Two photographs of Monument Valley, which is the best?

I want your opinion!

I was recently in Monument Valley in Arizona and I created these two drastically different images of the landscape with the mittens. Photographed only 50m apart, these two images raise several questions about composition, viewer opinion and human impact on our environment. I want to know which image you prefer. Image #1: The Cedar Log and Mittens or Image #2: The Parking Lot.

Which one do you prefer and why? Leave your comment below.

74 thoughts on “Two photographs of Monument Valley, which is the best?

  1. For a second I was all “what does he mean ‘the mittens’?”.

    Then I saw it. Very cool name.

    Two particularly lovely shots of them, too. I’m gonna roll with the stereotype and choose the first.

    The blue in the second shot is pretty impressive and the clean lines of the carpark make it almost looks like a frame from a cartoon.

    It should be noted that you asked the question ‘which do you prefer’ instead of ‘which do you find more interesting’, which will influence how people respond. It’s like the difference between asking ‘which of these would you prefer to hang on your wall’ and ‘which of these would you be more likely to stop and look at if it were hung in a shop window on a busy street and you were walking by’

    For me, the first image is more easy to look at, and more beautiful. The natural beauty of the woodgrain, the soil, the sun, the rock shapes… it sort of slaps you in the face, it’s inspiring. Thus, I ‘prefer’ it.

    The second image is more jarring, artificial, not inspiring, but I find it more interesting. It makes you think.
    The first image is very stereotypical, it just hits you with beauty, so there’s not much to think about.

    So, what and who are you making the images for, and what effect do you want to have on them?

  2. Without a doubt the first one. Warm tones, natural scenery, beautiful lighting, much more emotive.

    Though both images ‘as images’ are beautiful!

  3. I’m afraid I’m a traditionalist in this instance. The second is a very interesting shot, but the first is so damn beautiful, and beauty wins for me.

  4. first one.
    nature beats infrastructure. beauty and strength of nature vs. influence of man.
    and yup, quite agree with Anna above, about how it makes you think. but in fact, i find it is together, the possibility for comparison that you give us, that makes you think -especially as it is of the same place. the order you get to seem them in also has as an effect, mind you, as the effect might be different the other way around.

  5. I’m going to ignore the two options listed and create my own πŸ™‚

    I think that the images are really compelling as a unit. Visually, I think they both are really stunning, but I love the implications when they are put side by side. The painted arrows, the stop sign, the asphalt, are powerful and vivid symbols of the costs and benefits of human [linear] progress. The fractal-like bushes, the fluidity of the ceder log, and the gentleness of the colors are what stand out about the first. I don’t know that I would have paid as close attention to either of the images had the counterpoint not been there.

  6. Nope. I vote the 2nd one, hands (mittens) down.

    The 1st shot has been taken hundreds of times, and though this is a strikingly beautiful shot within those hundreds, I don’t think it tells a new story. The untouched landscape of the Arizonan desert is classic American West, and as an American this shot is wonderful to the eye, but not that interesting to the mind. The second shot brings up all kinds of interesting questions. Have we really penetrated this barren wilderness with such mundane human engineering? What is beautiful in the shot, the street and stopsign or the monuments beyond them? And those arrows give me a real sense that we are making a decision with regards to this landscape, one way or the other, and that we need to choose. That is a story that still needs a lot of telling in our world.

    This is fun.

  7. The second one!

    It is different and makes you think more… πŸ™‚
    Both of them are good though. You know you always take good shots! πŸ˜‰

  8. I am loving the second.

    The first one is really beautiful, but I’ll look at it once.

    The second one I’ll stare at for a good while, it’s definitely a double-take shot.

  9. Robert, these are beautiful!
    My personal pick is the first, but if your goal is to convey a message, I see more potential in the second. It illustrates the paradox between humans and nature, and the fact that we seem to need to exploit nature to protect it. It also proves that even some of America’s most “remote” places are served by parking lots and roads. The harsh lines go well with this “harsh reality”. But maybe I’m full of clichΓ©s…

  10. While they are both equally appealing to me, I prefer the second shot because it elicits the fact that our modern world is reshaping everything it touches, without thought or regard for anything, forcing out nature. I don’t think people realize just how absurd it has all become.

