Photography Tips for Capturing the Red Rock Scenery of Utah and the American Southwest

7 Tips for Photographing Utah’s Parks

Last month, I headed out to Utah for a fun-filled photography adventure weekend with Visit St. George and iExplore. It was an epic Instameet, open to the public, free for any to attend, and more than 30 of us photography lovers gathered to go on hikes and capture this gorgeous slice of the Southwest.

Photography Tips for Capturing the Red Rock Scenery of Utah and the American Southwest

We also put our photog skills to good use. I’ve been shooting exclusively in manual mode on my Canon DSLR for a handful of years now and thought I’d share a few tips to photography Utah’s red rock landscape—and any national park in general—for the next time you’re feeling the hankering for a photo walk.

Photography Tips for Capturing the Red Rock Scenery of Utah and the American Southwest

1. Avoid harsh light. In general, I’ll shoot in the morning and the very late afternoon, but it’s rare that I take my camera out in the middle of the day when the sun’s directly overhead. It washes out the color and casts shadows on the subject that aren’t generally too flattering. Later in the afternoon can be better, color-wise, but tricky, too, with variable lighting creating shadows in the background with a blown-out foreground (or vice verse), similar to here.

Photography Tips for Capturing the Red Rock Scenery of Utah and the American Southwest

A basic rule of thumb: The hours directly following sunrise and right before sunset are generally the best time to get great natural light and a deeper color palette.

Photography Tips for Capturing the Red Rock Scenery of Utah and the American Southwest

2. Utilize the rule of thirds. Sure, sometimes it’s nice to have a subject centered (see: the above photo), but for the most part, a more interesting shot is one in which the subject is in the top, bottom, left or right third or the frame.

Photography Tips for Capturing the Red Rock Scenery of Utah and the American Southwest

3. If shooting at twilight, use a tripod. Camera shake is a legit concern when it starts to get dark outside and your shutter speed slows to let in more light. In past photography courses I’ve taken, I’ve heard you should always use a tripod for anything less than a 1/50 shutter speed (depending on the focal length). I have a pretty steady hand and can hold the camera still at 1/30—anchoring my elbows taut against my stomach—but you should learn what works for you and at what shutter speed you start to get blur.

Photography Tips for Capturing the Red Rock Scenery of Utah and the American Southwest

Even though I don’t always pack my trusty tripod (since I’m usually traveling with just a carry-on when flying), I can always find something to set my camera on top of to use as a tripod, whether a ledge, a bag of rice, the ground; get your settings right and turn it on two-second timer to avoid any shake whatsoever.

Photography Tips for Capturing the Red Rock Scenery of Utah and the American Southwest

3. Find the path less traveled. While, sure, we went into Zion for a day—you can hardly go to St. George and not visit one of the country’s best national parks—such popular attractions often come with a downside: crowds. Think outside the box. It’s not like Zion is the only park in St. George; rather, the county boasts four state parks and I’d venture to say my photos from them were even better than Zion because I had space to play and wasn’t constantly dodging people. Do your research and find the less-Instagrammed attractions that are often every bit as breathtaking.

Photography Tips for Capturing the Red Rock Scenery of Utah and the American Southwest

4. Play with both foreground and background focal points. When shooting landscapes, I like to have something in the foreground for perspective. But that doesn’t necessarily produce the best image every single time. Instead, I’ll often take the same frame with multiple focal points, then decide later after I’ve downloaded all my images to my computer which I like better. The great thing about digital after all is that your space is more or less unlimited (depending on the size of your memory card, I suppose!).

Photography Tips for Capturing the Red Rock Scenery of Utah and the American Southwest
Photography Tips for Capturing the Red Rock Scenery of Utah and the American Southwest

5. Mix up your shots. Love macro photography? Step outside of your comfort zone and try a sweeping landscape shot. Have a tendency to only zoom out and shoot a? Try focusing on a single subject and playing with your depth of field.

Photography Tips for Capturing the Red Rock Scenery of Utah and the American Southwest

6. Sometimes with a big sky landscape, you need a subject. A dash of depth of field often adds a more interesting perspective than just a straight-up landscape capture without anything in the foreground.

Photography Tips for Capturing the Red Rock Scenery of Utah and the American Southwest

 

7. Have fun with it. The great thing about Instagram becoming such a powerful visual tool is that it’s forced all of its users to get creative in order to stand out. I have no qualms staging a shot and asking a friend to be in it, just like I’m not embarrassed to rope in others to be in my picture even if I hardly know them.

