Category Archives: Zion



Twisting, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is a hand-HDR blend of four images, shot on the narrow shoulder leading up to Angel’s Landing in Zion Nation Park. My interest was in the way the twisted, gnarled tree echoes the curves in the canyon so far below.



Narrows, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Trudging up the Virgin Narrows light comes through the openings only briefly—creating a contrast that provides both photographic difficulties and possibilities. Like life itself, we seek a path forward not knowing what we’ll find and hoping our way is illuminated, albeit for brief moments in time.

East Mesa Trail

East Mesa Trail

East Mesa Trail, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

It’s easy to hike the East Mesa Trail up to the rim of Zion Canyon—all it takes is a bit of stamina—and the views are special. If you look closely at this hand-HDR landscape you can see the top of Angel’s Landing far below, as well as some of the switchbacks I followed up to get to the vista shown.

Seeing the Light in Black & White

In the clear light of a November day I strode up the Virgin River in Zion National Park, Utah. The water down the Virgin Narrows ran fast and cold, and my feet—in heavy hiking boots and two sets of wool socks—were wet but not too cold. My main concern was keeping the camera equipment on my back dry considering the wet conditions. One slip on an underwater rock and all the electronics would be toast.

Cliff Light

I struggled up the Narrows, making my way through chambers carved from naked rock, vast cathedrals of nature that suddenly opened, and poetic intimate passages where the river hugged the rock and sunlight filtered down from the plateau far above.

A couple of miles up, the afternoon sun of the shortened autumnal day backlit the tree shown up the cliffside in this photo. In the fast-flowing water of this stretch there was no place to put my tripod down, so I boosted my ISO slightly (to 320) and fired a frame. Then the lighting was gone and the world of the Narrows turned to shadow.

I would have been surprised, but not astonished, had I fast-forwarded a few years to today and seen this image in black and white as I processed it last night. Although it looks good in color too, the essential elements have to do with contrast in lighting between the strong light behind the tree and the very dark sculpture of the cliff wall elsewhere.

You can find more of my thoughts about monochromatic vision and digital conversion techniques in the replay of my webcast Black & White Digital Photography (the video is a bit more than an hour), and in my book Creative Black & White: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques.

Exposure data: 56mm, 1/60 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 320, hand held.

Coming into Zion

Coming into Zion

Coming into Zion, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Looking down at Zion Canyon, Utah in the bright spring sunshine, it was clear to me that I couldn’t create a single exposure that would capture the dynamic range from the deep, black shadows in the foreground to the white clouds in the background. So I made a number of different exposures at a constant aperture, bracketing the shutter speeds, and combined the different exposures by hand in Photoshop to create a single image with greater dynamic range than any one of the individual captures.

It was hard to concentrate on image making with the boys running around like maniacs on a rock platform with an unfenced thousand-foot exposure, but as you can see I managed.

22mm, three captures at shutter speeds between 1/200 of a second and 1/50 of a second; each capture at f/10 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.

Puddle In Zion

Slogging and sloshing up the narrows of the Virgin River, I came to a mud bank partially submerged and nestled against a canyon wall. The whole mud platform was maybe ten feet by five feet.

Looking down, I saw this puddle with reflections of the walls of the narrow Virgin gorge.

The logistical problems were purely physical. I put my tripod legs into the mud, and they sank several inches into the ooze. There was no place to put my camera backpack down, so I did a kind of wiggle dance, getting the items I needed out of the pack, hanging the items on my shoulders and neck, zipping the pack back up and slipping it on.

I used a polarizing filter to bring out the reflections in the puddle, and stopped my lens down as far as it would go for maximum depth-of-field so I could get both the foreground of mud and the reflections of the distant cliff in focus.

After a few exposures, it was the reverse wiggle dance to get everything in the backpack while keeping it dry, not to mention wiping the mud on my Gitzo’s legs off with my wet shirt.

[36mm in 35mm equivalent terms, 1.5 seconds at f/22 and ISO 100, polarizing filter, tripod mounted.]

Zion Canyon

This is a photo from the Zion Canyon rim near Observation Point taken just after sunset in mid-November.

Here are some other photos of Zion from my recent visit:

Looking Up in Zion
Falling into the Virgin
Zion Canyon at Night
Angels Landing (You can see the summit of Angels Landing in the middle ground of the photo above.)
Virgin Narrows
Virgin River

[This photo: 18mm in 35mm terms, 8/10 of a second at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Virgin River

Looking up, the world is reduced to a crescent of sunlight between the cliff walls the river has carved over the eons of time.

Ahead, around the next bend, the river is a trail that you cannot lose. Follow upstream, clothing wet, water sloshing in your hiking boots, and who knows what you’ll find?

[This photo: 18mm in 35mm terms, 2.5 seconds at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Virgin Narrows

Sloshing up the Virgin River in Zion National Park as the gorge gets narrower and narrower is something that everyone should experience. I took this photo about a mile beyond the end of the trail, using a long exposure for high depth-of-field.

[112.5mm in 35mm terms, 1.6 seconds at f/25 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Angels Landing

The immensity of the landscape in Zion National Park is almost too much to take in–or to frame in a photo.

[This photo: 21mm in 35mm terms, 1/25 of a second at f/9 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Zion Canyon at Night

On my way down the Angels Landing trail in the dark, I stopped at a bend where Zion Canyon spread out before me. Looking back and up, I photographed star trails against the massive rock walls.

Looking down at Zion Canyon, the darkness seemed almost complete. I used a high ISO test shot to establish the exposure value of the situation, and then burnt my battery to the bottom of the tank with this thirty minute wide-open exposure at ISO 200.


This is a view of the spine of Angels Landing with the Zion Canyon floor far below.

I hadn’t realized until I was actually in Zion National Park that I have visited this wonderful place twice before. Once, as a kid with a camera, with my parents and brother on the canonical camping trip ending in California. And again, as a photographer in my twenties.

Nothing inside Zion has changed much in all that time. But outside protected lands, southwestern Utah is changing fast into a country of generic strip malls and McMansion subdivisions.

Anyhow, the strange thing is I didn’t really remember Zion until I came back. With memory returning, I realize, “I photographed that tree before, by golly.”

The land hasn’t changed, the vistas are much the same, but my perspective has altered. I have found my center, and know what I am. I can hike the canyon rims, photograph sunset, and come down by starlight. I can wander up winding canyons filled with water. What was I thinking way back then to be so timid about making my way into the heart of this great land?

Falling into the Virgin

I wandered and slogged up the Virgin River towards the narrows. Boots and jeans soaked, walking up the river like some amphibious creature, camera and tripod high on my back.

About a mile beyond the end of the trail, I came upon this waterfall tumbling down the slick rock into the Virgin.

I exposed for two seconds to soften the water, and used a polarizing filter to bring out the red colors in the rock.

[300mm in 35mm terms, circular polarizer, 2 seconds at f/25 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Looking Up in Zion

Coming down from Angels Landing in the dark, I paused after the set of switchbacks known as Willy’s Wiggles. Looking back, I saw Angels Landing silhouetted (on the right). I exposed for about twenty minutes, with the camera pointed close to due north (which accounts for the exaggerated circular motion of the star trails).

[18mm in 35mm terms, 1199 seconds at f/4 and ISO 200, tripod mounted.]