filming a sequel to “The Lone Ranger” with Johnny Depp here in Monument Valley. The dust and traffic was much more than normal so we had to hustle to the Totem Pole for the really great light that lasts literally about2-3 minutes!. We made it in time. (The film area is the size of a small city.  Coming back up from the valley we had to wait for 20+ semi’s and other huge trucks to wind down the unpaved primitive road into the valley. This better be a good movie for the amount of people & equipment that is here!).

Photographing in Monument Valley offers so many different experiences. Monument Valley was completely under water about 575 years ago.. The natural forces around us are still creating the landscape today.

Monument Valley is about 6000’. You will see first light way before the actual sunrise. I strongly advise you being in place, ready to make your image at least one hour before sunrise. The best light is about 20 minutes to a half hour before sunrise. Also, almost without exception you need to use graduated neutral filters. I use Singh-Ray filters (

Briefly here are a few spots to get to if you just have one or two days.. There are hundreds more locations. These are just a few.

Dramatic Skies make great Black & White images ©J.Graham

1)      The Mittens from the parking lot near the “View” hotel.. Everyone shoots from the parking lot, looking east-northeast.  When looking out to the valley, look left toward the campground and walks down the dirt toad and walk out on the sand. There are plants, rocks and trees that can be used as foregrounds. You also have a different look at the mittens, one that will be something different from the iconic image.

2)      Totem Pole. You guide should be able to direct you where to look to make your sunrise images.  The rippled sand dunes make wonderful foregrounds. Use the vegetation as well to anchor your images. Typically the sun is at a 90 degrees from the direction you’ll be shooting. With wide angle lenses, be careful of over polarizing, creating a dark, unnatural blue sky on the right side of your image.

3)      3) Artist PointLooking up at Spearhead Mesa, Artist Point is a great sunrise place as well, especially in the early spring.

Tracks in the Sand ©J. Graham

It isn’t always the grand landscape. Look around, you will see a lot of subject matter amd detail all over. The image on the left contains tracks made by various creatures ( usually bugs, snakes, rabbits, etc) during the night, when the vally floor comes alive. Use these tracks in the sand to create interesting patterns.


"Cookies and Pancakes" area, mid morning © J. Gould

1)      The “Ear the Wind” is in a canyon filled with some great trees, lichen coated sandstone walls and of course the “eye” that offers a viewpoint to the sky. I like standing on the left side of the eye. Don’t miss some of the trees here as well. There is a great old dead tree still sanding against the opposite wall from the eye.

2)      “Sun’s Eye”. This location offers some outstanding petroglyphs as well as a great vie through the eye to the sky.

3)      John Ford Point which is named after the famous Hollywood director who made John Wayne famous. There are some great vistas. Hope for some clouds for added interest. The local family will be there. You can tip the folks and they may sit on a painted horse and allow you to make a photograph with the valley in the background.

4)      Get over to an area called “Cookies and Pancakes”. This area has a dramatic sandstone wall with rock formations looking like the namesake indicates. Look for some great foregrounds here.


I really like going into Mystery Valley about 2-3 hours before sunset. The area that the locals call the “Cow Pies” is an area you can spend forever photographing the patterns and swirls created by the water and wind over millions of years. There are some Anstasi ruins in the valley as well. You guide may show you them.

Mystery Valley ©J. Graham


1)      Tear Drop Window — This is just that, a tear drop in the rock that overlooks the valley. Get there 45 minutes before sunset.

2)       Mystery Valley afternoon. These red rocks look like saucers and offer great foregrounds.

3)      The Mittens can offer a good sunrise as well. Look in back of you. Sometimes the light is even better.

NIght Skies, Monument Valley ©G. Duncan


This is a great place to shoot the stars on clear evenings. Using some of the rock facades around the area you can get some amazing images. Try these settings to make well defined star images( not star trails, but images using the stars as your background):

1)      bulb setting

2)      Don’t shoot over 30 seconds. 20 seconds would be better is possible

3)      ISO 800 or higher. By increasing ISO you can add light or decrease your shutter speed

4)      Shoot wide opened. If you have a 2.8 lens… keep it at 2.8 etc.

5)      A quarter moons is ideal. A full moon may add too much light.

6)      If you can set up your image before dark. Focusing can be challenging to say the least when its dark.

If you really want an experience, travel up to HUNT’S MESA. You’ll have to camp overnight but you should get a great sunset and sunrise.

(left to right) Jack Graham, Tom Phillips (our guide) , Greg Duncan, Jackie & Jay Gould


1)      For the best areas of Monument Valley a Navajo Guise is required.

2)      Respect the land. Walk only on solid rock. Sandstone is relatively soft stone. Edges of the rock can break off easily.

3)      There is a lot of Micro-bionic soil. The soil is very fragile and literally alive. Avoid disturbing this as well.

4)      Do not remove any artifacts; break pottery etc. that you may find.

As I try and get my workshop attendees to do all the retime, please try and slow down, take your time , and create quality images. If you must, by all means get that iconic, post card image. Then try your best to expand your creativity and create something different, perhaps unique. Enjoy just being in this magical location.


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