A few days ago I completed my work at Zion National Park and returned home to my family and photography studio. And, after one month of sleeping only 4-5 hours each night because the land constantly called me to photograph, I am delighting in the joy of a full night’s sleep once again.
“Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it.”
~ Confucius. (Chinese teacher & philosopher, 551-479 BC)
I returned home with hundreds of digital images to sort through and will post many of them along with articles about the park and photography over the next few weeks. And, for those that enjoy black and white images, I have started developing and printing 54 film negatives made with that Seneca bellows camera from 1907 which I have mentioned before and hope to post many of those photos as well.
Over the next several weeks, some of the upcoming blog posts about photography in Zion National Park will include:
- The Colors of Zion
- The Virgin River & Water Photo Tips
- Zion After Dark: Nighttime Photography
- Zion in Black and White
- Zion’s Flowers, Plants & Trees
- Time-lapse Movies & Panoramas
These posts along with some others will appear during the next several weeks so please stay tuned. In the meantime, because some blog readers have mentioned in the comments their planes to visit Zion in the future, I have prepared the recommended reading list of books & maps which I found to be especially helpful.
In preparing for my visit to Zion National Park I spent weeks researching and reading dozens of books and maps on the park, its history and its geology. And now, after my time there, here is a list of those books and maps that I found most helpful and which I can highly recommend.
BOOKS & MAPS
|Zion Adventure Guide
by Lyman Hafen, Zion Natural History Association
Best Overall Book: I discovered this book after arriving in Zion and wish I had known about it sooner. Of the many general travel books about Zion that I read, this book is a gem of overall, useful and information information for both the first time visitor and a returning traveler. It covers a wide variety of topics about the park, its history, details about selected hikes, maps and even a description of the park’s shuttle system. This book is published and sold by the Zion Natural History Association and can be ordered on their website by clicking here.
|Water, Rock and Time
by Dr. Walter Eves, Zion Natural History Association.
Best Photos & Geology Book: If you enjoy beautiful landscape photographs or have an interest in the geology that shaped a landscape, this book is a must read. The 132 page easy to read book written by a professor of geology offers a fascinating explanation of how Zion Canyon was formed. It also includes 120 gorgeous, full color photographs captured in the park by a variety of talented photographers. To read more about the book or to order click here
|Frommer’s Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks
by Don & Barbara Laine, Wiley & Sons
This small size 184 page guidebook is easy to carry in a backpack and it includes detailed information on both Zion and nearby Bryce Canyon National Parks. Besides general information about the parks, it includes a variety of other useful information such as suggested most-see sights in each park, recommended hikes, where to stay and eat in the area and overall tips on travel, sightseeing and staying safe/healthy. For more information click here
|Utah Atlas and Gazetteer
Published by DeLorme
If you’ll be hiking, driving or exploring areas of Utah other than withinZion National Park this DeLorme Gazetteer is THE map resource to have. Printed on 11×15.5″ paper, it is an excellent resource for trip planning or for spur of the moment exploration. This atlas contains 64 pages of highly detailed maps with each map covering an area of roughly 30 by 45 miles. These maps identify highways, roadways, rivers and streams as well as topographic features to help you navigate the terrain. I rely on these great atlases from DeLorme for all my photo assignments and can highly recommend them. For more information, click here
|Lonely Planet Zion and Bryce Canon National Parks
by Sara Benson et. al., (Lonely Planet)
Book I Found Most Useful: During my 4-week assignment, the book I found most useful and referred to more than any other was the Lonely Planet’s Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. It is filled with an amazing variety of informative, important and helpful information about planning and visiting both Zion and nearby Bryce National Parks. While it offers great information on the usual “travel book” subjects such as how to get there, where to stay, what to see, etc. it also offers valuable information on getting oriented to the area and details on equally as important subjects like geology, native american culture, history and so on. And, although not mentioned in the title, as an added bonus the book also covers not only Zion and Bryce, but ALL national parks in Utah. For more information, click here
|Trails Illustrated: Zion National Park Map (#214)
Published by National Geographic
Best Map: From many years spent hiking and photographing America’s national parks and its backcountry, I’ve always found the Trails Illustrated series from National Geographic to be the most detailed, helpful and informative maps available. Published on a tear-proof and resistant paper that can be folded and unfolded repeatedly, this full color 4×9″ “folded” map unfolds to a very useful 28×32″ size. In addition to highways and roads, the map identifies trails, campsites, recreational features, rivers/streams and additional points of interest in and around Zion National Park. Click here for more details.
|Other Suggested Reading
Photograph America Newsletter is the best photo-location resource guide around. Bob Hitchman has written this 12-page newsletter four times a year since 1989. Each issue includes great suggestions on photo locations, driving/hiking tips and beautiful photographs of the area. I’ve relied on Bob’s newsletters for years to help plan a trip before I arrive and highly recommend it to photographers and tourists alike. The newsletter issue covering Zion and Bryce National Parks is titled: 012 – Zion & Bryce National Park. Click here to visit the Photograph America website.
