Some of the most diverse and beautiful landscapes you can find is in the western United States; sandy beaches, rugged cliff coast lines, deep redwood forest, massive mountains, red rock canyons, carved stone formations, and more. Visit the western United States.
California’s central coast is a treasure to some spectacular coastal views. It is where the mountainous redwood forests meets the Pacific Ocean. You can take the Coast Highway 1 from southern California all the way up the coast line witnessing some breathtaking beauty.
The Bixby bridge, built in 1932. I shot this from behind the bridge along the old Coast Highway, used before the bridge was built. I used a .6 graduated neutral density filter from Lee Filters along with a Hoya’s Moose warming/circular polarizer to control the still somewhat harsh early evening sunlight that was filling the frame.
The central coast of California is loaded with beautiful coves and beaches. As you make your way up the Coast Highway, be sure to pull over from time to time to explore. This spot is called Sand Dollar Beach and really shows the true beauty of California’s coast line.
Welcome to the California Redwoods forest. The massive trees can reach heights of 350ft (106m). A great feature to walk through with a wide angle lens. The variations of light can be fantastic in the forest. From glowing sunshine to foggy mist.
Heading east through Nevada you can enter Utah and the Great Salt Lakes area. Utah is one of my favorite states to photograph. From Salt Lake City you can head west to the Bonneville salt flats. The flats cover 40 square miles of land and can vary in look depending on year. In spring it often has a thin layer of water from rainfall, creating a perfect mirror. In the drier, windier seasons the flats turn in to thick, crusted, textured salt, appearing almost like ice or snow.
The textured ground makes great foreground interest. Get low and close to it using an ultra wide angle lens. For this image I had the camera about 10 inches off the ground and used a high aperture to ensure I got the entire scene in sharp focus.
Moving south through Utah, there are five National Parks that are not to miss. My favorite being Zion and Bryce Canyon. Zion Canyon boasts some of the most beautiful slot canyons in America. The Subway and the Narrows being the most well known.
The Subway, named for it’s tubular curving shape, is an amazing location. A very popular location to shoot, but it’s one of the places every photographer needs to visit. To get to it is a rather long, 9 mile round trip hike, but well worth it. Also worth noting that it is rather dark in the slot canyon, so a tripod is highly recommended.
Zion holds one of the most iconic scenes you can find for a landscape photographer. The Watchman peak standing over the Virgin River. This seemingly perfectly balanced composition is well worth a visit, even though very thoroughly photographed! I was lucky to spend two weeks around Zion on this trip and managed to find amazing weather conditions to get a unique look on this scene. A heavy rain storm passed through the canyon all day, passing just in time for sunset to light up the distant rain with color.
Bryce Canyon is a fairytale like scene of hoodoo rock formations. Hoodoos are formed as the winter, melting snow, in the form of water, seeps into the cracks and then freezes at night. When water freezes it expands by almost 10%, pries open the cracks bit by bit, making them even wider, making the loose rock fall away.
Entering in to Arizona, you come across another famous location for photographers, Horseshoe Bend, just outside the town of Page. Horseshoe Bend is a section of canyon where the Colorado River makes a full 270 degree bend, giving it it’s name. The access is from the top of the canyon with a short walk to the edge. To shoot the entire scene in one frame you need 16mm or less on a full frame camera, or you will need to do a panoramic set. A tip to getting the river more in the frame is to lay down at the edge with your tripod as low as possible. Be extremely careful and hopefully you aren’t afraid of heights!
A visit to the Vermilion Cliffs in northern Arizona is like visiting another planet. A true show of the Southwest at it’s best. The Vermilion Cliffs are filled with swirling, curving lines carved in to the rock by time. This location is like a photographer’s playground. The unique rocks, shapes, and lines make endless possibilities for new compositions.
I hope you enjoyed your taste of the western United States. A must see for anyone that loves nature’s beautiful landscapes.
Sean Ensch is an travel, landscape, and underwater photographer from California, currently spending a year living in Norway.