Last month Janet and I visited the USA for the very first time. Travelling with our good friends Phil and Juliet from the SWPP, we were based in Las Vegas for the annual WPPI Photography Convention. We managed to pack a lot in to the ten days and Las Vegas itself was quite an experience, but one of the major highlights for us was a two day road trip out to the stunning National Parks of Utah to the north. Quiet a contrast from the madness that is Vegas.
Arriving in Zion National Park I spotted this information board that summed up perfectly the challenges of landscape photography and of being able to do justice to such breathtaking scenery in a two-dimensional image….
Entitled ’You Make The Picture’, the board simply says this…
The Great White Throne challenges photographers, amateurs and professionals alike. Changing light and shadow change the mountain’s mood and the pictures you can get. Let your imagination guide your lens. Remember that your camera only records what it’s pointed at – you make the picture.
Quite a challenge then. Unlike nearby Bryce Canyon where you are on the rim looking down, in Zion you’re in the bottom of the canyon looking up. Some parts of the valley floor rarely see the sun whereas the mountain tops, including The Great White Throne, are bathed in bright sunshine most days of the year.
One of the challenges of landscape photography is to know the prime locations, the best seasons and the optimum time of day -professional landscape photographers will make every effort to get these elements right. As a casual tourist, just passing through, the knack is to work out the path of the sun and figure out when and where it will appear. That’s the theory anyway, but quite often, especially when you’re travelling with family and friends, it’s sometimes just a case of making a best guess and hoping that you manage to be in the right place at the right time!
One way to give yourself the best chance is to get up early – it nearly always pays off and so it proved for us on this occasion. Arriving at Zion Lodge late in the afternoon we managed a quick recce of the valley before dark. As magnificent as the scenery was, the sun had already deserted us and the light was relatively flat and uninteresting….
Staying in the heart of the valley, with the mountains on our doorstep, we were optimistic that the light would be better first thing in the morning and we weren’t disappointed.
Zion presented me with two major photo-opportunities during the course of the morning. At first light the rising sun kissed the mountain tops with an electric glow and the best vantage point was, conveniently, the balcony of our lodge. Minute by minute the light was changing and the sliver of gold on the top of the ridge got bigger and bigger. After an early breakfast and a speedy checkout we drove half a mile or so further into the valley where sunshine was gaining in strength and picking out the silvery bark of the aspen trees in spectacular style. As intimated on the board, trying to capture the majesty of this scenery in one shot is challenging, if not impossible, so rather than trying to photograph the whole grand vista I concentrated on the areas where the light was at it’s most magical. I used my imagination and ‘pointed my camera’ into the light to bring out the sparkle….