Capturing Starry Nights and Sunburst Days in 3 National Parks

Staffer Mikaela Ruland shares her experiences from the National Park Photography Workshop she attended in Kanab with National Park Trips Media and Tamron.
Author:
Publish date:
The lights of Kanab under a starry sky

The lights of Kanab under a starry sky

Nestled in the desert of southwestern Utah under vibrant red cliffs lies the town of Kanab. A crossing guard in a yellow vest helps children cross the main thoroughfare through town at 3 p.m., and there are only two grocery stores – I learned upon my first day in town that you’re either a Honey’s person or a Grazier’s person. Kanab has the small-town vibe my city-living heart craves, yet it’s incredibly vibrant.

Situated within two hours of three of the West’s most popular national parks- Zion, Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon - and nearby hundreds of other incredible natural wonders, the town is a hub for adventure. Construction on many a corner, inventive restaurants abound, hundreds of people attempting the permit lottery for the legendary “Wave,” the town is by no means sleepy.

On a warm May afternoon, 14 photo and national park enthusiasts, including myself, gathered at the historic Parry Lodge, where film stars like John Wayne and Sammy Davis Jr. laid their heads in the golden age of Hollywood. We were there to attend National Park Trips Media’s Photography Workshop, an incredible four-day adventure experienced through the lens of a camera.

During the next four days, our charismatic instructors, Tamron’s Ken Hubbard and Andre Constantini, led us to some of the most diverse and beautiful locations in Zion, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, while helping us learn to capture the amazing sights on camera. On the first morning, with 80-degree afternoon temperatures long behind us, we watched in awe as the sun rose over Bryce Canyon’s orange, pink and white hoodoos, our frozen fingers furiously snapping photos on the 28-degree morning.

Tamron photographer Ken Hubbard captures the light as the sun rises over Bryce Canyon's hoodoos

Tamron photographer Ken Hubbard captures the light as the sun rises over Bryce Canyon's hoodoos

Photo workshop participants capture the light on Bryce Canyon's hoodoos as the sun rises

Photo workshop participants capture the morning light in Bryce Canyon

Just 12 hours later, after a day filled with breakfast at the historic Ruby’s Inn, a nap, a seminar on shooting night skies and dinner at the Wild Thyme Café in Kanab, we found ourselves in a natural sandstone bowl high above the road through Zion, waiting for the Milky Way to rise and gasping at the occasional shooting star. The sheer number of stars in the sky was humbling, and as we cranked our ISO, the number of pin-pricks of light on our screens only increased.

The Milky Way rises over Zion National Park's Watchman

The Milky Way rises over Zion National Park's Watchman

Sleepily, the next day we gathered at the European-style Kanab Creek Bakery, owned by fellow-photographer Walt Thirion. We dined in Thirion’s gallery next door on incredible sandwiches, salads, coffee and fresh-pressed juice under the caring service of Bobbie, the bakery’s manager. Later that afternoon, Ken and Andre facilitated an image review, talking through each participant’s favorite three images shot the day before and helping with questions and tips.

That night, we picnicked near Checkerboard Mesa in Zion where we watched bighorn sheep scramble fearlessly across the rocks and learned to light-paint on an intrepid little tree growing out of Origami Rock.

Photo workshop participants pose for a group photo at Zion's Checkerboard Mesa

Photo workshop participants pose for a group photo at Zion's Checkerboard Mesa

The walk back from Zion's Checkerboard Mesa

The walk along Zion's Checkerboard Mesa

Photographing Origami Rock in Zion National Park

Photographing Origami Rock in Zion National Park

On our final morning, we set out under the stars to Grand Canyon’s North Rim where we shot the sunrise over Angel’s Point, the light filling every crevice of the canyon’s complex topography. Lingering over coffee and cinnamon rolls at a café on the North Rim, we reminisced over our week of adventures, feeling a connection that only late nights under the stars can forge, as we dreamed of future photography trips.   

Setting up the shot as the sun rises at the north rim of the Grand Canyon

Setting up the shot as the sun rises at the north rim of the Grand Canyon

Related

Hoodoos at sunrise in Bryce Canyon National Park

The National Parks: America's Best Idea

Filmed over the course of more than six years at some of nature's most spectacular locales from Acadia to Zion -- The National Parks: America's Best Idea really does express one of our best ideas ever.