Monument Valley is an area located on the Arizona-Utah border. It has a road going through these incredible rock formations, and you can stop at the top of a hill and take this iconic photo.
Taking photos of roads is actually trickier than it seems. (Note: I was very careful about traffic and could easily see traffic coming from both directions, but standing in the middle of any road is dangerous so be alert!). Besides the issue of traffic the main photographic concerns for composition revolved around finding the right combination of focal length and perspective (at what height level the photos should be taken to best capture the road).
Original Straight Out of Camera Photo: ISO 250, 50mm (75mm equivalent), f/5.0, 1/1000sec. Shot in the raw format, handheld with the Fuji X-T2
After Processing in Lightroom:
This is the original processing I did in Lightroom when reviewing the image on our trip. It’s not bad, but viewing it in our office on our professional monitor I probably would have edited it slightly differently (a bit less contrast overall, and I would probably attempt to get more definition from the rock formations).
Another factor is that this photo wasn’t really taken at the best time of day (it’s pretty harsh mid day sun). But since we were just driving through, and the kids were strapped in their car seats, I didn’t have long to wait around.
The actual processing was pretty straight forward. White balance adjustment, contrast bump, highlights quite reduced, shadows bump, whites bump (which I find helps restore natural looking contrast), clarity bump (maybe a touch too much?), and vibrance bump. There is also a graduated filter over the sky to darken it up.
Finding The Right Composition
The following shots are all straight out of camera. With each photo I’ll talk a bit about why the composition wasn’t ideal and what changes I made to finally arrive at the final image. Note: these are just my own opinions, I’m definitely not saying this is the only way to photograph this location.
First mistake with the above shot: I wasn’t centred in the middle of the road.
With the above shot I made it to the centre of the road, but it feels a bit too wide. Also you can see a bit too much of the asphalt pullout on the left.
The above shot is more of an improvement (less asymmetry with the asphalt on the left). What I noticed at this point is that I could probably try to get more of the road in the photo.
The the above photo I overcompensated and now I feel like too much of the road is in the foreground, it doesn’t feel like the road leads the viewer as effectively. But I do like the being this low to the ground shows that mirage effect (midway up the road).
Finally I settle on the above composition. I feel like the road is shown in just the right proportions to most effectively lead the viewer to the rock formations. I wish that less of the pull out asphalt was shown on the left, and it does lead to asymmetry of the road, but if I had moved forward down the road I wouldn’t have been able to see traffic coming from the other direction as easily. So this was kind of the safest best composition I was able to get.
I did try a couple vertical shots, but I didn’t think the clouds were really strong enough to support that kind of composition.
Finally here are a couple more shots from that location:
The van looking rad!
And what a great spot for a run!
I hope this was a helpful look at working through the composition of a location. I should also mention that these shots were not taken in quick succession. I went back 3 or 4 times before I finally got the shot I wanted. It pays to take your time!
If you’re interested in learning more about how to improve your composition then check out our Incredibly Important Composition Skills tutorial!