Frequently Asked Questions: Page 1 2 3

4. What wildlife photography opportunities are there in Zion?

Although I am more of a landscape photographer than a wildlife photographer, I have taken a few interesting animal shots over the years. While Zion National Park isn't known for its wildlife tourism the way that Yellowstone and other parks are, you are likely to have an interesting animal encounter of some kind. Please remember that feeding wildlife is illegal and while many animals in Zion are used to being around people, they should still be considered wild so keep your distance.

Canyon Treefrogs  -- © 2012 Joe Braun Photography
Rockstar Canyon Treefrogs.
California sister butterfly in Orderville Canyon  -- © 2018 Joe Braun Photography
A California sister butterfly enjoys some slot canyon glow.

Mule deer are quite common in the main canyon and can often be seen grazing in fields near the Virgin River, especially along the Pa'rus Trail and the Riverside Walk. Common critters like squirrels, chipmunks, and ravens are quite abundant at many touristy landmarks, but be warned: they will pose for photos because they are expecting handouts (don't do it!) and also know how to steal your food. Squirrels can always be found at the end of the Riverside Walk, chipmunks at the Angels Landing viewpoint, and ravens along the Route 9 switchbacks under the tunnel and at several pull-offs in the Upper East Canyon. Canyon treefrogs can often be found in potholes and streams throughout the greater Zion area in the early summer months.

Blue Heron along the Virgin River  -- © 2011 Joe Braun Photography
Blue Heron fishing along the Virgin River.

During an afternoon stroll along the Riverside Walk, you may also see a blue heron fishing in the water or a tarantula along the trail. There is also a wild turkey population in the main canyon that loiters by the banks of the Virgin River by day and sleeps in the cottonwood trees above the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive by night. California condors can sometimes be spotted at Scout's Lookout and along the Angels Landing hike. (See the NPS's Zion National Park Bird Checklist.)

Rattlesnakes are not too common in the main canyon, but I have seen several over the years along in the Upper East Canyon and on the upper plateaus. Always leave snakes alone and back off and give them plenty of room. Rattlesnakes do not stalk humans, but they will defend themselves if they feel threatened. Lizards also abound in the warmer sections of the park; the most commonly seen are the small common gray. But the larger collared lizards can often be spotted on hot summer days.

Female collared Lizard (Zion National Park)  -- © 2010 Joe Braun Photography
Female Collared Lizard enjoying the sun.
Zion bee fly (spiny tachnid fly)  -- © 2012 Joe Braun Photography
Zion bee fly (spiny tachnid fly) in autumn rabbitbrush.

The most exciting and photographically interesting animals (in my opinion) are the majestic bighorn sheep. Bighorn sheep were once extinct in Zion National Park, but they were reintroduced to the park in the 1990s and in recent years, sightings are not that uncommon. Tourists who drive through the Upper East Canyon may get lucky and see a flock hanging out near the road or roaming around in the cliffs above. Sightings usually turn into circuses and traffic jams of excited tourists, so please take care in minding the traffic and keeping your distance from the animals, especially when the flock crosses the road.

Bighorn Sheep  -- © 2011 Joe Braun Photography
Bighorn Sheep in the Upper East Canyon. (This shot was taken with a 600mm lens; please do not get too close to the wildlife.)
5. Can you share any lighting tips for photographing Zion National Park?

While it's a general assumption that the best light for photography is the dramatic early morning and late afternoon light (including sunrise and sunset), good photos can still be made during normal daylight hours, but it requires some luck and help from the weather. In the desert, cloudless days are quite common and the lighting during high noon is harsh and ugly. Hiking photography can be very disappointing under these conditions, especially if the sand in the air adds a brown tint to the sky. Days like this are best spent shooting in dark slot canyons like the Zion Narrows where the harsh sunlight can be put to good use. Sunlight hitting the canyon walls above or the walls around the corner can result in photographs with that "magic golden glow."

Das Boot, Left Fork  -- © 2006 Joe Braun Photography
The dark and mysterious "Das Boot."

My favorite days for hiking and peak-bagging photography are on partially sunny days when the sky is filled with interesting cloud patterns. Cirrus clouds are like wispy feathered paintbrush strokes in the sky, but my favorite skies are filled with cumulus clouds. Like gigantic puffy cotton balls, cumulus clouds not only add interesting textures to the sky, they also direct the light through a pinhole of sorts that results in crisp, beautiful lighting.

Lower Mountain  -- © 2011 Joe Braun Photography
Lower Mountain in a sea of cumulus clouds.

And while rain and big storms aren't usually pleasant for vacationers and are dangerous for slot canyon hikes, they make for really dramatic photography if you're willing to get wet and wait them out. Some of my favorite photos have been taken just as a big thunderstorm rolls in or rolls out. Being in the right place at the right time requires a bit of luck and a lot of patience, but when you hit it, it's a spectacular experience. Happy trails and happy shooting!!!

Observation Point rain storm  -- © 2009 Joe Braun Photography
Observation Point during a foggy rainstorm.
Observation Point rain storm  -- © 2013 Joe Braun Photography
Observation Point as the sun breaks through.

Hiking in Zion National Park

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