"Castle Path" - A Sedona, Arizona hiking trail meanders towards a castle-like butte
Picture of Stephen Girimont

Stephen Girimont

Owner, The Intimate Landscape, Fine Art Prints

Return to Sedona: Day One

It was my first time back to Sedona in five years and I did not come away disappointed.

Its been five years since I last visited Sedona, Arizona and I figured it was time I returned to that magical landscape. After weeks of debating with myself over which camera gear I should take and what I could leave behind and how I would pack that gear and the clothes I would need for warm days and cool to cold mornings, the time came to board the plane and head west.

I spent the entire flight staring out the window on the direct flight from Dulles to Phoenix. We flew over Kansas City, which I was able to identify by spotting the Chiefs football stadium right next to the Royals baseball stadium. The football stadium had no team names in the end zones, so I wasn’t able to check if “Chiefs” or “Chefs” was painted there. ;-)

I was able to identify that we were over New Mexico when I could make out Shiprock in the distance. Shiprock is on my bucket list to photograph one day, but it wouldn’t happen on this trip.

Steve stares out his window the entire flight
Another plane's contrail casts a long shadow

One the the coolest things I saw from the air was the shadow being cast by another plane’s contrail. I initially saw what looked to be just a strip of darker ground going on forever into the distance and wondered what the heck that was. It wasn’t until I was getting into position to take a picture with my phone that I was able to see the contrail which was just above us and realized what it was that I was seeing.

As we we approached Phoenix for landing, we flew over what I later learned was Bartlett Lake. The hilly terrain to the north east of the lake was fascinating to observe from the air and I’ll have to see if I can explore it from the ground at some point in the future.

Getting to the rental car center in Sky Harbor International Airport has certainly changed in the previous five years. It used to be you’d hop on a shuttle bus right outside baggage claim and get driven over to the rental car center. Now, you have to make your way from baggage claim up three sets of escalators to an elevated train (“The Sky Train”). Its a bit of a haul from baggage claim and I kind of prefer the old way.  Progress is as progress does, I guess.

After checking in to my hotel, I met up with my friend Trey Amick who had arrived earlier that day. We hiked from the hotel in The Village of Oak Creek to the Slim Shady trail just north of town and began exploring for compositions with sunset just a couple of hours away.

"Spiny Embrace" - A Prickly Pear cactus seemingly hugs a fallen tree near Sedona, Arizona

The first composition we came across was a Prickly Pear cactus growing up and over a fallen tree. I call this image “Spiny Embrace” and it is both a successful image and a failure at the same time. I failed at capturing the entire composition in focus, but I succeeded in capturing a compelling image in a single frame. I say I failed because I shot this scene as a series of images (25 in total) at different focus points through the composition. My intention was to combine all 25 images into a single “focus stack” image that would have everything sharp from foreground to background.

I failed to recognize that I didn’t have enough depth-of-field in my chosen aperture to have everything in focus between the cactus spines and the background areas behind them. Because there were no images where both the cactus spines and the background dirt (for example) were in focus, I would be forced to choose between having a sharp cactus spine with a halo of out of focus dirt around it, or sharp dirt with a halo of out of focus cactus spine in front of it. 

Too much distance between focus areas results in unavoidable halos

I believe there IS a solution to this issue should I wish to take on the challenge at some point in the future. In Photoshop, which I use to combine frames for focus stacking, I would need to identify the frames in the stack where the background bits are that I want to be sharp and essentially bring them forward in the stack so they are in front, if you will, of the cactus spines. Then, by carefully masking away the area of the spine from that front frame, I can have both sharp dirt AND sharp cactus spine. But it would be an awful lot of work. Might be a project for a rainy day. Or a rainy week. Or investing in better software that can do it for me.

After taking way too many images of the cactus and the fallen tree, we hiked further up the trail and came upon this scene when rounding a corner:

"Castle Path" - A Sedona, Arizona hiking trail meanders towards a castle-like butte

I moved off the trail in order to compose a composition where the cliffs were framed between trees on each side. This placed the dirt trail into a position where it lined up with a set of light rocks on the slope leading to the cliffs on the right. I love how that alignment gives the visual impression that the path extends up to the rocks.

And that sky! I had no way of knowing at the time, but these clouds were just a taste of what was to come during the rest of my time in Sedona.

I titled this image “Castle Path” because the rocks put me in mind of the ramparts of a castle on a hill.

Trey and I continued up the trail for another half hour or so before we realized we were going to be losing the light soon with the sun setting behind the cliffs to the west of us. So we turned around and started heading back the way we came. It wasn’t long before we saw a composition that had eluded us on the way in because we were facing the wrong direction:

"Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte Sunset" - The setting sun paints two of Sedona Arizona's more famous landmarks

I was attracted to this composition by the dappled light on Bell Rock there in the foreground as well as the subtle clouds seemingly radiating from it. The light falling on Bell Rock was partially blocked by the cliffs behind us, resulting in a beautifully uneven light pattern on the rocks. At full resolution, you can see people climbing the slopes of Bell Rock.

And that was it for my first day back to Sedona in five years. With three keepers shot in a bit over two hours, it was a great start to what would turn out to be a fantastic and highly productive trip.

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