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About Utah: Want perfect pictures? Better pack a tripod

ARCHES NATIONAL PARK — Every day and night hundreds, if not thousands, make the mile and a half trek up the winding sandstone trail, turn the corner, and …

… take a picture.

Delicate Arch.

It's had more photos snapped of it than the Kardashians or grandkids.

"I can't imagine there's anything else in Utah that comes even close to getting that much attention," says Tom Till, and he should know.

Because it's hard to imagine that any human being has taken more pictures of Delicate Arch than him.

Tom is the owner and proprietor of the Tom Till Gallery on Main Street in Moab. Hanging in his gallery are some of the finest examples of red rock photography to be found anywhere — proof positive that even when you're taking a picture of stationary objects that haven't perceptively moved in 10 million years, it still isn't that easy.

As a case in point, check out the photographs accompanying this column. One is Tom's prized "Reflection of Delicate Arch," an image he snapped one evening at sunset just after a heavy rainstorm.

The other is mine — snapped at high noon after my wife and I hiked the Delicate Arch trail to work up an appetite for lunch.

I stood in the same spot where Tom stood to take his prize-winning shot. I took aim at the same arch.

Both photographs, incidentally, are for sale.

You can purchase a 16-by-20 of Tom's in his Moab shop (or online at www.tomtill.com) for $425.

Or you can buy mine, and we'll negotiate.

Tom has two tips that he says will make your photos of Delicate Arch, or any of the red rock formations that surround Moab, that much better.

One, get a good tripod.

Two, don't shoot at high noon.

"Shoot when everybody's at dinner or breakfast," says Tom. "That's the best lighting."

Tom, 62, has empathy for the largely clueless amateur photographer. He was once one himself. When he moved to Moab in 1974 to teach English at Grand County High School, he had zero training in photography. He is entirely self-taught.

"I made all kinds of mistakes starting out," he says, "Now, there are a million workshops you can take (including his). But back then, nothing."

Tom gets wistful about 1974, even if it wasn't all that long ago. Moab was still mostly a washed-up mining town then, not yet discovered by the picture-taking masses.

Tom would make the trek to Delicate Arch at sunrise or sunset alone.

"Nobody was there, ever," he says in amazement. "I had it all to myself. It was weird. In terms of somebody living here and shooting, it was just me."

Now, "May, June, July, there will be 400 or 500 people out there every night," he says. "And 10 or 15 of them will have tripods."

But Moab's most famous photographer can hardly begrudge Moab's emergence these past three decades into a world-class tourist destination. Not only do the masses patronize his shop on Main Street — "some come in for tips," he says, "some come in to critique" — but he realizes they're here for the same reason he's here. To enjoy some of the most unique and beautiful country in the world. And then take pictures of it.

"I won life's lottery, just to get to live here," says Tom.

He points to a photography book in his shop that lists 201 places in the world that are considered must photographs.

"Of course Moab is one of them," says Tom.

And the No. 1 photograph in Moab is Delicate Arch.

"It's difficult getting a different shot there," Till admits, which is why he's most proud of his "Reflection" — "because no one's really gotten that before or since."

"I'd like to get a good lightning picture," he confesses. "Although that would be quite dangerous."

But he just might have it to himself again.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. Email: benson@desnews.com