If you’ve ever seen Forrest Gump, you know the setting above well. It’s Highway 163, mile marker 13 in Monument Valley, a spot that’s now called Forrest Gump Point. This is one of the most iconic landscapes in all of the United States, and a bucket list location for many photographers. In this short guide, I’ll walk you through some critical Monument Valley photography tips to help you get the best possible shot.
Step 1: Finding Forrest Gump Point
As noted above, the location of this shot is US Highway 163, mile marker 13 in Monument Valley, near Mexican Hat, Utah. It is a desolate location, not particularly near anything else, which is part of its mystique.
When you stand at Forrest Gump point, looking out on the incredible vistas of Monument Valley, you can’t help but feel like you’ve gone back in time. You half expect a stagecoach to rumble by on the highway!
Step 2: Timing Your Visit
There are a couple of things to consider regarding the timing of your visit to Forrest Gump Point.
First, you’ll likely find the best photographic opportunities in the early morning.
There tends to be less traffic in the morning, and the light of the rising sun illuminating the landscape is quite fetching.
Arrive early, though, to get a parking spot. There will be plenty of other people there with their cameras hoping to capture a shot as well.
The second thing to consider when thinking about the best time to photograph Monument Valley is the time of year.
On the one hand, summertime offers more predictable weather with most days being hot with few clouds in the sky. You can also get out to Forrest Gump Point earlier in the morning or stay later in the evening to take advantage of the longer summertime days.
On the other hand, visiting this area in the winter affords you the greater likelihood of photographing thunderstorms rolling through the valley.
You might even get lucky and see some snow dotting the higher peaks, too.
Step 3: Have the Right Gear
Many photographers choose a telephoto lens to photograph Forrest Gump Point, and I agree wholeheartedly with that decision. Though there’s nothing wrong with using a wide-angle lens (or even a standard lens) here, using a telephoto lens allows you to bring the distant bluffs closer in the shot.
The compression that occurs between foreground and background make the scene look more impressive with far-off features appearing to be larger. You can see the difference between a telephoto shot (above) and a wide-angle shot (below). Of course, ultimately, the type of lens you use is up to you!
Another must-have item for your Monument Valley photography kit is a polarizing filter. Polarizers are especially useful during the daytime because they help boost the contrast in the sky, which can look a little washed out when shooting in the late morning or afternoon hours.
Polarizers also help reduce atmospheric haze, which is a helpful feature to ensure that distant landforms appear as bright and crisp as possible. And though I’m normally an advocate of using a tripod to give your camera as stable a base as possible, in this situation, you can leave it in the car. The best compositions of Forrest Gump Point (in my opinion, anyway) are taken from the middle of the highway. That means you need to work fast to get the shot, and setting up a tripod might not fit in that plan.
Step 4: Compose the Shot
As mentioned above, I find the best compositions of this area to be symmetrical, with the highway serving as a leading line right through the vertical midline of the shot.
You can see why this is a good idea when comparing some of the more symmetrical shots earlier in this article with the asymmetrical immediately above.
In the asymmetrical shot, you lose some of the drama of the stick-straight road stretching out before you.
And while it’s virtually impossible to capture a photo of Highway 163 completely devoid of cars, the best results occur when cars are in the far distance rather than the foreground.
Step 5: Be Safe
Clearly, when you’re running out to the middle of a highway to get a photo, you need to be safe and practice smart photography. Don’t go it alone – have someone whose sole job is to tell you when cars are coming from either direction. Also don’t block traffic for the sake of getting the shot you want. You don’t want to be that guy that gets a talking to (or worse) by the highway patrol.
In the end, Forrest Gump Point is a worthy destination for a quick photography adventure, but it’s one of many breathtaking sites in Monument Valley.
If you have the time, spend a few days there to see as much as you can. Better still, join a photography adventure to really experience the beauty and history that this area has to provide, and to learn essential tips for photographing Monument Valley. You won’t regret doing so!