“Our job is to record, each in their own way, this world of light and shadow and time that will never come again exactly as it is today.” – Edward Abbey (environmental advocate, 1927-1989)
It is a question I have heard hundreds of times from people who have seen me photographing in frigid, snowy, rainy, foggy or windy weather. I was asked it yet again from two park visitors here in Zion who saw me climbing down an ice covered trail in a high wind while carrying a camera, tripod and large backpack. The question is usually something like “So, what exactly DO you photograph on stormy days like this?” Because I’ve been asked the question so many times, I know it is something that intrigues people. So if you’ve wondered what type of photography is possible on what many might consider “bad weather” days, let me describe my work on just such a day.
Last Tuesday I woke at 4 AM to the sound of high winds and the sight of light snow coating the ground. Since there had been blue skies and daytime temperatures of 65° F ( 18° C) for the previous two weeks, a fresh snow, wind and clouds held exciting possibility for photography. I believe that photos made in extreme weather conditions can add an element of interest and memories for the person viewing the photo. Photos that include fog, for example, might feel dreamy or mysterious, while photos containing snow might convey a feeling of cold or crisp.
Leaving the cabin at 4:45 AM, I spent the entire day hiking and photographing during what was the most exciting and ever changing day of weather I can remember for years. It was a morning that began with freezing temperatures and light falling snow that coated the landscape and created stunning contrasts against the red sandstone..
Later that morning, as the sun rose, the snow stopped and the cool air mixed with heat from the warm ground to create a dazzling fog. By mid-morning the fog had lifted, the sky cleared and the temperature exceeded 50° F ( 18° C). That warming air then melted the snow which caused a dramatic increase in the volume and speed of water in the North Fork Virgin River.
All of the images on this page (along with many others) were made on this same weather filled day. Remember, weather can add interest, drama and variety to your photographs. While you may not want to spend an entire day in rain, snow, wind, fog or cold as I did, you might find an occasional adventure outdoors in those conditions to be challenging, fun and photographically rewarding.
Tips For Photographing In Snow and Fog
Making a good photo in fog or snow isn’t always easy. Snow, for example, is often so bright that the camera’s meter usually over compensates by making the scene look too dark. Fog, on the other hand, while not usually appearing especially bright to the eye, tends to trick a camera’s light meter into thinking the scene is brighter than it actually is (the water droplets in the fog act like thousands of mirrors which can confuse the camera and result in under-exposure).
In landscapes with extensive amounts of bright snow or significant fog you can change a camera setting to expose the scene properly. Depending on the camera you use, there are several ways to correct for these underexposed images. With DSLR cameras (or point-and-shoot cameras that allow for manual camera adjustments), I find that using an “exposure compensation” setting of between +1 to +2 helps helps brighten the image properly.
For cameras that lack an exposure compensation setting, there are several options to try. If the camera has a scene or menu selection for Snow, select that. Otherwise, it try to aim the camera toward a medium toned subject (not the brightest nor darkest) subject within the scene, hold the shutter button down half-way (to lock in the exposure setting) then, while still holding down the button, re-compose the photo and press the shutter down fully to take the photo.
A few days ago on a long backcountry hike I struck up a conversation with another hiker named Dan from Colorado. During our talk he asked about a portable GPS unit he had seen me using to take some photographs with. And, since that GPS unit is such a useful for me both as a hiker and photographer, I thought I’d post this short article about it.
On most long distance and backcountry hikes I carry with me a portable GPS unit. The one I have used during the past year is a Garmin 650T (part of their Oregon series). I find that GPS to be somewhat like a Swiss army knife for me because it includes not only a traditional GPS but also a large color display, digital camera, altimeter, compass, a variety of hiking and topo (topographic) maps and a unique 3D feature for viewing the terrain from an aerial perspective.
Besides recording the path of my hike toward a destination and then helping me find the way back, its built in camera is equally valuable. Often when hiking I find a location where the scene is fabulous but because the lighting is poor and I want to return there at a later time. To help me remember the scene and also its exact location, I use the built in camera.
With this unit, each time I take a photo it also records (geotags) the exact GPS coordinates of that location. Later, when I want to return to the same place I simply select the photo within the GPS and ask it to “take me there.” The screen on the left shows a photo I took using the GPS. And, the image on the right shows how the screen will indicate the path to take (shown with a pink line) to return there.
For me, the Garmin 650T (click here to read more on Amazon)is a valuable and rugged portable GPS unit that I carry with me on hikes almost all the time. It is, however, somewhat expensive. If you find the 660T beyond your budget, Garmin also makes a smaller GPS with similar capabilities and just a few less features. It’s the Garmin GPSMAP 62sc with a retail price of $399 (click here to read more on Amazon). Either of these great GPS devices can prove very useful to hikers and landscape photographers.
