Frequently Asked Questions: Page 1 2 3

Zion National Park Milky Way above Zion CanyonZion 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 discussed 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. While cellphones are good enough for most people these days, larger system cameras still offer much better image quality (higher resolution and better dynamic range and low-light performance) for the more serious photographer. As a hiking and backpacking photographer, I have found myself constantly battling the pursuit of better image quality 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. I have shot with cameras made by Nikon, Canon, Fujifilm, Panasonic, Olympus, and Sony and the dirty little secret is that they are all capable of taking fabulous photographs.

Whatever camera system you carry, take the time to really learn the features and controls of your equipment until it feels like an extension of your body. And if you're looking to go on long and strenuous 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 around their entire lens collection as well as their 10-pound studio tripod on some grueling routes. If you try to be a bit more minimal with the gear you carry, you can spend more energy getting to a unique spot and composing your photograph.

Nikon D810 and Sony A7rIII -- © 2017 Joe Braun Photography
Sony A7 mirrorless and Nikon FX dSLR cameras are two of the many great camera systems out there.

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/13 for landscape work. I typically try to carry a standard zoom lens and an ultra-wide angle lens, and if weight permits, maybe also a macro lens and/or a telephoto zoom lens for the occasional animal sighting. My current go-to landscape camera is the popular Sony A7r III and for situations where I need a really small and light camera, I shoot with the tiny Canon M6. For a more specific list of camera equipment and lenses, please see my Camera Equipment page.

Left Fork of North Creek (The Subway) photo (Zion National Park) -- © 2015 Joe Braun Photography
The iconic view of the lower Subway.

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, 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!

Observation Point Milky Way photo (Zion National Park) -- © 2018 Joe Braun Photography
The Milky Way glows brightly above the main canyon. (Sony A7rIII with Tokina FiRIN 20mm f/2)

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.
East Canyon (Zion National Park) -- © 2018 Joe Braun Photography
Mystical hoodoo catching the final rays of evening light.
East Canyon Cliffdiver! (Zion National Park) -- © 2015 Joe Braun Photography
"Cliffdiver!" This is one of the more famous roadside pinyon pine/hoodoo landmarks.
Hoodoo Startrails, Kolob Terrace photo (Zion National Park) -- © 2012 Joe Braun Photography
"Put a Needle on the Record!"

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