I recently had the opportunity to travel down to Zion National Park with fellow photog Kevin Winzeler to check out the fall foliage at its peak. The Box Elder and Cottonwood trees were going off, making for beautiful yellows, contrasting against the red rock. Unfortunately, an unusual cold spell had pretty much stripped the maples of their red leaves, leaving the color palette somewhat one-dimensional.
I’m a bit embarrassed to say this was my first time down to Zion. It didn’t disappoint, but it did overwhelm to a certain degree. Much like any other iconic photo location, Zion presents a challenge in finding original identifiable images. Identifiable is the key word there, as there are photo ops around literally every corner in this impressive national park. The majority of people, however, enjoy seeing images of something they recognize. As a photographer, you must answer the question as to whether you want to shoot something a little more common that sells, or something a little more obscure that may give you a greater satisfaction in creating. A little bit of both was the order of this trip, and I tried to balance my shooting time between the customary and the innovative.
The one thought I had while shooting in Zion over a short 3-day period is that you really must put in your time not only to research the locations, but, more than anything, to hopefully luck out with some dramatic weather. We were stuck with clear skies whether we liked it or not, which made for good bounce light in the Narrows, but uninteresting sunrise and sunset shoots otherwise. You see so many shots from places like Zion, that you really must score unusual weather conditions if you hope to come away with something unique and memorable. My suggestion is to try and get down there for a couple weeks at a time, but it just wasn’t in the cards for this father of two this time around.
One of the shooting opportunities most unique to Zion is found in the Narrows. Carved over time by nothing more than rushing water, this deep slot canyon harbors a plethora of otherworldly images just waiting to be captured. It’s not too common to see direct sunlight in the Narrows, but high canyon walls serve as perfect natural reflectors, sending bounce light to and fro, creating colorful glows in unusual places. Should you decide to venture this way, be prepared to wade through ankle to thigh deep (and sometimes deeper) water the entirety of the canyon. Bring a sturdy tripod, and don’t forget your polarizing filter.
One particularly helpful tool I had with me on this trip was my Singh Ray LB Colorcombo filter. Combining a polarizer and color intensifier filter, there’s no better way to bring out the color in the leaves and red rock walls, all the while taking the glare off the water for a complete image.
Although not surprising, I was a bit shocked at the sheer number of photographers down in Zion during the display of fall color. Iconic locations like Temple of the Virgin and The Watchman were extremely crowded at sunrise and sunset. It is a bit unnerving to have so many other photogs around, but we all have our own creative vision, and really, in the end, it’s great to see so many people passionate about photography and its ability to tell a story. Be prepared to arrive very early to your iconic locations if you want to have the pick of the litter for your tripod spot.
While I had hoped for a bit more drama in the weather, it’s tough to complain about a place as beautiful as Zion. Just like so many of our National Parks, it truly is a treasure.