Our extreme adventure begins in majestic Zion National Park. Zion is in southern Utah, just outside the town of Springdale. This quaint little town would be our home base during our Aperture Academy Zion Extreme Photography Workshop. One of the biggest attractions of the park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep. One full day of the workshop is dedicated to hiking and of course photographing in this amazing canyon. However, first things first, Scott and I needed to meet up with our students on Friday night at our Springdale digs.
We introduce ourselves and then intently listen to all the students as they introduce themselves and let us know what their expectations are for the weekend of photography in Zion. After introductions Scott and I go over some specifics about our next couple of days, including our Narrows bottom up hike. We had brought our packs to the meeting, to display how we prepare our F/Stop Satori backpacks for the Narrows adventure. Once all questions are answered and everyone is comfortable with our itinerary, we send everyone to bed for a good nights sleep.
Our first morning began with a classic sunrise shoot at a location named, The Court of the Patriarchs. This set of sandstone cliffs is named after the biblical figures Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Which could have been from the influence of Mormon settlers in the eighteen hundreds. It’s easy to see why the location is a favorite among photographers. The Virgin River makes a perfect foreground element in front of the towering Navajo sandstone cliffs. Scott and I presented the students with several different vantage points and let them choose which they liked best. Also encouraging them to move around and try other vantage points as well. We ensured that everyone had the proper settings and filters to capture the stunning peaks, aglow with the morning light. It was great to see all the students moving around to get a nice variety of images. As we were gathering together to head to our next spot, I notice a nice little 3-point buck right near the river. He started to make his way across the river, but got a little spooked and turned back. After a few minutes he decided it was safe and we remained nice and still, so he wouldn’t feel threatened. Crossing in the rapids right above the waterfall, made for some really fantastic images. Once the buck made his way across and headed into the wooded area, we made our way back the ApCab. Our next couple of spots had some cool tree features accented by the Navajo sandstone. Just before our first tree stop, we noticed several cars pulled off the road, and then cameras, all pointed in the same direction. They were photographing a nice group of big horn sheep. Luckily there was a large enough location for us to pull over and park, nearby. All were excited by the plentiful wildlife sightings on this first morning.
After spending about 30 minutes photographing the big horn, a couple of the males decided to get out a little aggression, and proceeded to charge each other. The sound of their horns crashing echoed throughout the canyon. It was a truly exhilarating event to experience. Time to get back to our landscape features now, so we made our way to a couple of very cool trees. Scott and I helped with some different composition ideas, as well as some simple techniques for capturing dazzling sun-stars.
The morning was chock full of awesome landscapes and wildlife, but tummies were rumbling, so it was time for a lunch break. Springdale has some great little restaurants, so it was easy to grab a quick yet delicious lunch. After lunch, we met up at the Zion Adventure Company to get our gear for Sunday’s Narrows hike. After watching an 8-minute video about remaining safe and enjoying your narrows experience, everyone was fitted into their neoprene booties, river shoes, and dry pants. Having the proper gear is essential to not only staying safe, but also being warm and comfortable while photographing. Once we were all outfitted it was time for more photography. The Temple of Sinawava is the location of the riverside walk trail. This is the trail were we would start our Narrows journey on Sunday morning. Not only is it nice to lay eyes on it ahead of time, but also it’s a great place to photograph fall color along the river. Scott and I assisted with some composition ideas, as well as the appropriate camera settings for capturing the flowing river. Some good practice for Sundays hike. Our time at the Temple of Sinawava (Sinawava refers to the Coyote God of the Paiute Indians) seemed to fly by and it was now time to make our way to the sunset location. For sunset we led our group to a couple of small footbridges. These bridges are nice, because one does not have to worry about cars, as with the main bridge at Canyon Junction, where a lot photographers camp out with their tripods. As the sun sets it provides a nice glow on the red sandstone cliffs, known as The Watchmen. Scott and I assisted with filters and bracketing to capture the contract of the bright sky, with the darker foreground of the Virgin River. We milked every bit of light before packing up to make our way back into Springdale for dinner and ample sleeping hours, in preparation for the Narrows hike the following morning.
Even though it was early everyone was bright eyed, in anticipation for the incredible day ahead. It was fun to see all the students in their narrows gear. We all piled in the ApCab and headed down scenic drive to the Temple of Sinawava. After making our way to the end of the Riverside walk trail, it was time to enter the water and put all this gear to use. But first I set up my tripod for a quick group shot. The entrance to the Narrows makes for an awesome background. After the very cool group shot, Scott and I split into two small groups and I started out with my group of four first. The river can fluctuate from day to day, month to month, and year to year. Today the CFS (cubic foot per second of flow) was around 80. This is a very manageable rate of flow, but requires close attention during some crossings. Some gloves went MIA, but luckily Scott’s group picked up one pair of missing gloves. Another was amazingly spotted by the student who lost it. Adrian watched his glove float down stream and figured it was gone. On our return walk he somehow located it in an area where the flowing river circulates in a corner. Adrian was very crafty in his retrieval process. He fashioned two hiking sticks together with some straps from his bag. The water was deep in this corner, so going in after it was out of the question. Rick helped out by throwing some rocks to push the glove closer to Adrian. Success! The glove was reunited with its owner. Along with fishing for gloves, my group captured some stunning images. We stopped at many locations, taking advantage of the changing light. I talked a little about looking for the best light, as we collectively decided where we would stop and set up for some shots.
We spent a good potion of the day hiking in and out of the Virgin River, capturing outstanding images, and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. All the students did awesome during the hike and as we made our way back to the ApCab, all were happy to shed their river shoes and put on some nice dry shoes and socks. After we returned our great to the Zion Adventure Company, we had a short break before meeting up for some post processing and image review. Scott went over a few techniques for combing multiple images, into one seamless and natural exposure. After about an hour of processing work everyone was ready for a nice big dinner. We reminisced about our amazing photographic adventure over a fantastic diner at the Whiptail Grill. A great meal and good conversation was the perfect way to wrap up our Zion Extreme Photography Workshop.
Until next time,
Ellie, Scott and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.