This past week a good friend of mine, Blake Rudis (from f/64 Academy), and I decided to take a trip to Zion to shoot and catch up. Blake and I go way back to a photo walk I was part of in San Francisco almost 10 years ago. Since then, we’ve always kept up with each other. Not only is he a great photographer and friend, but he’s also an entrepreneur that’s helped me in immeasurable ways over the years as I started my own business a few years ago. In fact, very few people know that Blake was the driving inspiration for me to go out on my own a few years ago, and I wouldn’t have been successful at it if it weren’t for him.

Anyway, one thing he and I have learned over the years is that when you’re out on your own, working from home, you don’t have access to some of the idea generation and creative processes that take place when you work with others in an office every day. So we decided to take this trip so that we could A) bounce some ideas off each other in a more creative setting than just jumping on a Skype call with each other and B) get some shooting done while we’re at it.

Blake had never been to Zion and I happened to have been taking a little Las Vegas anniversary trip with my wife. So I went out a few days before her, we met up at the airport and our Zion trip was born. Here goes…

The Gear and Photo Processing

As they say, “it’s not about the gear”. But the minute I write this article and don’t mention the gear I’ll get a hundred questions ? I traveled fairly light. One camera body with 3 lenses:

As for the photo editing. All photos were edited in Lightroom Classic CC, with Photoshop when needed for removing distractions or a quick sky replacement, and finished with my Lightroom Profiles.

The Watchmen from Canyon Junction Bridge

We got into Zion around dinner time and it seemed the Watchmen overlook from the Canyon Junction bridge was a good place to start. This is probably the most typical view in Zion. It’s easy to get to and has one of the best views of the Watchmen. It’s usually crowded but every time I’ve been there it hasn’t been overwhelming. There were a mixture of 5-6 photographers on tripods, but most other people were just waiting for sunset and shooting with their cell phones. The sunset was kind of blah that evening but hey… we’re shooting right? So I can’t complain that much ? But it did seem like the sun went behind some clouds and it just got very flat early on and never regained.

Settings: f/11, 1/10 sec, ISO 100, 24mm (Sony 24-70mm GM)

The next day we hiked the Narrows (more on that in a minute) and were pretty tired. We really didn’t feel too much like shooting anywhere serious again, so we went to the same bridge for sunset again. This time it definitely shaped up better. First we had more light before sunset which set up nicely for this photo.

Settings: f/11, 1/8 sec, ISO 100, 24mm (Sony 24-70mm GM)

Then, I was about to pack up. Don’t get me wrong. The blue hour and post-sunset is one of my favorite times to shoot. But it just didn’t look like it was going to do anything this evening. But Blake convinced me to stay and I’m glad I did. We got some nice pink clouds about 20-30 minutes after sunset and it made for a pretty backdrop.

Settings: f/11, 0.5 sec, ISO 200, 60mm (Sony 24-70mm GM)

Canyon Overlook

On our first morning, we decided to head to a place called Canyon Overlook. It’s about a 15-20 minute hike in and out, and pretty easy to get to. When you get to the end, you’re rewarded with an amazing look out across the canyon. The clouds looked amazing before sunrise and I thought we’d get some amazing color up there. But it never really happened. It was still a great sunrise spot though. I shot it mostly with a 24-70 to pull in most of the canyon. I did put the 12-24mm on at one point. But for me, this is not a foreground spot. The canyon and rock formations are too extraordinary to minimize them so I felt like it was a better spot to zoom in.

Settings: f/11, 1/6 sec, ISO 100, 24mm (Sony 24-70mm GM)

Settings: f/11, 1/125 sec, ISO 100, 24mm (Sony 24-70mm GM)

Blake and His Hat!

Going on trips with friends is always fun. One thing I never knew about Blake was his magical hat. It’s like his source of photographic power. If he forgot it, we had to turn around and go get it or he slowly started to fade away 😉 And of course you develop those funny moments with each other. For example, in the photo below, Blake had recently put his 10mm lens on and said “you know what they always say… Go wide or go home!”.

My response: Who’s “they” Blake and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that! lol! Fun times… And if you want a real laugh… next time you see Blake or talk to him online ask him about his theory on how the arches in Arches NP were formed. Wow!!!

Settings: f/11, 1/8 sec, ISO 100, 18mm (Sony 12-24mm GM)

Settings: f/11, 1/125 sec, ISO 100, 70mm (Sony 24-70mm GM)

Fast Changing Light

A little while after sunrise, this amazing light started to hit the Towers of the Virgin peaks in the far distance. I learned a long time ago in studio photography that if you want to make something look more interesting, then only light part of it. We don’t get that choice with landscapes though. But I have figured out that when the sun and the clouds do it for you to take a photo of it… and fast… because it’ll probably fade in seconds 🙂

So I grabbed my 100-400mm lens, zoomed in and grabbed a few photos of the amazing light. As you’ll see in a moment, we actually ended up back at this location the next day and the light was different so I did it again. On the first day, the photo kind of felt like it would make a great black and white. But on the second day the light was just different so I left it color.