“There is an elegance to their forms which stirs the imagination with a singular power. In an instant there flashed before us a scene never to be forgotten. “
~ Clarence Dutton, American Surveyor Writing About Zion, 1880
In the past two blog articles I’ve included images of locations and scenes that are easily viewed and photographed either from an auto pullout or along one of the park’s gentle and short hiking trails. And those images are but a few of many hundred of other breathtaking sights and scenes available to any visitor with just a little effort.
Zion is also well known for its more challenging hikes with high-elevation vistas. Across its more than 229-square-miles (590 km2) the park contains over 250 miles (402 km) of hiking trails ranging from gentle (and in many instances, paved) to moderate or strenuous in difficulty. In most instances the later of this group takes travelers to higher elevations with more panoramic views but with much greater effort.
This past week I hiked one of the moderate/strenuous trails to Signal Lookout and Angels Landing. While a handful of hikes such as this offer spectacular views, they do require serious physical activity and no fear of heights. If one or both are a problem for you, there are dozens of easy, short distance trails here with little elevation gain that will not disappoint you.
Angels Landing Trail leads hikers upward 1,488 feet (453 m) from the floor of Zion Canyon to Signal Lookout and then, if they choose, to its breathtaking peak (Angels Landing). The early portion of the trail offers many wide open views of the canyon that was first settled in 1863 by Isaac Behunin who farmed tobacco, corn and fruit. A glimpse into the valley quickly reveals why he’d choose that location.
The middle section of the trail is only mildly challenging and completely paved. It crosses the Virgin River and then climbs rapidly across a series of 21 zig-zag switchbacks referred to as “Walter’s Wiggles.” They were named after Walter Ruesch, the park’s first superintendent who not only designed the ingenious trail for reaching the peak, but also helped build it in 1925.
The switchbacks stop a short distance from Scout Lookout, a large rock landing (with guard rails to hold on to for those who need them) with an elevation of 5,367 feet (1,765 m) that offers a spectacular views of the valley and surrounding mountains. The landing provides an ideal location to enjoy the sights, take a lunch break, photograph and turn around and head back if you desire.. From here though, it is also possible to ascend an additional .5 miles (.8 km) for an even higher view. Doing so, however, requires a strenuous climb along a steep narrow trail with sharp drop-offs. The climber is aided, somewhat, by chains for holding on to that are embedded into the rock face along the way. The photo below shows one of the views made from Scot Lookout.
Time is an element woven into each moment of our lives. Everything we do in life such as hiking, reading or viewing a beautiful scene in Nature occurs over time. Some things we do take just moments and others hours or days. While it is not one of our “five senses” like sight or smell, time is part of everything we experience.
Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.”
~ Dorothea Lange, American Photographer (1895-1965)
Unlike an experience from our own life, a photograph shows the beauty of a single moment. For the photographer, however, making that photo was an event that did occur over time but the events surrounding that moment are unknown to the viewer. Photographs do not show us clouds moving rapidly across a sky, an animal running through a field or leaves blowing wildly in the wind.
Previously in this blog I have written about how time-lapse photography can help visually convey the sense of experiencing a place and an event that occurs over time. This type of photography is sometimes far more compelling or revealing than the experience of viewing a single photograph. The photo below, for example, shows only one moment of a dazzling sunrise.
Unlike recording an event with a video camera where the viewer is required to watch it occur in real time, a time-lapse move compresses the time needed to view that experience. While viewing a sunrise of the sky lightening and the sun rising over a horizon might take 20 minutes (unrealistic for someone to view online), that same experience can be viewed in perhaps 20-30 seconds with a time-lapse movie.
Click on the image below to watch the rising sun lighting and dancing across the formation known as Towers of the Virgin here at the park. This sunrise experience, recorded over 24 minutes is condensed to only 31 seconds as a time-lapse movie. When you finish watching, return here to read the details of how that movie was made.
(Click the Image to Watch)
CREATING A TIME-LAPSE MOVIE
The movie above was created from 495 individual photographs take 3 seconds apart (using a Canon DSLR Camera, an 18mm lens and manual exposure settings). This series of images were then converted into a movie using Apple’s QuickTime Pro software and Apple iMovie.
A few cameras, such as Canon’s G9 or G10 offer a built-in time-lapse feature. For most cameras however, to automatically capture a series of images at a specific time interval, like every 3 seconds, requires an optional called an intervalometer. These are remote control devices which count down a specific amount of time and then automatically press the shutter.
Intervalometers are offered by various camera and third party companies. For creating the time-lapse movies you see here I use Canon’s TC-80N3 Intervalometer (read more about it here) which works with a many of Canon’s cameras like the EOS 7D, 40D, 50D, Mark II and III. Nikon also offers the MC-36 intervalometer which works with many of its own camera bodies.