TOWER BUTTE: ABOVE & BEYOND
Photographically, one of the best ways to depict the scale of any landscape is from high places, be it a mountain peak or, in canyon country, a tall formation like Tower Butte. Literally an island in the sky at 5,282’, with 1000’ sheer walls of sedimentary rock, Tower Butte is located just within the Arizona-Utah border, southeast of Lake Powell. Climbing is not allowed on the Navajo Reservation, so the only way to access the Tower is to make a reservation with Papillon for a helicopter air tour. Departing from Page Municipal Airport, the price is $239-249, and if you’re organized and plan ahead you can maximize your 20+ minutes on the ‘island’ and make some fine images.
Like all landscape sessions, time of day is critical. Try to book your Tower Butte Landing Tour for the earliest flight of the day, or as late as you can go in the afternoon, for lower contrast and richer colors. Be aware that winds tend to be calmer in the morning than the afternoon. And you can bring a tripod for shooting panoramas from atop the Tower, something I highly advise.
Image #1 & 2: Aerials
Yes you can shoot from this helicopter, especially as you approach Tower Butte. Choose a fast shutter speed to minimize camera shake from the vibrating rotors. I use at least 1/1000th of a second, and go even faster when using a longer lens while flying.
Image #3 & 4: Cliffside Perspective
Remember that a wide-angle lens diminishes everything in the frame in relative size, but despite that, shooting from the cliff edge of Tower Butte can be dramatic, while just a bit risky. Pay attention to your footing!
Image #5 & 6: Panorama Time
Even if your only experience with shooting a panorama involves an iPhone, don’t miss this chance. But if you have a tripod and a quick means of leveling the plane of your camera atop the tripod, then make a series of images from, say, left to right. For Image #5 I used a lens of about 35mm, with the camera oriented vertically, and shot 12 frames to create this long panorama, with the distinctive landmark of 10,346’ Navajo Mountain to break up the horizon. For Image #6 I chose to include the edge of the butte and my shadow on the far left and also our helicopter in the far right. Tip: Don’t use a polarizer, as color zoning makes the image rendering rather difficult, even for Photoshop.
Image #7: Go Long
It’s tempting to bring and only use a really wide lens, but unless there are very interesting clouds it may be better to use a longer lens to ‘reach’ out and compose pieces of the wide vista below you of Lake Powell. That might include other visitors to the ‘Island’.