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  • Writer's pictureDave Pidgeon

The St. Louis arch blues

Updated: Jul 22, 2023

Photographing the famous arch in St. Louis should be on anyone's list of iconic American images.

And if you go, there are two things you should know.

First, take just a few moments to contemplate the purpose of this magnificent monument.

Too many, I suspect don't. They come for the aesthetic views and jaw-dropping vista from the peak of the arch.

But it is worth taking a few quiet moments to remember how it memorializes the individuals, families, and groups who had the courage to enter the west from St. Louis, into the unknown, clinging to hopes for something better.

The St. Louis arch with blue skies and clouds.
The famous arch in St. Louis at mid-day.

The other thing you should know is that the arch on sunny days is best photographed with a wide angle lens.

I, unfortunately on the August day I visited the arch with my family, brought the 70-200mm. Oops.

What makes photographing the arch with a telephoto lens in bright sunlight is the reflective silver exterior.

I'll wager that during golden hour this isn't a problem. But at 11:30 in the morning, it's difficult to isolate the arch from the backdrop of a sunny Missouri sky.

Editing in Lightroom, helps though, especially with the masking feature that can isolate the sky. Lower the exposure so the arch stands out even a little.

Be careful, though, because lowering it too much might cause a halo effect. The light bounces off the silver exterior giving the arch a kind of glow.

It's a fabulous piece of architecture to photograph. It's shape lends itself to some creative angles and composition, so have fun with it if you're walking around the national park.

Dave Pidgeon is a seasoned writer and photographer from Lancaster, Pa. You can reach him at

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