5 Best Photo Opportunities in Sedona

Photo Opportunities Sedona

Lee Van Grack

Popular among New Age spiritualists, Arizona's red rock country also draws shutterbugs eager to capture the scarlet landscape, sculpted by wind and water into fantastical spires, pinnacle and buttes... and these are just some of the great photo opportunities Sedona has to offer. A primal sea once flowed and retreated here, pancaking ancient sand dunes into layers of sedimentary stone, each a subtly different shade. Salmon. Ruby. Claret. Carnelian. Garnet. Magenta. This scenic overload leaves poets fumbling for words and photographers racing for tripods and filters. The following are five of the best photos ops in Sedona:

1. The Romantic Photo: Balloon Flights Over Coconino National Forest

Rumored to have mystical powers, stone formations rise from the scarlet desert. Coconino National Forest protects the world-famous red rocks, ponderosa pine groves and even alpine tundra. The most dramatic introduction to Sedona's stunning landscape is aloft in a hot-air balloon.

Flights take off at sunrise, due to wind conditions, and offer a light champagne breakfast upon landing. Packages range from $170-$200. Passengers must be at least 48 inches tall. Dress mindfully for the weather (layers!) and wear comfortable shoes and a hat to protect against radiant heat during the ascent. Most photographers prefer wide-angle lenses to capture the scenic sweep of the Sedona landscape: these are also easier to shoot alongside other guests in the gondola.

Only Northern Light Balloon Expeditions and Red Rock Balloon Adventures have permits to fly over Sedona's red rocks, the most dramatic photo opportunity. The more budget-friendly Sky High Adventures and Arizona Balloon Works view this terrain from the adjacent Prescott National Forest.

Coconino National Forest Visitor Center
8375 State Route 179
Sedona, AZ
928-203-2900 or 800-288-7336
Daily 8AM-5PM

Prescott National Forest
Prescott, AZ 86303
Mon-Fri 8AM-4:30PM

2. The Quirky Photo: Chapel of the Holy Cross

Sedona's most prominent manmade landmark resides south of town, above Highway 179. The Chapel of the Holy Cross, a Roman Catholic Church, juts from a cliff side of scarlet stone. Sculptor and painter Marguerite Brunswig Staude – a student of Frank Lloyd Wright – designed the structure to "spur man's spirit godward." Completed in 1956, its pale, sleek, contemporary architecture juxtaposes wonderfully with the pitted, wind-worn rock.

A Sedona travel photography favorite, the chapel remains one of Arizona's Seven Manmade Wonders (as voted by readers of AZ Central). A polarizing filter can help capture the area's dramatic cloud formations, adding drama to your images.

Chapel of the Holy Cross
780 Chapel Rd
Sedona, AZ, 86336
Mon-Sat 9AM-5PM, Sun 10AM-5PM

3. The Fun Family Photo: Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village

Gourmands and shoppers gravitate towards Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village. Shaded by sycamores, this stuccoed and cobblestoned oasis presides over the banks of Oak Creek. The chapel's whitewashed adobe and hand-carved leather pews make this especially evocative and unique among local photo opportunities. Sedona's Tlaquepaque (pronounced Tla-keh-pah-keh) showcases many artists and artisans, whose work graces the Mexican-style town. Travel photographers relish the bronze sculptures, hand-painted tiles and flower-girded fountains. Not to mention capturing the shadows of vines against stucco and weathered stone.

Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village
336 State Route 179
Sedona, AZ
Daily 10AM-5PM

4. The Scenic Photo: Oak Creek Canyon

A familiar sight in movies from Broken Arrow (1950) to Midnight Run (1988), Sedona's best photography landscape of Oak Creek Canyon lies inside Coconino National Forest. Route 89A switchbacks south from Flagstaff into a scenic, smaller cousin of the Grand Canyon. Stop at Midgely Bridge for a vista worthy of a wide-angle lens: arching trestles over a brick-striped canyon.

Natural sculptures abound here: Steam Boat Rock, Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock number among the most spectacular. The crimson cliffs and crystal pools offer photographers a chance to play with reflections. A split neutral-density filter can aid that, as well as balancing scenes with contrasting light and dark elements.

5. The Classic Photo: Schnebly Hill

Sunset intensifies the rocks' famous ruddy hues. The best photo ops in the evening are also the hardest to reach: Schnebly Hill Vista. An old stagecoach route threads up the craggy mountain to the outlook at 6,000 feet. Deer, rattlesnakes, black bears and mountain lions prowl the high ponderosa pine country, alongside eager travel photographers.

The rocky, often washed out road demands an all-terrain vehicle... or a hike or mountain-bike ride on the steep, 6.2-mile round trip Munds Mountain Trail #77 in the Coconino National Forest. Companies like Red Rock Western Jeep Tours also explore this exceptional landscape for photography.

Via highway, take Route 179 south 0.3 miles, turn left on Schnebly Hill Road after the Oak Creek bridge and head five miles up the Mogollon Rim, the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau. Stop to snap cacti, Mitten Ridge and Merry-Go-Round Rock en route. Seven miles past the vista, the road meets Interstate 17. Before saddling up your gear, purchase a Red Rock Pass at the Coconino visitor center ($5 daily, $15 weekly per vehicle).

Red Rock Western Jeep Tours
270 N. Highway 89A
Sedona, AZ
Mar-Oct daily 7AM-7PM; Nov-Feb daily 7AM-6PM. Reservations encouraged
Tour prices vary

Coconino National Forest Visitor Center
8375 State Route 179
Sedona, AZ
928-203-2900 or 800-288-7336
Daily 8AM-5PM
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