When you don't have a second chance

Award winning shot, The Wave, Arizona, Justin Hofman
How can you get your image to stand out at an iconic (overshot) location?

Although it may not be totally obvious, I love the desert. Not as much as I love being in the ocean, but it's a strong second. There are a few places on this planet I wish everyone could encounter. Unfortunately, being bipedal mammals, we do impact the very ground we walk on, so luckily there is a fairly strict permitting process which limits just how many people can visit Coyote Butte Wilderness' most iconic feature, The Wave. Carved out of Navajo sandstone over thousands of years, The Wave is truly incredible and considered by many photographers as a rite of passage, a pilgrimage you could say. For the aspiring photographer, just getting to The Wave is challenging enough, but how do you make a picture that stands out amongst the thousands of other images? Even with the strict permitting process, nearly everyone who visits The Wave takes photos they are proud of, essentially saturating the market for beautiful, scenic, and "unique" desert shots.

Photographers at The Wave, Arizona

Wide angle lenses are key, but you'll have a hard time keep people out of the shot.

Hikers at The Wave, Arizona, Justin Hofman
Close-up wide angle, The Wave, Arizona, Justin Hofman

Before I visit a popular site, I always do a Google Image search of the location just to see how others have shot the site. This is akin to digital scouting and starts my previsualization process. It also gives me a target to NOT shoot for. Google Image searches are a great way to see how everyone else has approached the subject. I am always trying to avoid the "postcard" shot or vacation snapshots that don't stand out. Memorable photography is about capturing a scene in a unique way so I will intentionally avoid the most common angles if at all possible. I'll also search Google Earth to get an overhead view and to get the lay of the land. This helps me build a mental map of an area I may have never been to before. I find I'm much more sucessful when shooting a subject I've seen before, but that's not always an option so I'll research a subject and visualize my shots as much as possible. The Photographer's Ephemeris is a great app and allows me to find out what direction the sun will be shining on the subject (amongst a ton of other features), which will dictate the timing of the shoot.

Justin Hofman, The Wave, Arizona

Shadows at The Wave either make or break the photo and need to be taken into account when planning the best time to shoot.

Lastly, I talk to people. Especially locals. For The Wave, three Southwest photographers helped me considerably with locations, angles, times of day, and even attaining a permit. All three are extremely creative photographers with an impressive body of work.

Thank you Stefan Lundgren albatrossgalerie.com, Stacy Lankford sundogimage.com, and Ralph Lee Hopkins ralphleehopkins.com.

Black and White Wave, Arizona, Justin Hofman

Not everything was shot with a wide lens

The Second Wave, Justin Hofman, Arizona

The Second Wave offers less contrast amongst its stripes, but it's still beautiful and sees much fewer visitors

The Wave, Arizona, Justin Hofman