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The Black Canyon: A Vision Realized

August 25, 20233 min read

Returning to shoot special locations is an important part of my creative process. Few feelings compare to immersing myself in my natural subjects and spending enough time with them to see their changes from day to night, season to season, and year to year.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is an imposingly breathtaking landscape that offers visitors a chance to explore and reflect as they take in some of the most striking wilderness views on Earth. I don't know many other places that possess such towering beauty or greater contrasts between light and dark.

The Black Canyon

Fifteen million years ago, runoff from the La Sal Mountains of Utah and the Elk and San Juan ranges of Colorado began to carve its way through this land, leaving a natural wonder like no other. For centuries, the Gunnison River has continued to carve through the soft volcanic rock, forming the Black Canyon.

Known as one of the lesser-visited National Parks in America (perhaps not for long!), it is accessible from three areas: the North Rim, South Rim, and East Portal, where the Gunnison River enters the canyon.

Perched atop Chasm View overlook is the north rim campground. A first-come, first-served campground that is more suited for tents and vans than RVs. The campground's primitive sites are steps away from the sheer walls of the canyon. Spectacular views of the Painted Wall, the tallest sheer cliff in Colorado at 2,250 feet (690 m), anchor the horizon.

The Black Canyon

The views are boundless and a bit vertigo-inducing. The energy and roar of the river are ever-present. The canyon is eye-opening to photograph as the sun moves through the day, with an endless dance between light and shadow.

Though I have photographed the area in the past, this visit I was eager to challenge myself to fully realize my vision of this one-of-a-kind landscape. After setting up camp, checking in at the ranger station, and a quick walk to the nearby overlooks to shake off the vertigo and absorb the canyon's power, it was time to get to business.

But before I set up for some images as the sun set over the Painted Wall, one more thing needed my undivided attention: the rushing water below from the Gunnison River. Its constant roar never gets old.

The Black Canyon

They say timing is everything, whether it's in business, investing, or relationships. The same is also true for photography, especially landscape photography. As landscape photographers and artists, we spend much of the day preparing for small windows of time to capture the gifts that Mother Nature provides us with. That timing determines whether we can fully realize our vision.

The contrast between the sky's light and the shadows in the canyon's depths at sunset, at least on this evening, was unlike anything I've experienced. I knew that a series of bracketed exposures would be the only way to fully capture the scene's light and detail.

To produce the nice starbursts you see, just as the sun dipped below the horizon, I stopped down the aperture to f/16 and f/22. A number of the resulting images are stacks of five to nine bracketed exposures that were merged and post-processed in Lightroom.

The Black Canyon

A considerably challenging shoot, yet also incredibly rewarding! Yes, I'm happy to report I captured my vision. Above all, I'm so grateful for the opportunity to experience this amazing place and share it with you.

If I can make you feel like you're there for even just a second, it's a win for both of us. I hope you enjoyed this virtual photo experience of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Like what you see? Enjoy what you read? Your support means a lot. I invite you to connect with me on social media. And yes, of course you can display my artwork in your space. Visit my online gallery today at https://alanstenbackphoto.etsy.com

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Alan Stenback

Meet Alan Stenback, a talented landscape photographer based in the breathtaking central Colorado Rockies. Alan's passion for capturing the natural and raw beauty of the Rocky Mountains is evident in his stunning landscapes, mountainscapes, and nightscapes. From popular to lesser-known locations, Alan's work showcases the majesty of our national park system and public lands. His work has been recognized by Rocky Mountain National Park, The Ansel Adams Gallery, Landscape Photography Magazine, and has been featured on many social media platforms. Join Alan on his journey to capture the beauty of the Rocky Mountains, and experience the wonder of nature through his lens.

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