Lake Powell has many striking scenic features, but Rainbow Bridge is surely at the top of that list. As a world-class icon, it’s also a challenge to photograph distinctively. The first hurdle is it’s remote location, some 50 miles up the lake from Wahweap or a bit closer from Antelope Point Marina. It can also be reached via an arduous trail, but realistically you’ll want to ride there in a boat. More on that later..
Merely documenting this nearly 300’ long span of sandstone is easy if you have a wide enough lens, but making a memorable image that does justice to its graceful curves requires planning. If you are okay with shooting in midday light, try working the sun into the frame, as I did with the sunstar (Image 2) peeking over the edge of the natural bridge. I used a super wide lens, a full-frame fisheye zoom optic of 10-17mm on my Pentax K3II, and accentuated the shadow line cast by the curving sandstone.
Years ago, when Lake Powell was last at full pool, the water filled the streambed under and even past the bridge. I shot the warm tone reflection, (Image 3) in sunrise light, with a film camera. It may be years, if ever, before it will be possible to attempt this sunrise reflection again. This was shot with a Pentax 67II and a 45mm wide-angle lens.
The lead picture (Image 1) is new, showing Rainbow Bridge reflected in a pool of rainwater from a late spring storm. I shot it in late afternoon, and while I yearned for clouds to energize that rich blue Utah sky, I’m still pleased to have found this clean straight reflection. This was shot with the Pentax 645Z.
Note that Images 1 and 3 were only possible because I had a chartered rental boat, to be able to reach this special place at the time I chose to photograph. There is no camping here, and the Wahweap tour boat greatly limits your quality time. At the current lake level of about 100’ below full pool, there is a walk of 1¼ miles from the boat dock to the natural bridge. Depending on your fitness level and pace, you’ll want a minimum of two hours here to make quality images during the window for exploring on their regular six hour tour.
Many people take the tour boat that leaves for Rainbow Bridge from Wahweap, but given that it took me 25 minutes each way to speed walk to and from the natural bridge, you’ll need to shoot quickly. It is the cheapest option, but allows the least freedom to photograph at this unique place, and you’ll have to share it with the crowds, especially in summer. Click Here for Rainbow Bridge Boat Tours
If you have time and a bit bigger budget, weigh the rental of a powerboat from Antelope Point. Their day rate gives you from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to explore the lake, fuel not included. Gas prices are pretty reasonable now, and the lake is marked with a line of buoys to chart your path. Both this and the charter rental include the essential Boating Map by Stan Jones and Steve Ward (otherwise $5 well spent), and you can privately motor to Rainbow Bridge and have a day, and a shoot, to remember. Click Here for Antelope Point Marina Boat Rentals
Perhaps the most flexible option for creative photography is to charter a piloted powerboat from Antelope Point. The rate is hourly, for as long as you like. Be sure to schedule in advance, so your boat and pilot are there when you need them. The charter fee includes the pilot and the fuel, and you can start at dawn and return at sunset. This way you can shoot the early and late sweet light and concentrate on the vistas and photography. Split the boat cost with friends and bring a picnic lunch.
However you get there, Rainbow Bridge will take your breath away, and inspire you to stretch your photographic vision. Don’t forget a tripod and electronic release, plus a polarizing filter!