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Photography Hikes: The Wave

The Wave is probably the most photographed destination in the US Southwest. Located in the Coyote Buttes North area of the Utah-Arizona border, this is a beautiful – if slightly mind-bending – spot that stands as a perfect example of natural splendour. 

Over the years, you may have uploaded numerous hiking photos to our photo book creator, but you’ve never uploaded anything like this. The Wave is an extraordinary sandstone formation, carved by millions of years of wind and water. We’re not overselling it when we say it’s more like an alien planet than a terrestrial landscape. For the photographer, it’s a haven of amazing colors and beautiful patterns, all of which are just waiting to be snapped. 

The Hiking Trail: The Wave, Arizona

When it comes to the hiking trail, this is just as much a part of the experience as the destination itself. It starts at the Wire Pass Trailhead, meandering through sandy washes and slickrock formations, before gradually transforming into the surreal dreamscape of the Wave itself. Generally considered a ‘moderately challenging’ route, it takes around three hours and stretches for a total of 6.7 miles. 

Why It's Good

The reason it’s good is because this is a full hiking experience. By this we mean, it’s not just about getting to the Wave, it’s about the journey. There are plenty of things to see and photograph while traversing the trail. As we’ve just mentioned, there’s the sandy washes and sandstone formations, but there’s also the Vermillion Cliffs – vibrant red and orange boulders that jut out into the blue sky – the desert wildflowers – vibrant desert flowers and cacti that bloom, depending on the time of year your visiting – and amazing wildlife – which we’ll talk about below. There are even dinosaur tracks that you can spot on your way back, and a place called The Boneyard which can be great fun to shoot.

What to Look Out For

While spotting the wildlife isn’t a given on your way to the Wave, there are still opportunities to encounter native species and take a good shot. Some of the wildlife you can spot include:

  • Desert Bighorn Sheep
  • Golden Eagles
  • Red-Tailed Hawks
  • Cottontail Rabbits
  • Kangaroo Rats
  • Desert Foxes
  • Monarch Butterflies
  • Painted Lady Butterflies

Photography Tips

When it comes to what you should photograph, we’re going to focus entirely on the Wave – because God knows, there’s a lot of subject matter! 

  • Use Different Perspectives

As we mentioned before, the Wave is unlike anything you’ve ever photographed. This is a unique spot recognised for its intricate shapes, distinctive patterns, and rippling textures. To capture something like this, then, you need to be prepared to utilise various angles. Consider getting low to the ground and emphasising the curves, or try shooting from a higher vantage point to showcase its other-worldliness compared to the surrounding landscape. Don’t just stand in one place and start snapping, continue your hike by exploring different viewpoints and finding as many dynamic compositions as you can.

  • Pay Attention the the Light

One of the most glorious things about the Wave is the way the location plays with light. During the golden hours of sunset and sunrise, specifically, the interplay of light and shadow can dramatically enhance the visual impact, creating warmer colors and more intense contracts that will catch the eye. If you’re exploring during midday, you can use these shadows even more effectively – although the colors may not be as strong – by enhancing the patterns and textures, and revealing more intricate details that are less noticeable in the sunlight.

Photography Challenges

man on antelope canyon during daytime

With a location like this comes plenty of challenges, but instead of shying away from them, you should try to embrace them.

  • Go Abstract

Because the Wave looks like an otherworldly location, try to use that to your advantage and go otherworldly with your photography. Get up close and personal with the sandstone formations and experiment with a shallow depth of field, isolating specific elements to create more abstract compositions. The challenge here is to make the Wave look even weirder than it already is, which is going to be difficult, but not impossible.

  • Incorporate Wildlife

Yes, we’ve said that seeing wildlife is not a given, but it’s still something you should look out for if you want to give your photographs a subject. Keep an eye out for birds, lizards, or desert plants that can be included in your composition – something to give your photographs more of a story and personality. If you can’t spot any wildlife, try using your fellow hikers! Ask them to stand in the light and conjure up some riveting silhouette images, or simply capture their reactions as they explore the landscape and interact with their environment. The Wave certainly doesn’t need a subject, but they can give your photographs a neat little cherry on top!


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