Photography Tips for Capturing the Red Rock Scenery of Utah and the American Southwest

Photography Tips for Capturing the Red Rock Scenery of Utah and the American Southwest

What’s your best tip for photographing a national park?

Photography Tips for Capturing the Red Rock Scenery of Utah and the American Southwest

This post was in partnership with Visit St. George and iExplore.

 

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Photography Tips for Capturing Utah and Zion National Park
Photography Tips for Capturing Utah and Zion National Park
Photography Tips for Capturing Utah and Zion National Park
COMMENTS
  • June 15, 2017

    Wow! What a photography you shared of that place. It looks amazing. Great article. Thanks.

  • June 15, 2017

    Good tips! I always forget about the 2-second timer when I’m doing night photography.

    I can’t wait to get back to St George and explore outside of Zion a bit.
    Leigh recently posted..Ohio’s First Adventure: MariettaMy Profile

    • June 18, 2017

      Sometimes I find the two-second isn’t even long enough for my camera to stabilize after I remove my hand. I wish mine had a five-second on it! I do, however, have the remote trigger option on my phone.

  • June 15, 2017

    Great article! I just recently started my own travel blog and did a couple pieces of Zion National Park for my first “inaugural” trip over Memorial Day weekend. I remember driving to Zion from St. George for the first time and immediately thought I had been transported to an old John Wayne movie with the gorgeous backdrop. Needless to say, I cannot wait to return to Utah and see what else to explore.

    As for photo tips, I would say be mindful of the white balance setting on the camera if you’re using a DSLR camera. Sure, we have programs like Photoshop to fix things like that but that can be quite time consuming.

    • June 18, 2017

      That’s a great tip, Nick! I definitely adjust my white balance setting (in terms of shade vs. sun vs. fluorescent, etc.), though I’ve never used the custom WB setting, I’m embarrassed to admit.

      And I totally know what you mean about Utah feeling as if you’ve time-traveled! Have you seen Westworld yet?

      • June 20, 2017

        I’m ashamed to admit that I have HBOGo (Primarily for Game of Thrones) but I have yet to see Westworld, despite the insistence of my co-workers and friends that it’s an awesome show. I’ve made a promise to myself to start watching it in the near future but with my MBA program wrapping up, I got to prioritize!

  • June 15, 2017

    Great article! I just recently started my own travel blog and did a couple pieces of Zion National Park for my first “inaugural” trip over Memorial Day weekend. I remember driving to Zion from St. George for the first time and immediately thought I had been transported to an old John Wayne movie with the gorgeous backdrop. Needless to say, I cannot wait to return to Utah and see what else to explore.

    As for photo tips, I would say be mindful of the white balance setting on the camera if you’re using a DSLR camera. Sure, we have programs like Photoshop to fix things like that but that can be quite time consuming.
    Nick Ortloff recently posted..Exploring the Utah Craft Beer SceneMy Profile

  • June 15, 2017
    Briel K.

    Good tips!

    I’d love to return to the Zion area and to visit St. George too. Maybe if there’s another meet up next year I’ll be able to make it!

    • June 18, 2017

      I think there might be! I’ll keep you posted 😉

  • June 15, 2017

    Great snaps and advice – Makes me want to go back to Utah with a new camera and capture those rocks in all their red glory! Thanks for sharing!
    Jordan recently posted..How to Get From Caye Caulker to Tulum (or how to go from Belize to Mexico)My Profile

    • June 18, 2017

      They can be tricky with the light and all the people, but at the end of the day, it’s hard NOT to take a good photo in this area of the country, it’s just so gorgeous =)

  • June 16, 2017

    I believe you’ve said it all. Wonderful photography!
    Victoria @The British Berliner recently posted..Have you ever been to Sweden? Hej!My Profile

  • June 17, 2017

    Great tips! My photos of landscapes usually come up blurry. That’s probably because of poor lighting, therefore low shutterspeed, and no tripod. Or because of my depth of field. Hmm… I’m inspired to start trying this again!
    Dominique recently posted..Falkirk – A Day TripMy Profile

    • June 19, 2017

      Yeah, it’s tricky to get the shutter speed and f-stop right and not bump up the ISO so much that your image gets grainy! Hence the need for a tripod in some (many) situations =)

  • June 17, 2017

    WOW! Absolutely stunning shots! I cannot wait to get my butt out to Utah. It has always been high on my list, it is just so stunning!