    Best of luck, Robert. πŸ™‚

  11. 2 Comments received via email:

    “Wow!! What a difference between the two pictures.
    If I didn’t know you were a legit photographer I would have thought that you photoshopped the parking lot into the image.

    I prefer photo #1, the Cedar log and mittens (admittedly I was searching for a pair of wool mitts until I realized you meant the geological structures πŸ™‚ )
    I prefer this image because it is more serene and calming.
    It emits a note of peace, and creates an environment for contemplation and reflection.

    It seems spiritual almost.

    Photo number two seems harsh and cold. Very unwelcoming and out of place against the sunset and the rock structures.
    It seems fake (as per my comment about thinking it looked photoshopped)

    Thanks Robert.
    Great photos!!”

    “I prefer Image #1: The Cedar Log and Mittens because it’s a stunning visual.

    That said, there are several things about the composition of Image 2 that I like (asymmetry, juxtaposition of colour, form and theme)–and the impact of the stop sign is big (it pops–in colour and subject matter).

    So I guess it depends on what your objectives are: If it’s mostly about illustrating (and sending a message about) human impact on the environment, I’d go with Image 2. Then again, it’s the contrast between the 2 images that best makes THAT point!”

  12. I’d have to say the second one. And not just to play devil’s advocate either πŸ˜‰ I’m a big sucker for photography that discusses the relationship humans have with their environment and the classic highway/barren landscape images that are found all over America (in particular) always look great.

    The first one looks ‘nice’ but there’s nothing particularly special happening – although the sunlight hitting The Mittens close to the horizon line creates an interesting effect.

    In the second the colours play really well together – blue, yellow and the red of the stop sign – and there’s a beautiful contrast between the start geometry of the highway and the natural contours of The Mittens themselves. It also creates a more well-rounded composition with the highway creating the horizontal element, The Mittens the vertical and the stop sign joining the two.

    I also like that there’s a pedestrian crossing in such a (seemingly) empty place. Bizarre.

    Great work Rob πŸ˜‰

  13. Agreed with Rohan–the first shot is a gorgeous calendar pic, but I find the 2nd far more compelling. Can’t help but feel drawn to the symbolism of two arrows, one pointing towards the concrete lot and another to a pristine desertscape.

    But I guess its all about what the purpose of the picture is…

  14. I love both images. they’re beautiful! but if you’re trying to convey a message about human impact on the environment…then i would choose image #2.


  15. Hey Robert πŸ™‚

    They are both amazing picutres!!!! I have to say, though, I like the second one better, because it is more unique. I like how both human society and nature are portrayed in the picture, and I like how it gives the feel ” exit to nature; enter into society”. The picture really demonstrates how mnay people have separated themselves from nature…. I really like it!!

    Hope you are doing well!

  16. Both together. Which I thought was a clever answer until I read Marcie’s post. It would be especially great if the two images could be set together with just enough text to explain how close they are to each other. Or, if you have the chance to go back, something added/replaced that visually ties together how close these views are from each other. If you absolutely have to choose one, the 2nd is definitely more original, but it really depends on the context you want to display it in (or magazine it’s submitted to, or photo contest category, whatever), which you don’t really say here.

  17. Yay Robert! Second one! It gives you something to think about, its a photo with a message and a moral question mark. Photos of nature can be taken by monkeys like me, to put something like the second photo together is what pro photographers should be doing more of.

  18. Hey, i would put #1 on my wall (LOVE IT), but #2 is more thought-provoking, gets under your skin, makes you face a stark reality of choices we have made/will need to make as a civilization.

    Amazing shots πŸ™‚

  19. I think the two images make a powerful statement when viewed side by side! I vote for both.

  20. Hey Rob,

    I think they both work great, but all depends on what you want to communicate to whom, when, how and why…


  21. I was first taken by the beauty of nature in the first one… but when I took a closer look at the second, I found that it evoked an even greater emotional response in me because of the stark contrast of Human innovation and nature… I am torn but I would say the second.

  22. Heey Robbie!

    From a classical beauty perspective i would pick the first image, but from a suspense perspective i would pick the second one.
    The second one seems to me like a frame from a road movie, you are just waiting for something to happen. There is an awful lot of suspense.
    If i had to pick one, a case of kill your darlings, i would go for the 2nd image. It will probably last longer.



  23. Definately the second! So unusual and so striking. Especially due to the really artificial light in the foreground parking lot.

