Zion National Park
Zion is a multi-faceted place, and it requires you to adjust to its often
picky lighting situations. In the canyons, light is often available only
during the middle of the day. Many of the canyon formations are only well-lit
for a couple of hours, with severe backlighting or other problems at other times.
Knowing when to be at a particular location is key.
Film: Be patient and use slow film. The scenery isn't going
anywhere, and the best colors and effects are brought out with slower films.
What to Photograph, and When:
- Visitor's Center to Canyon Entrance: Two sets of features dominate
the skyline in this area. The West Temple, Towers of the Virgin, and the
Altar of Sacrifice are best photographed from the porch of the old
visitor's center (now the museum). Sunrise yields astonishing photographs of
these sights and the towering cliffs below them, but be prepared to deal with
the strong dividing line between sunlight and shade that dominates the scene
until well after true sunrise. The Watchman stands directly opposite
the West Temple and its companions, and catches the afternoon Sun strongly.
Try to get some afternoon thunderstorm lighting to further enhance a picture
here. Also of interest in the area are the ever-present Virgin River and
a number of cacti.
- Zion Canyon: Inside Zion Canyon, sunrise and sunset are
figments of your imagination; only at the top of the overlook trails of
Angel's Landing or Inspiration Point can you watch the Sun
creep over the scenery of Zion Canyon. But save your hiking until after
dawn, because your best pictures will occur towards the middle of the day.
The Patriarchs catch morning light better than afternoon, as do
Emerald Falls (and, in general, anything on the West side of the
Canyon). The Great White Throne is one of the tricky features;
it is often backlit - a bit of scouting is required to time it for the
best light. Many features of the canyon are helped by interesting clouds
and mixed lighting.
- Canyon Narrows: There are many narrow canyon sections
throughout the park, from the famous Subway to the Narrows of
the Virgin River. Although best lighting times vary, most benefit
from relatively "vertical" lighting from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.
The Subway is also helped by reflections from blue skies and/or
colorful Fall leaves (Fall is early November in most of Zion...). Be
sure to take long-exposure pictures of the many waterfalls and cascades
in the park, many of which only come out for a show after rainstorms.
- Kolob Canyons: The Kolob Canyons area is an excellent
place to take sunset photographs of red rock canyons, buttes, and Juniper.
- Zion Plateau: The Eastern section of the park is more
typical of SouthWest geography like the Coyote Buttes area or parts of
Grand Staircase-Escalante. It benefits greatly from early morning and
occasionally evening light, which enhance the textures and subtle colors
of the many interesting formations in the area. Checkerboard Mesa
is the most famous formation on the east side of the park, and is
definitely a morning subject; light winter snows help to highlight the
intricate web of erosion cracks on the mesa. Twisted evergreens grow
out of rocks in the area, providing an abundant photography subject.
Desert Paintbrush are also abundant in the area.