Is Utah really the best snow on earth?
What are the best locations to photograph landscapes in Utah?
Again, location is really about opportunity. Some locations offer off the road scenics. Others offer access to a whole world of landscape possibilities. The choice is up to you.
With a confident slogan like “The Best Snow on Earth,” it’s clear that Utah has a lot to offer. Fortunately for photographers, that isn’t only in the form of a great ski vacation. Instead, they also have some of the best landscape photography as well so they’re certainly not just bragging; with a variety of flora to decorate unique geological displays, the deserts, mountains, and lakes of Utah provide an immeasurably matchless opportunity for some great landscape photography.
Utah is home to unique and varying terrain that grasps the eye and imagination with color, texture, and structure. With so much to offer, it can be overwhelming to capture everything and its essence when you first see these sights. This guide will give you key locations that you must see and how to approach them with your camera, what gear to use, and techniques to get stunning images as soon as you arrive and all the way through the state.
Here are some of the best locations to explore as a landscape photographer in Utah
1. Antelope Island State Park
For when the red deserts become too much, a trip to Antelope Island State Park provides a bit of variety in the land. From the Island – which is actually a peninsula in the southeast section of the Great Salt Lake – you may enjoy views of the highly reflective lake as well as the mountains in the distance. In addition, sandy beaches offer a nice place to stroll while shooting the wild bison and antelope that roam the area. For added depth in your photos, try to include some of the local wild wheat on the island in the foreground. Furthermore, the west-facing side of the peninsula provides an excellent over-water sunset view.
2. 9 Mile Canyon
This lush 40-mile long canyon provides a look into the thriving green valley located in the east of Utah. This diverse section of the state provides lush greenery and drier areas as well as trickling creeks. As a nice accent to the gorge, many of the rocks are covered in ancient Ute and Fremont rock art. This area offers nothing short of an amazing look into the history of Utah – both natural and manmade. Be sure to take advantage of the midday sun to fully capture the vibrancy of the green in the canyon before shadows obscure it too much.
3. Starvation State Park
We know how it sounds, but this State Park is not some monument to the old days of famine and draught. Instead, Starvation Reservoir offers an amazing backdrop for shots of the waterside rock formations and wildflowers dotting the area. Instead of the more prominent mountains popular in Utah photography, Starvation presents a subtle layering effect of the rising lands in the distance. This adds depth to the photo, especially as the sun dips at dusk behind the horizon.
4. Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
One may think that Utah is only red deserts and a few brown mounts dotted by the occasional lake. But the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, while a mouthful to say, is certainly a sight to behold. It stands out among surrounding landscapes by featuring Navajo sandstone dunes. Catch them at the right time of day and the sands appear to be a pinkish color (as the namesake implies). Usually, they appear an orangey red. While this color is somewhat common for the State of Utah, the presentation of it in dune form gives photographers something unexpected and intriguing.
5. Bonneville Salt Flats
Like the Pink Sand Dunes, the Bonneville Salt Flats are a surprising addition to the Utah scenery as you head west to Nevada. Popular for bridal shots, family pictures, and even filming TV shows, the flats offer an enchanting and even otherworldly scene. The white salt ground becomes super reflective under the glaring desert sun, adding intensity to the often-bright blue skies above. These landscape photos utilize the trickery of nature to present an ethereal look that truly brings out the magic of the desert.
The Bonneville Salt Flats are for photographs that could be of another world. Located in northwest Utah this salt flat is forty square miles of compact white salt. This landscape can look like it stretches endlessly, creating webs of white texture as the dry salt cracks. This pairs beautifully with an early morning sky of pastel colors with mountains peeking on the horizon.
During the winter this salt flat cover in a couple inches of water. When shooting from the ground the water reflects the sky and the landscape, mirroring everything into a total surrounding of the landscape. It brings an endlessness scenic in both directions, leaving viewers awestruck.
6. Glen Canyon National Recreational Area
Glen Canyon is a natural canyon that rides through both southcentral Utah and north-central Arizona. The recreational area includes the ever-famous Horseshoe bend, where the river has carved its way through the red rock to create a sharp U shape in the land. While this particular area of the canyon is located in Arizona, we are still including it on this list because the park itself is in both states. Aside from Horseshoe Bend, the canyon offers several amazing landscape viewpoints as you walk the trails on the plateau above. This is by far one of the most colorful natural landscapes in Utah. It features the common blue skies and also the orange-red desert sand, but also a deep teal green in the river that delicately slices through.
7. Zion NP
Zion National Park, as its name implies, is a veritable haven for landscape photographers. Situated in the southwest side of Utah, just south of Cedar City, this park is probably the most emblematic of Utah’s history. It is easy to see how people could arrive in the state and just know that “this is the place.” There’s no way to see the contrasting red and green of the rock formations and brush surrounding the area, or the open valley below and not believe that God created this place just for you. The land, open, lush with color and abundant with sleepy but fascinating wildlife, begs to be the home of a new utopia. Even a proper wide-angle lens will struggle to capture the enormity of the land’s splendor – but that’s no excuse not to try.
In the Zion National Park are the canyon Narrows. Here while you are hiking you can catch the light ricocheting off the orange walls with an orange glow known as the “Zion Glow”. While you search for this light the water flows at your feet and if you use a polarizer as you shoot you can get enough contrast from the shadows of the high rocks. This would also be a good time to experiment with long shutter speeds to capture the flow of the river against the rigid rocks. While you are shooting these scenes be sure to look for The Glow.
Be aware that due to limited road access and increased traffic, Zion restricts private auto traffic. You need to take this into account if you plan on photographing and bringing gear and family into the park.