  24. Both fascinating – great stories of histories and progressions. The first is more familiar than the second – being a sort of back drop you expect from movies, road runner films and such. The second an awesome juxtaposition, particularly with the jaunts of lines and the contrast of lighting. I like the second as it tells a real and modern story of pavement for progress, imprisoning the natural landscape for the freedom of mobile and entrepreneurial society. Gold. x

  25. Number 2 is the one that stays in my mind – the first one is prettier, but I think number 2 is the one I’d want to put on my wall because it keeps being interesting – it tells much more.

    Both are stunning.


  26. Mmmh…
    “The parking lot” is much more interesting composition than “The Cedar Log and Mittens” (colors, research, contrast & originality)
    But there is too much emptiness in it. To me it lacks something. As if it was unfinished…
    I don’t know…
    Furthermore, I don’t like vignetting very much.

    I must therefore go for Image #1.

  27. Depends on what you mean with prefer:
    I obviously prefer the first one as it shows nature, butthe second one is more interesting tolook at as it tells a story – the story of conflict between nature and humanities drive to conquer nature

  28. Hey Robert!

    At first I liked the landscape one. But I think there is something special about the lighting in the second one. so I choose the second one.


  29. I like the second one by far, Robert. And not because of a possibly implied political or moral message, but because of the almost surrealistic surprise and originality, as well as the composition: the contrast between the straight lines of the new parking lot lines and stop sign up front, and the aged and rough natural lines of nature in the distance. The depth effect is also very strong, amplified still by the tilting horizon. It is as if one ‘falls’ into the picture.

  30. By the way, the more one looks at both, the more one sees. Characteristic of good pictures. The pics ‘couple’ contrasts so nice, in many respects. The subtle message implied by light and lines:

    – The mittens in the first pic shining in the – I believe early morning – light, symbolic for a bright future; and in the second picture the mittens in the dark, symbolic for decline or doom?
    – Then: the two tree stumps in the first picture spreading out as a welcoming hand, calm and peaceful, showing the beauty of nature; contrasted with the arrow lines in the second picture in the opposite directions to the tree stumps; and radiating restlessness, coming and going, etc.

  31. Hey Robert! I really like the 2nd one. The stop sign jumps out at me! πŸ™‚

    Hope your well,

  32. Well, like most people have already said, the first one is prettier. But– the second one has a clearer and more jarring statement. I’d go with the second one, although I like to look at the first one more.

  33. Hi Robert. What a question. The first one is spectacular, but a little cliched. If I wanted something with strictly decorative value I might choose that one. However, the second one has more content, and is therefore more interesting. Its definitely the superior picture. Hope things are copacetic. Paul from PEI

  34. I would put the one on the left on my wall and appreciate the natural beauty. Its a classic shot in a typical landscape style so its nice and safe. That image only speaks to me on an aesthetic level which is fine but it depends on the presentation of the image. Is it going into an environmental magazine, or is it going to end up in a calendar?

    The image on the right tells more of a story. It is very open for interpretation. First things that come to mind are the progress of development into natural areas and poses the question…which direction do you want to go with development and the environment? This image is not as pretty as the one on the left but speaks many more volumes. I probably would not put this on my wall behind a frame but most certainly welcome this image in an editorial environment.

    I think the most important question to ask yourself is how your presenting your image and who your audience is going to be? If I were a Sierra Club member looking in the latest landscape magazine, probably the one on the left!

    Both images are competent in quality and are well executed but speak to me differently.

  35. I’m also in the #2 camp, for many of the reasons others have written already, and in particular for it’s provocation. Both beautifully done!

  36. From Margret Brady

    I picked the first one for its sheer beauty but the second one if I were making a poster because it is so eye-catching. Cheers, Margret

  37. From Andrew Labonte

    With out a doubt the second one is my favorite.
    Both are expertly taken photos, but the first one is too much like many other post cards I have seen of similar landscapes. The first one is a gorgeous view that I would surely enjoy if I were there, however I would have to ignore the cars going by on the perfectly paved road behind me so that I could go to the same place in my mind that the first photo takes me to. The second photo is equaly beautifull but seems more like what I would see and experience if I were to go there. Then again.. I have not be there and don’t know for sure.
    To paraphrase William Cronon: Why should the tree in the park of a city be any less beautifull than the tree in a forrest far from human settelments? The notion that nature needs to be without evidence of people to be ‘wild’ and beautifull is silly. It is as impossible as it is depressing.
    In my opinion the road in the photo doesn’t detract from the image, it makes it. The two arrows pointing in different directions could even be interpreted in some artistic way to mean something… I don’t know what, but something.
    All I know is the tarmac looks pristine and I want to go skateboard down a hill there πŸ™‚
    My two cents.

