Influence and Intent: Making "Oak Creek and Cathedral Rock"
Updated: Jul 26
The piece Oak Creek and Cathedral Rock was taken in Sedona, Arizona at Red Rock Crossing in the winter of 2017.
For several days before my family and I got there, storms were hanging over Sedona, Arizona saturating the red rocks with an unrelenting rain.
Unfortunately, by the time we got up there the rains had all but ceased and the storm was clearing out. It didn't matter much to me I was still really excited about being there because I knew that those rains would make Sedona's colors more vibrant than normal.
I knew the colors would look fantastic but what I didn't count on was the high water level of Oak Creek. It was running so high and so fast that we could only cross the creek at the first two crossing points.
If you’ve never been there before, on this trail you cross the creek thirteen times before you come to a pebbled beach that most people consider the end of the trail.
And we only made it past the first two because we and a handful of ASU students decided to find some fallen trees to make a bridge in order to cross. When we got to the third point we found that it was not possible to cross. The water was too deep and too fast to safely make it.
At this point we decided to go back to the car and figure out which one of the many other trails we wanted to explore that Sedona offers.
Red Rock Crossing, located within the Red Rock State park, was somewhere that I'd wanted to check out for quite some time but just hadn't gotten to yet. So we decided that this was just as good a time as any to get over there and see what it was all about.
My wife and daughter decided to stay in the car this time. They were both exhausted from the adventure at the West Fork trail so they wanted to take a nap.
I was on my own. Free to explore this area that I had never been to before.
It was starting get late in the morning but thankfully it was still overcast and the sun wasn’t creating too much contrast. Nevertheless, I was still feeling pressed for time because I knew that if the clouds did clear, the lighting would be terrible.
Thankfully it didn't take long after arriving before I found the spot that I knew I wanted to spend the rest of the morning composing a fine art photograph.
As I approached the scene I was once again amazed at just how fast and wide Oak Creek was flowing. The view of the water flowing over the red rocks and Cathedral Rock rising in the background was breathtaking!
I studied the scene before me and tried different angles of view to get a different perspective, change the composition and figure out how to best tell the story.
I settled on framing Cathedral Rock with the distant trees on the edge of the creek and the two aspens on the right to form a circle around Cathedral Rock.
But I didn't want Cathedral Rock to be the center point of focus. I wanted the focus to be on Oak Creek so I changed position to block the view of Cathedral Rock with the branches of the tree that’s in the foreground on the left. Obscuring it but still keeping enough of the shape for people to know without a doubt that it’s cathedral rock.
To further emphasize Oak Creek I wanted to do a long exposure to get the water soft. I used a polarizing filter to increase exposure time and to remove the reflections on the water so you can get a clear view of the red rocks below. The polarizing filter also increased the overall saturation of Sedona's red rocks creating a beautiful contrast with the diffused blue of the cloudy sky.
The primary difficulty I had with this piece was that I needed to have an exposure time of greater than 3 seconds and I didn’t want any of the small branches of the foreground tree moving.
I wanted to make sure that those branches were as still as possible so I had to time the exposure perfectly between breezes which took several tries before I got the timing perfect.
Compositionally speaking this image is magnificent. It's very well balanced between the highlights in the water and the highlights in the sky. The lightness of the tree in the foreground balances nicely with the highlights in the water as well and all tree branches circle around and lead to Cathedral Rock in the background. The red rocks in the water of Oak Creek create a leading line that also leads to Cathedral Rock but without taking the emphasis away from the soft water of Oak Creek.
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