Zion. What a cool name. But it doesn’t stop there… the breathtaking visuals you see as you first arrive into Zion National Park will leave you speechless. Towering, red canyon walls lined with lush green and yellow foliage make the perfect playground for photographers. And if that wasn’t enough, wildlife is abundant and the Virgin River cutting it’s path down the middle put the final touches on this picture perfect location.
Friday night at 8pm all of our guests had arrived — it was time for orientation. We covered the schedule for the weekend, gear review and safety. After getting to know one another and some Q&A it was time for a good night’s sleep as departure the next morning would come early.
We spent sunrise along the Virgin River at the Court of the Patriarchs before moving on, deeper into Zion. A mid-morning visit with Bison and some horses provided a change of scenery and some photo ops as well. From there we made a stop at a rock outcropping with a persistent little tree growing out of the top. This location gave us some fantastic leading lines toward the subject and allowed us to work on near/far concepts and apertures. With the sun climbing high the good morning light was past and it was time for a lunch break.
After lunch we headed to gear up for the Zion Narrows hike we would do the next day. Everyone rented water-hiking shoes and dry pants to ensure their time in the canyon would be comfortable, and warm. Next we headed for sunset…the sky was filled with some high clouds so we made our way back down to the Virgin River, this time looking west toward “The Watchman,” a giant monolith of a mountain that catches great side light in the late afternoon. Using the river as a leading line, Phil and I worked with the group for best apertures, shutter speed and white balance to capture the scene.
Sunday morning came early…it was time to head to the Narrows! We started the trail hike at 7:30am, with just enough light to see the path in front of us. The first mile is on a flat trail, then we reached the mouth of the Narrows…it was time to start our journey. With some quick instructions we broke into two small groups and I started out with my group. Phil waited back about 15 minutes to give plenty of space so we could shoot freely without having the other group in our shots. We made several stops as we hiked up the slot canyon. The morning light was fantastic, air temperature was in the 60’s and the water temperature was also pretty warm. But with dry pants on everyone was nice and toasty! The water level was very easy to navigate, never more than about knee deep.
The morning was flying by as we captured great images along the way. Then we reached Wall Street, the furthest point on our hike and one of the most photographic locations of the entire Narrows Canyon. The light was perfect! With polarizers we cut the glare off the water, giving way to crisp clean foregrounds and allowing the beautiful colors in the rocks to shine through.
We had been in the Zion Narrows almost 4 hours…it was time for lunch. We stopped at a nice sandy area along the river to rest and eat lunch. Phil’s group caught up with us and took their turn at shooting Wall Street and as they stopped for lunch it was time for my group to start the trip back out of the Narrows. We stopped another 5 or 6 times on the hike our to photograph in the other direction. Now that it was afternoon, the light in the canyon was completely different and we even re-shot a couple of the same locations, this time in a different direction.
By 4pm we had arrived back at the trailhead and high-fives were given — success…we had done it! 6 miles round trip and many fantastic images captured. The Zion Narrows is a challenging hike but extremely rewarding not only to complete but to tackle the photographic challenges it presents. Light in the canyon is tricky to read and even more difficult to capture well. This group accomplished both!
Stephen, Phill and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!
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