Posted on June 13, 2016
Monument Valley has been the embodiment of the American Southwest in the popular culture since John Ford began making his Westerns there (starting with Stagecoach). And the visual impact of the place has been drawing photographers even since. To fully access these unique shoot locations, a tour is a necessity.
The landscape photographer Josef Muench photographed the area in the early days and throughout his career with Arizona Highways magazine. Muench’s images of the place were what Harry Goulding used in the 1930s to convince John Ford to shoot his next film there. Ansel Adams photographed there. David Muench (Josef’s son) just put out a nice Monument Valley photo book that’s a useful overview for anyone who wants location ideas.
There are several unique shooting spots to Monument Valley: 1. the “View” location is on the hilltop where the hotel of that name is located. 2. The dirt road that goes into the tribal park takes general visitors to several other classic spots including John Ford Point (below). 3. Monument Valley tours go to places like Big Hogan and Ear of the Wind not on that main tourist road. 4. Locations like Mystery Valley, Tear Drop Arch and Agathlan are not in the main valley but are equally representative of this sacred place. For more images of Monument Valley.
Key Park Areas
Mystery Valley locations (above) are just south of Monument Valley in a separate section of the park. This area includes that has some of the best ruins, ones originally built by the ancient Puebloans. This area also requires a tour to access.
Creatively, the sweet spot for Monument Valley is to break the shot down to its simplest visual components, earth, monolith, sand, sky. Then remove every extraneous element.
None of these compositions is too complex. But hopefully, the visual journey is clear. The huge stone columns and buttes carry much of the visual interest simply by being so iconic. That’s one reason so many of the structures seem recognizable, the Sisters, Totem Pole, Mittens, etc. Because each is so definitive, even archetypal, when strewn across this ancient valley.
Of course, the photographer has to bring their own vision to the Valley, put elements into relationship, throw the monoliths into relief as light works its magic. Part of this skill is just showing up when the light is more distinctive, part is weighing the compositional elements thoughtfully.
Framing the Chess Pieces
To me, Monument Valley is like a chess board populated by monolith, butte, mesa. As you cover the park, different elements come to the fore or retreat into the middle distance. Your work is to put these archetypal monuments into the context of a composition.
With photograph above, I found a spot where the mesa anchored a line of buttes receding into the sunset. To balance that relationship off, I shifted my location to include a twisted cedar, rooting the foreground into the composition.
Agathlan, a volcanic plug on 163 between the Valley and Kayenta, has its own quiet power. I used the fence line and a simple Rule of Thirds structure to provide context.
Here the foreground is a flat sand dune juxtaposed with receding monoliths. The sunset side-lighting adds depth.
The Valley is high desert and if you go in the spring or fall, you’ll often find one “weather event” after another bearing down on you in the course of a day. That can make for less comfortable photo experience, maybe even damp clothing (oh, no). But harsh weather makes for a far more powerful image than the typical summer day — the image emerges out of wind, snow, light.
This shot of the Valley “View” and the image of Ear of the Wind (below) take on some mystery because of the stormy conditions.
The image below is a solid composition but the dark clouds focus the eye towards the direction of the sunset, as does the play of light on the sand dunes and buttes.
Posted on January 13, 2016
Lots happening right now. In October, I did a research trip for a new book idea that would cover the classic Navajo Nation parks, Monarch Valley and Canyon de Chelly, and several Pueblo reservations in New Mexico. Going in the October/November time frame allowed me to get shots you can’t get at any other time of the year:
But in the middle of that work, I had a conversation with one of the self-pub/epub vendors., ExLibris. Their sales rep caught up to me when I was on my way to Arizona. I’ll get to that later….
Print On Demand & eBook Publishing
Some of these self-pub companies take a fairly aggressive approach. And I have no issue with them for being sales-driven. There are probably a hundred competent publishers in the US self-pub/ebook marketplace now. The biggest publishers are subsidiaries of Amazon and Ingram, the print distribution giant. The rest of the publishers do what they can to survive.