  38. Hi Robert;
    Very thoughtful! It’s a brilliant thing to do. I think it’s the start of a series. Almost everyone will prefer the first, natural image. I certainly do. The second one is “modernist” or maybe it’s post-post-modern by now. (What comes after post-modern anyway?)
    Visually the second image is interesting, and in terms of content, sums up what is our contemporary reality. Maybe if the question is also, which landscape would you prefer to be in or experience, it might clarify your intent. If I were going to paint a semi-realistic landscape, I would probably choose the parking lot image, as it is really about our world now. It is somewhat of a jolt. An honest look at where we really are, like Ed Burtynsky’s photos. The natural landscape has become a fantasy. This makes me weep, but that’s why I live where I live. Cheers.
    PS The tree in the city is just as important as the tree in the boreal forest. It is getting to be more important all the time. But, if you haven’t experienced genuine solitude in a natural environment, then I believe you are missing out in something fundamentally human, a nedd embedded in our genetic structure that goes back many millions of years. If we don’t integrate nature with the urban environment, though, and much more quickly that we have done so far, we will be deeply in trouble I think. The birds need trees everywhere, and so do we. (just to breathe!)

  39. Absolutely the parking lot! The contrast in lighting is beautiful. But I’m mostly drawn to the photo because of the piles of symbolism to be found: symmetry between two deserts (one natural and one man made), the arrows as a decision for humans to make in regards to their relationship with nature, and the slight humour in the stop sign considering that what lies beyond it is nothing but immense space. Hands down the greatest photo I’ve seen of the subject.

  40. Wow!
    What a great bunch of comments. I love everyone of them and hope to respond personally to some of you in the future.

    Results so far
    9 – like both or are undecided
    15 – Choose the traditional landscape
    18 – Choose the Parking Lot

    It was a really interesting exercise and perhaps also a lesson for me in phrasing my questions. It seems that everyone can appreciate both images, but rightfully the context of the display will change minds or create opinions.

    I love Maarten’s response above, the question of killing your babies. Without a doubt, I would remove the traditional image first and would have to say that I prefer the parking lot. I love the contrast of the parking lot and the mittens. I love the colours in the image and the reaction it causes in a viewer. I think that perhaps this is the most important thing to me. I strive to create images that will create an emotional response in the viewer and I think that the 2nd one has more ability to do this. It is the image that when flipping through a magazine, I would stop at and take a second look. Although, I agree that it is particularly strong because of the context that it is shown in.

    Thank you everyone for your wonderful comments and thoughts and participating, I hope that more people offer their opinions


  41. Which do I like best? #1 the mittens of Monument Valley.
    People tend to like blue/ primary colours especially,
    I think that’s why all the ‘blah, blah, blah’ about the second shot.
    Robert, for more photo banter I think you should come visit
    and we’ll discuss it over chips and my onion dip you love!
    Cheers, keep up the great work.

  42. Of course, to make #2 image work, you need an iconic landscape. I think Monument Valley qualifies, but it certainly helps to have the two images side by side, especially for those who have never seen a John Ford movie, David Muench or Arizona Highways. Next stop, Lake Louise, and as Rhonda says, stop by for chips & dip.

  43. the second is the portal to the first , into nature and back to the civil they are one

  44. Hey Rob. Hope I’m not too late to comment on this?
    I prefer the second shot. I love the symbolism of the arrows on the road leading both towards and away from the camera/observer – for me this brings to mind the idea of ‘movement’ in a town or city, like the flow of traffic or walkers on a busy day. Yet this reminder/idea is neatly juxtaposed with the fact that the road is empty. A profound reflection on the pro/regression of city life, perhaps?
    The backdrop of dramatic and ancient nature brings to mind the power and longevity of the natural world and the stark reminder that no matter what, nature will endure. A deep reminder of the meaning of life and an inspiration for us all to reflect on where our ‘movements’ are really taking us…
    Awesome work dude, K xx

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