Settings: f/8, 1/500 sec, ISO 100, 224mm (Sony 100-400mm GM)

Settings: f/8, 1/320 sec, ISO 100, 192mm (Sony 100-400mm GM)

The Narrows

I’ve been to Zion a few times but never had the chance to hike the narrows. So that was on the top of my list for this trip. Blake and I did our research and found you didn’t need a permit for the area we wanted to hike (we’ll nickname that area “Tourist Central”). You just take the Zion Bus to the last stop, get out, and start walking… and walking… and walking…

SIDENOTE: For almost all of the photos in the Narrows I had my B+W Polarizer on with a Tiffen 2-Stop Screw-on ND Filter

Settings: f/16, 0.8 sec, ISO 200, 24mm (Sony 24-70mm GM)

It’s a LONG 20+ minute walk just to get to the good part where the path ends and you have to get into the water. And then you hit the water and it was literally mobbed with people. I swear there were about 300 people condensed into the first 300-400 yards of the Narrows. We just put our heads down, and kept hiking, knowing that it would thin out and the shooting would get good.

And it did. See, it’s a rocky river bed and if you don’t have the right shoes on, it gets almost impossible to keep walking on it. So while the people with flip flops or bare feet made for some big crowds in the beginning, you could tell it was painful – they thinned out and dropped off pretty fast. Usually within the first 5-10 minutes.

Settings: f/16, 2.5 sec, ISO 200, 43mm (Sony 24-70mm GM)

So then that left only those that had good shoes on and really wanted to hike up the narrows. I rented a pair of Aqua Lace boots and neoprene socks from Canyon Outfiitters for $25 and a wet bag for my gear for another $10. The water actually wasn’t high enough (waste deep at the worst part this time of year) that we would have needed the bag, but the people at the store said that they even put their gear in the bag, because it was easy to slip and submerge yourself a little deeper than normal. For $10, we figured it was a good insurance policy ?

Settings: f/11, 1/10 sec, ISO 100, 24mm (Sony 24-70mm GM)

Settings: f/16, 1 sec, ISO 200, 16mm (Sony 12-24mm GM)

Settings: f/11, 1/10 sec, ISO 100, 24mm (Sony 24-70mm GM)

Settings: f/16, 8 sec, ISO 200, 24mm (Sony 24-70mm GM)

As you can imagine, the summer months are pretty touristy and there were a good amount of people hiking that day. At first it was a little frustrating, since it was nearly impossible to get a photo without someone in it. But then we realized we’re both shooting really wide, and the people in the photo were pretty small. And, Blake and I had to remind ourselves that we’re halfway decent at Photoshop. So we knew they’d be gone with some Content Aware and a few strokes of a brush in Photoshop 😉

Once we came to grips with that, shooting became much more pleasant. Below is typical shot of what we saw most of the way after the large crowds dropped out – and then what it looked like after I edited them out (this one took about 15 seconds). You’d think it would be easy enough to wait for people to pass, but there was just always someone walking through and it’s not fair for us to ask them to wait.

Settings: f/11, 1/8 sec, ISO 200, 24mm (Sony 24-70mm GM)

The Hike To Canyon Overlook at Sunrise

On our way out the day before, to the Canyon Overlook, we noticed a few spots that faced the other direction (toward the sun). So we decided to head out there again and just shoot in different places. It ended up being kind of a cool and moody sunrise with the clouds and the light. It was one of those shoots that makes you feel good because there’s no “Stand Here” signs or anything like that. We just put our tripods down where we felt it would be a good shot.

Settings: f/8, 1/8 sec, ISO 100, 14mm (Sony 12-24mm GM)

Settings: f/11, 1/100 sec, ISO 100, 12mm (Sony 12-24mm GM)

The Storm

We ended the trip with what Blake and I call the doulbe-rainbow-ultimate-unicorn sunset. We didn’t really know what to do on our last evening in Zion. It had rained all day. We had a slot canyon spot we wanted to go to, but it would have been too dangerous with the chance of flash flooding. I heard they even closed the Narrows the next day for just that reason.

Anyway, we had seen a photo in our room and after a little searching we found it was a spot down the road from us that you just pull off to shoot. There’s a parking lot, but it’s nothing fancy.

So… picture this. The weather was looking pretty blah. We had this spot in our back pocket as something we could go shoot if things cleared up. So Blake and I went to dinner and had a couple beers. It started raining hard, so we sat there for 45 minutes after we were done, just so we didn’t get soaked on our walk back to the room. It finally let up and we walked outside. It took us about 20 seconds of looking in disbelief, as noticed this behind us:

Blake and I looked at each other, snapped a quick iPhone shot (above), and then sprinted back to the room to get our gear. We shot a few photos from behind the hotel, and then jumped in the car to that spot we had seen online. And for the next 45 minutes we were treated to some of the stormiest and most beautiful scenes.

Settings: f/9, 1/125 sec, ISO 100, 33mm (Sony 24-70mm GM)

Settings: f/9, 1/10 sec, ISO 100, 70mm (Sony 24-70mm GM)

Settings: f/9, 1/10 sec, ISO 100, 44mm (Sony 24-70mm GM)

Back when I first really got into landscape photography I used to look at the weather forecast and hope for sunny days. But now, I look and hope for a chance of some stormy weather. I’d say that on this night, we got it ?

Settings: f/9, 1/400 sec, ISO 800, 128mm (Sony 100-400mm GM)

Settings: f/9, 1/10 sec, ISO 800, 100mm (Sony 100-400mm GM)

Settings: f/11, 1/10 sec, ISO 100, 24mm (Sony 24-70mm GM)


A Great National Park!

Well… thanks for stopping by. Zion is one of the top national parks out there and I highly recommend a trip there. It’s about a little over a 2 hour drive from Vegas (In and Out Burger stop included!). It’s very accessible for all types of photography and no matter what your hiking or skill level, I think you’d find spending a few days there really inspiring for your photography.

I hope you enjoyed and don’t forget to swing by Blake’s website if you haven’t already… Have a good one!


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