    • June 19, 2017

      I hope you make it there one day, Megan! Totally worth the trek.

  • June 17, 2017

    We just drove through southern Utah in March, and after seeing your photos I wish I could go back. Such a beautiful area of the country! Another tip is to get a remote shutter. That way once everything’s set you don’t have to worry about nudging the camera.

    • June 27, 2017

      It really is! For some reason, I don’t feel like southern Utah is on people’s radar as it should be. Perhaps it gets overshadowed by the Grand Canyon being so close by.

  • June 17, 2017

    This is amazing. I’m not a photographer and I’m always on the lookout to learn some photography tips that could help me (and my husband, forwarding this to him right now!!) get better at it! And of course, your pictures of Zion are incredible…!!
    Alice recently posted..A 4 days road trip in Northern CaliforniaMy Profile

  • June 17, 2017
    Lia

    Your photos are stunning!! I’m so tempted to get better at yoga just to have something to do with myself in photos now 😛
    Lia recently posted..The 27 Best Breweries, Distilleries, & Bars in Louisville, KY: A Local’s GuideMy Profile

    • July 2, 2017

      HA! You should! There are thousands of poses you can do =)

  • June 17, 2017

    Gah, it looks so beautiful there! Definitely agree on the tip of big landscape, little subject, it helps to put these incredible places into perspective 🙂

  • June 17, 2017

    Awesome tip about having a subject in a large landscape. I forget that sometimes but it makes the photo so much more impactful.

  • June 19, 2017
    Tyson Harold

    Nice post.

  • June 19, 2017

    Swoon. Favorites.

    xox
    Feisty Harriet recently posted..ParalyzedMy Profile

  • June 20, 2017

    A very well written article with awesome useful tips for this type of photography really photographs that you have shared with us are amazing thanks for sharing them and these good tips.

  • June 20, 2017

    The amazing beauty you shared of that national and you shared good tips to capture stunning photos during the trip. it’s really awesome place.

  • June 21, 2017

    I love your idea about taking the road less traveled because you really get to take some beautiful photos. Speaking of which, your photos are absolutely breath taking!

  • June 21, 2017

    Loving these photos, you really know how to capture the best images. I really need to step up my photography game when it comes to travel photos! xo

  • June 21, 2017

    Thanks for the tips! You take beautiful pictures 🙂 So awesome you just met up in the nature with other photography lovers and got creative with a whole group! Would love to do that aswell.

  • June 21, 2017

    Fab tips, I always forget to utilise a tripod and then get frustrated with low light photography! Your photos are so enchanting!
    Clazz – An Orcadian Abroad recently posted..The What Ifs: Alternative Lives Of MeMy Profile

  • June 21, 2017

    This is awesome. I have not been to Utah and hadn’t really considered it before. However, your article provided some very good reasons and beautiful pictures to visit. Thanks for sharing!

  • June 21, 2017

    Lovely photos! I love visiting national parks and I hope we can continue to visit these precious gems.

    What camera do you use?
    NieNie – Adventures With NieNie recently posted..Adventures in Yosemite National ParkMy Profile

  • June 21, 2017

    I’d never really considered going to Utah before reading this 😛 I’m from Australia, so I guess I grew up hearing about New York, California, Florida, DC, and all these mainstream places that are on TV and in films before thinking about going to other states and cities, but it does look incredible. I’ll be sure to do my research before I go to the US 🙂
    Charlotte recently posted..Work In Italy Without A VisaMy Profile

  • June 22, 2017
    Kim

    I don’t have plans to visit national parks in the near future, but these are great photography tips in general! Will keep these in mind next time I’m traveling, thanks 🙂

  • June 22, 2017

    Awesome article! I’m just getting into photography and am amazed at how many people think I’m crazy for going to great lengths for a dawn lighting, as opposed to mid-day! I’m just shooting with my iPhone now, but it’s so wonderful to notice a difference in quality with the tips you mentioned!
    Rachelle recently posted..Exploring Molokai, HawaiiMy Profile

  • June 22, 2017

    Oh wow, that landscape is gorgeous! I know nothing about photography (I am a solid iphoneographer who dabbles badly in instax), so thanks for sharing your tips! Hope you had an amazing trip.

  • June 29, 2017

    Awesome tips (and photos!) I like that you point out that a centered shot is sometimes necessary, but using the rule of thirds – in most cases – will give you the most organic shot. Thanks for sharing!

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