For a narrow-cast writer like me, working with a big-five publisher can be a bad match (and yes, an improbability). So I need these independent publishers. I like the variety of business models they use. Some publishers who’ll do it all for you (except the writing). They do copy edit, layout, cover art — the stuff that gets the book in print, in eBook format, on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes and Nobles ebook site, etc.
And the full serve folks don’t stop there. They will do the press release and distribution. They do marketing, special events. And if you pay them enough, you can get the royal treatment — and never cover your initial costs.
Or you can work with Amazon’s or Ingram’s folks. And they want you to do almost all the heavy lifting. Though they are slowly expanding into the more full-service approach now.
I do have years of background in business marketing and have no trouble calling and emailing media outlets for book PR. But I also want to off-load much of the grunt work to focus on the fun stuff, writing, travel and foto shoots.
So I’ve ended up talking to the more full service folks and leveraging specific services if they offer a good price.
Talking to Antonio
Anyway, Antonio’s company had my number from before my first book was published (eBook only) by Bookbaby.
And Antonio got me talking about my experience with Bookbaby. I didn’t go into all the ways Bookbaby screwed up. Not a pretty story. But I wanted the ExLibris guy to suggest how I could do a print version on my Sacred Southwest book project that would be cheaper than the $50 Bookbaby had wanted for my Utah book — the reason I never did a print on demand version of my book.
Antonio listened to my crankiness and suggested we start by fixing the problem with the first book — since it never got a print edition. “The first book on the Utah National Parks was too long (180 pages) to do on photo-grade paper. But if you had split it into two, maybe 80 pages each, well that’s the sweet spot.”
That got my attention. The writing and photography were already done. Covering the 5 Utah parks in two books gets the price down to $20-$25 each. Two books means double the total possible sales. (I’m still in the hole, kids.) And a glossy photo-paper version is way more likely to get newspaper and Internet exposure.
So I’m stoked to be able to finally get my book out in a print version. The challenge is now I need to do more copy editing and get the content into the correct format.
How the Sausage Gets Made
Now the question comes up, how to get the two Utah photo/guide books ready for a full print treatment. The basic cut and paste thing is what ExLibris and Antonio prefer. They just want to get it out and move on to the next project. And with a basic approach, the obvious choice is Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks in book one:
Then, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef (and Moab locations like Fisher Towers) end up in book two. That approach fits geographically, the two in Southern Utah and the three in central-east Utah. Plus that breakdown gives me books about the same length.
Both books will have a pile of iconic locations. And even splitting the content in two, I have tons of details on the best shoot locations, trails, composition, lighting.
The plan is to keep the wording of the Intro section almost the same for both books. That’s mostly general info on landscape photography and the book format. The content for each park is totally different, so that part’s easy. The Lightroom section can be repeated in both but the example used will be appropriate for that specific park.
But I don’t want these new print versions to be just like the old book. Doing a quick cut and paste for book one and two wold be way easier. But I’ve been moving more and more into a more personal blogging style in the last six months (especially with my Sacred Southwest writing) and I want some of that thinking to inform my Utah book edits.
So in the last month, I’ve done a full copy edit on the text of both new books, an adjustment that is making the writing cleaner and more personal. And instead of that “explainy” guidebook style, the writing is getting more descriptive and personal — even in the photo captions.
I’ve also been doing a re-edit on some of the Utah photos. Very minor touches in terms of Lightroom, a few little tweaks that give the shots more of a 3-D feel. And I’m thinking how these shots will need to display in a print book that’s landscape mode.
I should be able to keep both books in the $20 range even with 80-90 pages to the book. And if you’ve got great photos, why not sprinkle in as many as you can. I’ll probably add a few more trail shots as illustrations.
And in the end, these first two books could become my first steps into a new style of blog post. Kinda exciting.