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Not Your Typical Sedona Landscape Image

Not Your Typical Sedona Landscape Image
The tangled roots of a desert plant intertwine near Sedona, Arizona

The Story Behind “Tangled”

When I think about images taken in Sedona, Arizona, I think of grand landscapes showing the impressive rock formations that have made the place famous

And let’s face it: it’s these impressive formations that draw an estimated 3 million tourists to the area every year, only a few of which are landscape photographers, I’m sure.

But if you’re one of those very few landscape photographers and you find yourself in Sedona under miserably cloudy skies, what are you to do? Flat light and a sky full of featureless clouds aren’t the formula for amazing images.

Well, if you’re me, and I am, you go hiking and instead of holding your head high and gazing in wonder at the Buttes and other formations dotting the landscape all around you, you keep your head down and focus your attention on the wonders to be found near your feet.

On one particularly cloudy day in March of 2019, I was hiking around Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte, which are just south of Sedona off Route 179. I was on the imaginatively titled “Bell Rock Trail” portion of the hike when I noticed a dry wash leading off the trail towards Bell Rock and I decided to follow it and see what I would find. Somewhere in the white circle in the map below, if memory serves.

What I found was a complex system of roots amongst some pine trees. These roots had apparently been exposed in some previous flash flood washing down off of Bell Rock. A portion of those exposed roots formed a kind of heart shape and it was this shape, along with the contrasting colors of the roots and the dark red soil beneath them, that originally caught my eye. Then I noticed the little heart-shaped rock that mirrored the shape the roots were forming and I knew I had found my subject.

This was actually a rather tricky composition to put together and capture. The framing of the image was important in order to keep the eye moving about the scene without being drawn out of the image. I positioned the heart shape of the roots a bit above center and let the rest of the roots flow downward, providing balance. I framed the scene to include a cluster of pine needles in the upper left to provide context to the root system and framed the hear-shaped rock in a swoop of roots on the opposite side from the pine needles.

At that point, the trick was to capture the entire depth of the scene in focus. The roots closest to the lens were about 8 inches to a foot off the ground and the lens was pretty close to the scene. The physics of lens design meant I would not be able to get everything in focus in one image.

I resorted to a technique called focus stacking, where multiple images are taken, refocusing the lens to a different point in the scene with each image. These images are then combined in the computer to merge the sharpest portions of each individual image into one composite image where the entire scene is in focus. In total, I shot 6 images to capture the full depth of the scene.

I originally intended to name this image “Tangled Hearts”, but thought that was a bit too obvious and instead shortened the title, allowing for multiple interpretations and for the heart shapes, particularly of the tiny rock, to possibly come as a surprise as one is viewing the image.

Stephen Girimont

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