JOE’S GUIDE TO ZION NATIONAL PARKCitrusMilo.com
PHOTOGRAPHY IN ZION NATIONAL PARK

Frequently Asked Questions: Page 1 2 3

Zion National Park Sunrise at West TempleZion National Park is a paradise for landscape photographers, with glowing orange, red, and pink textured sandstone formations interplaying with the lush vegetation provided by weeping walls and the emerald waters of the Virgin River. Visitors to Zion Canyon are surrounded by the majestic sandstone peaks and formations, and views from the rims above are even more stunning. Wildlife sightings are also thrilling for photography.

I get asked the same photography questions quite often, so I'm presenting this page as a FAQ. This is NOT intended to be a definitive guide to photographing Zion; consider this simply as some random ideas from a semi-professional photographer who has loved hiking and photographing Zion National Park for over three decades. Since every photographer has his or her own style, skills, and goals, please take the information here with a grain of salt and use your own judgement and imagination. Questions are answered below:

  1. What camera equipment should I bring to Zion?
  2. What are some good spots for photography?
        2a. Spots to catch sunrises/sunsets
        2b. Photogenic landmarks and hikes
  3. How do I protect my photography gear in the Zion Narrows?
  4. What wildlife photography opportunities are there in Zion?
  5. Can you share any lighting tips for photographing Zion National Park?
     

1. What camera equipment should I bring to Zion?

I get asked this a lot, and it's probably the most difficult question to answer. As a hiking and backpacking photographer, I have found myself constantly battling the pursuit of better image quality (higher resolution and better dynamic range) with the desire to carry smaller and lighter gear on my adventures. Every piece of camera equipment is some sort of compromise between the two and everybody has different photographic goals with gear ranging from smartphones and point-and-shoot cameras to high-end dSLRs and expensive medium and large-format rigs.

Whatever camera system you carry, if you're looking to do some long hikes, the weight of your camera gear is a major factor, so I recommend going as light as possible. Over the years, I have encountered many miserable photographers on the trail who have lugged their entire lens collection around on some long and difficult routes. 20 pounds of f/2.8 zooms and f/1.4 primes can really weigh you down when you're trying to ascend 3000 feet up a mountain in 100-degree temperatures. (Many photographers have also confessed to me that they didn't use the majority of the lenses they lugged around.)

Nikon D810 and Fujifilm X-T1 -- © 2015 Joe Braun Photography
Nikon D810 and Fujifilm X-T2: two examples of wonderful system cameras.

For landscape and hiking/backpacking photography, I tend to favor light variable aperture zooms ("consumer zooms") and f/4 zooms over expensive f/1.4 primes and f/2.8 zooms, especially since I usually shoot between f/8 and f/11 for landscape work. I typically try to carry a standard zoom lens, an ultra-wide angle lens, a macro lens, and if weight permits, a telephoto zoom lens for the occasional animal sighting. For a list of specific equipment that I use, please see my Camera Equipment page. Note that I am Nikon-centric and my go-to camera for landscape work is the luxurious Nikon D810. When I need to carry lighter/smaller gear, I am also a big fan of the Fujifilm X camera system, especially the fun and retro Fujifilm X-T2. But honestly, just about every other camera company out there also makes some compelling gear.

Accessories... For tripods, I typically bring two types to Zion: a big sturdy one for more "serious" work (like sunrise/sunset shots, time exposures, etc.) and a smaller, lighter one for use on strenuous hikes when keeping weight down is important. A big sturdy tripod can also make for a useful walking stick in the Zion Narrows. While there are many big names out there from Gitzo to Manfrotto and dozens of others, I'm a big fan of the relatively unknown Asian company, SIRUI. The Sirui N-1004KX Tripod is my reliable main tripod that easily supports a big heavy SLR and features a removable monopod and interchangable middle columns. The Sirui T-005KX Tripod is a good backpacking tripod when you want to go light, but it's a bit short and wobbly for long time exposures. As for lens filters, I sometimes use ND (neutral density) filters and polarizers. Polarizers can often make the sky more dramatic, bring out details in clouds, and remove unwanted reflections in water, but when overused, they can also make water look lifeless and turn the sky to an ugly dull shade of blue.

Whatever camera equipment you use, take the time to learn it and bond with it, and get out there and have fun!

Angels Landing halo storm (Zion National Park) -- © 2014 Joe Braun Photography
Angels Landing surrounded by a halo of storm clouds.

2. What are some good spots for photography?

EVERYWHERE is a good spot for photography in Zion! No seriously, I mean it. I can't think of any spot in Zion that isn't photogenic or interesting in the right light. Wander around, explore, and be willing to hike a little bit, and you are sure to find photographic opportunities from majestic viewpoints to smaller-scale subjects like sandstone textures and delicate plantlife. The suggestions below are only starting points.

2a. Common spots to catch sunrises/sunsets:

Altar of Sacrifice (Zion National Park) -- © 2011 Joe Braun Photography
Altar of Sacrifice in early morning light.
Canyon Junction sunset (Zion National Park) -- © 2011 Joe Braun Photography
Canyon Junction sunset.
Canyon Overlook Trail (Zion National Park)  -- © 2015 Joe Braun Photography
Canyon Overlook on a wonderful cloud day!
Shuntavi Butte sunset, Kolob Canyons (Zion National Park) -- © 2015 Joe Braun Photography
Sunset makes the sandstone colors glow at Shuntavi Butte.
The Barracks, Upper Parunuweap Canyon photo (Zion National Park) -- © 2009 Joe Braun Photography
"Escape from Parunuweap."
Hoodoo Startrails, Kolob Terrace photo (Zion National Park) -- © 2012 Joe Braun Photography
"Put a Needle on the Record!"

Continue to Zion Photography, PAGE 2...

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