If this is your first trip to Sedona you’ll be amazed at how much ground there is to cover once you get there. I suggest getting organized by purchasing a good map of the area and planning your shooting based on your particular interests ahead of time. When you arrive in Sedona purchase a Red Rock Pass, it is available as a daily, weekly or annual pass; you will need it to park at any trail head. Also some of the parks along the creek charge a fee so be prepared for that. As far as gear goes, definitely bring a tripod, polarizing filter, a good wide angle lens and your creativity! Above all, follow your own impulses, no need to recreate the shots you have seen in all the calendars.
Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed that my passion for photography makes travelling with me hard on regular people that like to do normal things on vacation! While most people like to sleep in, browse the souvenir shops and eat out at dinner time, I like to get up early, run around and get some photography in, then take a break in the afternoon for a several hours when the light is too harsh, and then get out and shoot at the end of the day and catch the light before, during and after the sunset!
So if you’re an amateur photographer travelling with someone who isn’t into carrying your tripod around for you all day, I have a few options that may give you a happy compromise and you’ll both have a nice experience. If you only have the weekend, I would still urge you to get up early and have a nice breakfast in uptown Sedona. Next, if you want to photograph beautiful golden morning light on the red rocks, take a short drive up the paved section of Schnebly Hill Road to Huckaby Trail. Pull into a small parking area on the left and park. There you will see picnic tables and a restroom just beyond the parking area. If you’re not into a strenuous hike, there is a nice flat red rock area to meander around for some easy walking. A sloping trail leads from the parking area down towards the creek with spectacular red rock views along the way.
In the afternoon, go to Tlaquepaque for lunch. It is an outdoor shopping area designed to look like an artisan’s village in Mexico. The architecture, bright tile work, fountains and courtyards with mature shade trees and beautiful flower beds make it another great location for picture taking. Lots of conveniently placed benches make it a nice place to rest too.
For the end of your day you should plan to go to Red Rock Crossing. There you can capture your own artistic version of Cathedral Rock and its reflection in Oak Creek at sunset! The drive down the loop road to the park entrance is filled with breathtaking sunset views. You’ll be tempted to stop, and look, and yes take pictures. The park is situated on the creek. There are meandering trails along the water and you should plan on staying longer than you think you will, so bring snacks and lots of water. If you are not into photography, bring a blanket and a good book. The park is magnificent, and a perfect respite from the desert heat, offering grills for picnicking, a creek for swimming, and lots of shade to relax under. And by now you might need a nap!
I think that a day or two in Sedona will feel like much too little time, and will inspire most people to come back. But if you try some of my suggestions for your first visit, you will feel like you have gotten a good Sedona experience and most amateur photographers will go home rewarded with great pictures and a great time. Have fun!