Santa Elena Canyon and the Rio Grande

Santa Elena Canyon and Rio Grande
Big Bend National Park is the true end of the road.  There is no happening upon it while passing through.  You have to want to get there to be there.  

If you are lucky enough to get here, you will find a big landscape with desert, mountains, and the canyons of the Rio Grande.  You will also find some of the darkest sky in the lower 48.

This is a landscape and nightscape photographers dream park that I visit multiple times a year returning to places I know yet a park I am always finding new locations.  

One of my favorite locations in the park is Santa Elena Canyon.  This is the crown jewel of the park and one not to miss at sunrise.  If there is any clear sky in the east the canyon will light up and glow orange at sunrise.  Standing on the banks of the Rio Grande staring up at the 1500' walls of the canyon (and likely having it to yourself) is an awe inspiring experience.

Making the shot #VantagePoint
I was in the park this last winter and could see there were nice clouds in the sky foretelling a great sunrise.  So I decided to adapt and shoot out of the canyon rather than into it.  I packed up my gear in the dark, forded Terlingua Creek at the mouth of the canyon, and hiked up the hill leading into the canyon.

There I set up to shoot out of the canyon, the Rio Grande, and the distant Chisos mountains.

I brought two tripods and two cameras with me.  I had my big Gitzo tripod with my Sony A7R and I bought my little Sirui tripod with my Sony A7S.  This allowed me to have two different lenses at anyone time.  I like having options.  The small size of the camera really calls for small lenses and I use a few small primes to keep a compact package.

Even though I also shoot 4x5 large format film camera, I really like small cameras with big capabilities  All of my Sony cameras are that way, giving me amazing capabilities in a tiny, easy to carry camera.  I am impressed with what even my Android device can do these days.  Technology is moving fast and giving us cameras that can do things we never thought possible.  

I have seen information on the new Light L16 Camera from  With multiple lenses and sensors, different focal lengths, Android operating system, and more, I was intrigued.  This looks like a lot of camera in a tiny package and one I would like to try in the field.  

Rio Grande Sunrise in Big Bend
The folks at asked me to participate in their #VantagePoint project to talk about some of my favorite photo locations and getting the shot.  I had to go with photographing the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park.  By the way you can participate too.  Tag your shots with #VantagePoint.

The top image here is taking in the wide view from my Sony A7R with Voigtlander 15mm lens.  ISO 100 at f/5.6 for 1/3 of a second.  My goal was to capture as much of the scene as I could.  Get the canyon walls, river, mountains and as much sky as I could.  The little Voigtlander is a great match for the Sony A7R and has become my favorite combo.

The middle image is me set up with my smaller Sirui tripod, with Sony A7S making images.  People always ask me what it is like in the field, so here you can see me in action.  Yes, my little tripod really is this small.

The bottom image is from the Sony A7S and Sony 55mm lens.  ISO 100 f/5.6 for 13 seconds.  Although I am really a fan of wide angle lenses, I wanted a tighter crop of the river, mountains and early light.  Here I was able to get that by swapping out to the Sony 55mm lens.

Photography is an adventure, so get out there with your camera and find and share your #VantagePoint.


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