Factory Butte near Hanksville UT with gold light and partially cloudy dramatic sky.

This photograph of Factory Butte was taken with low angle light illuminating the Butte spectacularly.

If you look through my website, you’ll see landscape shots from many locations.  Most of them were not taken in my neighborhood, and most required thought beforehand to be successful.

First and foremost, it really helps if you photograph a compelling subject.  Do your research before the trip.  Factory Butte near Hanksville, UT is such a compelling feature.  So how do you get a shot like this (or better?).

Give it time.  Know that great shots don’t happen any time of day, whenever you happen to arrive on the scene.  Plan your trip and your stock of food, drink and so on in your car such that you can be at the site before sunrise or plan to catch it late in the afternoon.  Use Google Earth to scout out a site or ask someone who has been there.  If you check out the orientation of the feature compared to the path of the sun, it will help you know whether it is best captured early or late.  Intense lighting comes from light that is low angle at the beginning or end of the day. Such light can make a feature glow that is otherwise drab.

Scout the site.  Get in the car and drive the dirt roads around the site (paying attention to weather since mud can quickly be impassable.) Get out and walk and look at the available angles.  A large site like Factory Butte can yield hundreds if not thousands of different looks. Find the ones you like.

In fact, you can even think in advance about what you hope to capture.  If you know the foreground and background you want, and the angles and composition that would be great, then start hiking and look for earth that matches your plan.  You can even make a rough sketch of your plan like noted photographer Charley Gurche.  The sketch could guide you in whether to hike at a distance from the butte or to climb right on the feature.

Factory Butte on the horizon and desert terrain and a gully in the foreground for good composition.

Factory Butte near Hanksville UT with a gully in the foreground showing the desert in good light.

Expect that this may not be the day for the best shot.  Plan a few days in the general vicinity and if clouds and sun look like they are cooking into a promising mix, take off to that spot you have scouted and get the shot.  You’ll be chasing rainbows sometimes.  You may be convinced the clouds look great on the western horizon only to later hear that the place you abandoned turned into a blazing jewel at sunset.  But if you know your subjects and you know your scouted location, then you just have to put yourself in the situation where the happy “accident” can all come together at once. With remote sites and challenging access, that becomes all the more interesting.  Factory Butte is not far outside Hanksville and there are motels and restaurants in the town, so this is a good feature for the more novice landscape photographer.

If you go, I suggest going with someone.  At the very least, be sure to tell someone where you are going.  The space surrounding Factory Butte is many square miles.  There are countless places you could slip and injure yourself and no one would know to come find you.  So as part of your plan, tell someone where you are going and to send help if you don’t call them by an agreed upon time.  Most of these remote areas lack cell coverage, so you won’t be able to call for help, typically.  I sometimes carry an emergency 2 way radio, but telling someone is good insurance.  Except in really simple terrain, I carry a GPS.  Factory Butte is a giant landmark and it would not be a spot where getting lost should be an issue, but pay attention to how you entered if you hike.

Always carry plenty of water and lots of food and water in the vehicle.  Fill your vehicle up with gas before heading out.  Make sure you have a vehicle suited for the road conditions, since many interesting landscapes occur in 4WD high clearance circumstances.  These are simple, but they can stop you from getting that good shot.

Factory Butte with big cloud cover and light on the top of the butte making it gold in color.

The clouds and light just cooperated that afternoon to show the Butte colorfully.

If you want boomer clouds, then consider travel during the monsoon season.  The end of July beginning of August will often give impressive skies in the SW. But then it is hot in the desert, so balance that time frame against your toughness in heat.

Got the idea?  It is a process that is greatly facilitated by some advance planning, scoping out the route ahead of time and making repeat efforts at that special spot for the best shot.  Of course, we all take advantage of the shots that simply present themselves to us as pleasant surprises along the way.  As a result, the memory card comes back full from every trip with a host of images, some planned, some not.  All in all, it is much like a fly fishing trip choosing your river, your flies and necessary gear ahead of time and then attacking the stream.  Fish on!