There may be 59 national parks spread across the United States, but Zion National Park is unique in its distinctly Southwestern feel, with undulating rock formations and bold red hues set against bluebird skies.
While in this grand environment, pay attention to the small details when photographing such a journey, like the cavernous slot canyons and concealed petroglyphs. Then implement the below tips for a truly epic Instagram recap of your Utah adventures.
Co-founder of Creative Theory, photographer Gary Williams Jr., along with photographer Brandon Sharpe, visited SpringHill Suites by Zion National Park and used his skills to visually capture the wonder of this national treasure.
Zion is an adrenaline junkie’s dream. Hike, climb, rappel and squeeze your way through a narrow slot canyon in the multisport canyoneering that is only found in a few places in the country. You’ll need an action camera like a GoPro with a helmet mount or chest strap to shoot your way down the canyon, as many of the canyoneering components will require the use of both hands.
Instagram tip: Photographing a slot canyon can be tricky, as lighting is variable depending on how tight a slot it is, with dark shadows and bright, blown-out skies taking up the same real estate on your phone. Use the Snapseed app to spot-edit and selectively bring out the highlights and up the contrast in your image for one impressive #latergram.
Nature shots abound in Zion’s varied terrain, and flora and can be found on easy strolls out to the Emerald Pools. If you have an iPhone X or Plus model, utilize that Portrait functionality to capture the minute details in the colorful flowers and cactuses populating the trails.
Instagram tip: App VSCO comes preloaded with numerous filters like the L series that will immediately enhance the layers in those red-rock images.
There’s no shortages of lookouts from which to take a sweeping shot that shows off Zion’s sheer size. If you have time to spare, Observation Point and Angels Landing will each consume a half-day but will reward with ‘Gram-worthy views that make all that huffing and puffing totally worth it.
Have just an hour before the sun sets and want to make your way to a more accessible perch? Head out to Canyon Overlook, a relatively easy one-mile, round-trip hike with a majestic view at the turnaround point.
Instagram tip: Position a subject (like a friend) in the foreground and don’t be afraid to move around and play with putting the subject in various parts of the frame. In apps like A Color Store or LensLight, you can add some splashy effects like a lens flare to make your shot even more dramatic after you’re done touching it up.
Zion at Sunset
It can be challenging to find the perfect sunset spot due to the sun setting behind all those tall rocks and casting long shadows into the valley, thus eliminating any color — so you’ll want to suss out your perch in advance.
You’ll find plenty of tourists crowding Canyon Junction Bridge near Springdale’s visitor’s center in a quest to capture the Watchman lit up in all its glory. For a less-crowded view of the park’s crimson-colored canyons, head to the Kolob Canyons viewpoint in Zion’s northeast corner.
Instagram tip: Download a sun-tracking app such as Sun Seeker or The Photographer’s Ephemeris to see exactly when and where the sun will set, as well as the shadow length, and find the best perch from which to take your money shot.
If your photo is too dark, use the brightness tool in Instagram and add a touch of saturation to make the image more true to what the eye actually sees.
The slot canyon dubbed the Narrows is by far one of Zion’s most iconic day hikes and is best explored in the off-season when crowds are fewer and the water level is low (the Narrows is frequently closed in late spring and summer months due to high volumes of rain and flash flooding).
A wide-angle lens will come in handy if you have one, as some of the spots are mighty tight and hard to capture. If you’re experimenting with long exposures, pack a light tripod in your day bag to get some epic slow-moving water once you reach the mile-long Wall Street corridor. You will get wet as you’re hiking through the Zion River for hours at a time, so gear up appropriately.
Instagram tip: Since you’ll be in and out of water for much of the trek, you’ll want to use an app like Touch Retouch that allows you to remove water droplets from the lens — or embrace the imperfection in your photo, and Instagram that truly authentic moment.
Whether going on a guided mountain-biking trip among mountainous trails or taking a self-guided hybrid bike ride on a paved path on Zion’s Pa’rus Trail, opportunities for cycling shots are abundant in this national park.
Instagram tip: With action shots — especially ones taken in the shadows — you’ll likely incur some blur. Use Instagram’s sharpening and structure tools to remedy any unwanted movement in your shot that distracts rather than adds to the overall feel.