Here’s the latest Zion’s shuttle information for 2020:
Starting July 1, 2020, you will need a ticket to ride the park shuttle into Zion Canyon. The shuttle provides access along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive to areas including Emerald Pools, West Rim Trail, the Riverside Walk, and the Narrows.
- Shuttles are not operating from November 30, 2020 through December 23, 2020.
- From December 24, 2020 – January 2, 2021 shuttles will be mandatory to access the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive; tickets must be reserved online.
- The Scenic Drive is closed to private vehicles when shuttles are in service.The Scenic Drive begins at Canyon Junction and goes to the Zion Lodge and Temple of Sinawava.
8. Arches NP
Featuring a series of unusual natural arches, this national park, located in central-eastern Utah, is definitely among the favorite shooting locations for amateur and professional photographers alike. The desert here graciously offers up astounding geometry and architecture to present a convincing dupe for ancient ruins of the man-made world. This is an excellent place to start with Utah landscape photography as it seems there is no wrong way to shoot the arches. Every angle, every time of day, offers something new and exciting. With a subject as simple and magnificent as these giant arches, it’s impossible to do the wrong thing.
Arches National Park has over 2000 red rock sandstone structures. Of the most famous ones are Balanced Rock, Devil’s Garden, the Double Arches, Double O Arch, and the Delicate Arch. These formations are not only a historical site to see for the millions of years they took to be created, but a particularly astonishing one because it is hard to imagine how they came to be and continue to even stand up. The contrast between hard stone and delicate posture makes for the opportunity of a powerful yet equally delicate photograph. Be sure to have a wide angle lens like a 16mm, to get close-ups with the rocks still in the frame. This park is typically hot as well, so be sure to bring water, sunscreen, and coverups.
10. Bryce Canyon
Similar red rock formations can be found at Bryce Canyon but this park is known for its night photography. Far away from light pollution, it is a “grand sanctuary of natural darkness”. When composing photographs, the stars can be seen all the way against the jagged rocky horizon. To do this you will need a bulb setting or an intervalometer remote that can be set for long exposure to capture the sky and the ground. An intervalometer can also be set for intervals of time to shoot a set number of images. With these images, you can overlap in an editing software to see all the stars at once as well as meteors that are captured or be strung together in a video editor for a timelapse. With a tripod tightened securely and weighted down for wind, you can let your camera and remote do all the work while you enjoy the night. You might want to be prepared to camp out.
11. Wasatch Mountains
For a classic mountain landscape with a foreground of lush trees and a background of snowy winding peaks, the Wasatch Mountains will give you a vibrant landscape. Unlike other locations that wash out in mid daytime, if you catch this park with large clouds in the sky casting shadows the landscape will come to life with depth. The trees blanket the earth green in summer, come to a fiery life in the fall, and wash to a clean white in winter snow. All you will need with your camera is a polarizer to bring in highlights and still be able to see in the shadows.
12. Canyonlands National Park
Near Moab, Utah is the Canyonlands National Park. The red rocks are carved out by the curving Colorado River. This park is particularly photogenic because of the visibility of the terrain and river from the tops of the trails. There is a winding trail on the way to the Island in the Sky where there are several points to stop to look out over the canyons. While the landscape is dramatic from an above view, shooting within these canyons would put you within steep cliffs cascading into flowing water. The contrast of the red rocks with the deep blue of the river can be stunning at sundown where the deepness of these colors will be accentuated. This park can also be seen from Dead Horse Point Park which is a Utah State Park.
Also in this area is a surprise location, known as the original location for the famous Marlboro commercials – Marlboro Point. You will probably have to get a guide with a 4-wheel drive vehicle to take you here, but the shoot will really be worth it.
13. Lake Powell
On the Southern border of Utah is Lake Powell. The edges of the water curve into dark beaches as the rocks come up in the distance. The area around this lake is flatter than the locations previously mentioned. To avoid getting flat pictures to make sure to wait for a dynamic sky; dark clouds are best at this location creating a mood around this dramatic landscape that will come out deeper in blues and browns. If you follow the lake into the canyons you get to Reflection Canyon. When looking at the water at the bottom of this canyon it appears dark, but it is perfect for reflecting the patterns of canyon and sky surrounding it.
14. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
National monument and park Grand Staircase-Escalante covers 1.8 million acres in southern Utah. The Spooky Gulch is where you see narrow passes of light between orange sandy rocks. These tight spaces make for very dramatic photos. While many canyons in Utah may seem similar, the canyons at the Grand Staircase-Escalante have stripes curving around its sides form the sedimentary rock, looking layered and textured. With at least 25 rock formations, there are many limestone and sandstone landmarks. Again to get good close-ups of these rocks, be sure to bring a wide angle lens, at least 16mm and shoot at sunrise or sunset for complimentary shadows.
15. Monument Valley
At the end of the straight 17-mile valley drive peaks up the buttes of Monument Valley. The highest peak reaching 1000 ft to stretch and flatten across the horizon. While shooting the monuments from afar with a long focal length can set you up for a great landscape photograph waiting to be explored. By getting up close to these monuments you can get a huge contrast against the sky at both sunrise and sunset.
Utah is anything but short on opportunities for some of the best landscape images and the range of possibilities, in any season, is truly stunning.
In short, Utah offers an abundance of natural shooting locations for the landscape photographer. Whether for joy or commercial purposes, a short tour around the Beehive State will offer more than enough opportunities to showcase your skills in landscape photography.
Check out our posts on “best landscape locations in Lake Tahoe, and Colorado. Also, review our post on what landscape lens some of the top landscape photographers recommend.