Capturing the Delcate Arch at Arches National Park

March 19, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Arches National Park
Moab, UT

I had just said goodbye to my old company after working there 9 years.  Before I start my new life after moving up to Northern California, I wanted to take a good road trip.  I convinced my friends Kevin and Anthony to come with me to snowboard 4 days in Colorado, which was totally awesome and a dream come true.  But after the many days of pounding I was ready to take some pictures worthy of this website!  And on Saturday we arrived at Arches National Park.

I've seen pictures of the Delicate Arch before many times, so I knew it was famous.  But after hiking up and up, and arriving sometime around 4:15 PM, I saw before me, in person, the wondrous thing thousands of photographers sought.  Yes, the Arch itself was grand, but the surrounding area amazingly looked like a classic ampitheater, as if to dramatize the Arch on its stage.  I stood there just staring--I had to take a picture that's different from the multitudes of multitudes taken before, something that celebrates not just the Arch but the entire theater, the view, the viewers, and all.

After checking out the scene (and yes, there was quite a scene of everyone from serious hikers, blond hotties, fobs, etc., and of course dorks like me and my friends), I searched for "that shot" which would set my picture apart from the gazillions of others'. I climbed up a rock hill behind where my pack rested, just about centered in the area. Looking down I thought hmm, pretty good view of the Arch and I can see the humongous bowl in front of it and even all the people resting and looking.  Not too bad... a panorama would be perfect.  That would be The Shot!--it would capture the Arch on stage performing for its audience.  Just what I was looking for.  I brought up my tripod and all my gear and setup. That was around 5-5:30 PM.

It was cold. No, F'ING COLD. I dunno exactly how cold it was, but I was wearing a coat, my hiking pants, and hiking boots, and I started to feel numb in my limbs after some time. I was somewhat precariously perched on the ledge with just enough space to stand in front of my tripod. I started to worry that I'd doze off, and with my legs in a semi-frozen state, I'd fall to the floor 20ft below me. That would have been bad as I had just quit my job and didn't have health insurance. Well, I guess assuming I didn't crack my skull and died.

I tried to keep my hands warmer by keeping them in my pockets as I leaned against the rock, but in addition to being super cold, it was super windy too!  I was just leaning there thinking how sucky the whole situation was when bam! a huge gust of wind hit and pushed the tripod over--suddenly my arm came alive and I grabbed the whole thing right before it fell, probably to its doom on the floor below.  After that, every time the wind picked up I took my hands out and held on to the setup.  And over time it got windier and windier, and my exposed hands felt deader and deader.

An hour passed and the sun still was taking its time, sauntering down the horizon. I was somewhat delirious in the cold, only kept sane by the constant reminder that a slip would mean broken bones, $$$, or worse the end of everything. ...7:00 PM. WTF, I thought the sun was gonna set like 6-ish. My friends probably wanted to kill me. It was F'ING COLD.

...hmm, the sky started dimming. Guess it's time to start. Figured I would keep taking shots from now 'till the sun is gone, continuously panning. I set the camera to take brackets of 7, spanning -3 EV to +3 EV. I started with the camera pointed at the Arch and snapped the first 7 images. Then I rotated this way and that, with my camera mounted on a nodal slide of which I never bothered to calibrate--what's a few cm or in or so off right?

Hundreds of images later the sun started to say its goodbye sometime around 7:15 PM. It was then that the scene was suddenly calm. Hikers, hotties, and fobs alike all stood still, cameras and eyes staring...

... and the enclave convened...


Enclave of the Arch, a picture of the Delicate Arch at Arches National Park.Enclave of the ArchThe Delicate Arch at Arches National Park.


7 ~22mp shots per HDR image.
1 33mm HDR image every 15deg.
22 final HDR images stitched for 1 panorama spanning a complete 360deg rotation.
7 * 22 = 154 total images incorporated.

Final resulting image after stitching, editing, cropping:
33469px by 4952px = 165.7mp.
~40-50gb working space used.

For the full original panorama:

For a cropped version showing more detail:

Dean Chiang


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