The Watchman

The Colors of Sunset

One of the most enjoyable aspects of watching a sunset is experiencing the different colors that appear in the sky. I made the photograph below from the Watchman Trail in Zion National Park a couple weeks ago.

The Watchman, Zion National Park

Many sunsets are orange, yellow, and red, but other colors are possible depending on the sky conditions. Because of the arrangement of clouds this night in Zion, the sunset featured the colors pink and blue. I was excited to be going to Zion on this day because the skies were partly to mostly cloudy. On days like that, the sun may have an opportunity to light up the clouds from below just after sunset. In this case, the distribution and thickness of the cloud cover created these interesting colors.

Around the Watchman itself, the clouds were thinner, and the pink sky of dusk illuminated the clouds from behind. Meanwhile, the other half of the sky had thicker cloud cover, and that’s where the sun was setting. Not much light was shining through those clouds, and the deeper shadows created the blue color in that part of the sky.

Clouds make all the difference in landscape photography. Here’s a photograph I made a couple years ago from a similar location. This photograph has a completely different feel to it because of the different light and colors created by the clouds.

The Watchman over Springdale, Zion National Park

Without the clouds and the beautiful colors they help produce, I had to create interest in my photograph in other ways. For example, that night I chose to make my photograph a little earlier so I could include the sun in the frame. As a result, the photograph has a completely different color pallette from the one above.

That’s another one of the great things about landscape photography. Returning repeatedly to a beautiful place creates opportunities to make different kinds of photographs of the same subject. I was very happy to return to the Watchman Trail in Zion National Park to make a new photograph of one of my favorite mountains in the park.

Zion From My Perspective

Most mornings and evenings at sunrise and sunset, a couple dozen people and their tripods occupy the side of the bridge over the Virgin River along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway in Zion National Park. From that vantage point you see the Virgin River and the Watchman, and this scene represents the iconic image that everybody wants to capture. The photograph here is not that photograph.

Virgin River and Watchman, Zion National Park

This photograph is not the famous, iconic view of the Watchman at Zion National Park, but it is a similar composition. I’d like to address this question: when visiting a national park, should we feel obligated to make certain photographs, or should we simply follow our own eyes and our own hearts and make the photographs we want from where we want?

The iconic image is a perfect composition, and that’s why it is so popular. But as an artistic photographer, should I rush out to make that photograph so that I have it in my portfolio, or should I find something different? It’s difficult to improve on perfection, but just because one composition is perfect does not mean other compositions are not equally perfect. Art is not a zero sum game. There are probably an infinite number of extremely effective compositions to make in that location. It’s hard not to find a great composition when you have all these elements coming together in one place. The iconic image is iconic simply because it is the most famous one originally created by a well-known photographer.

Was I in the wrong place? No--I was in the right place for me.

I decided to make my photograph below the bridge from the side of the river rather than from above. I feel my composition brings the viewer into the scene more effectively rather than presenting a more bird’s eye view of the landscape. My intention was not to find something better than the iconic image. That’s probably not possible. But the perfection of that image does not mean my photograph is not equally valid, beautiful, and perfect in its own way.

The key here is that I decided to find my own photograph and express my own vision. I might very well have decided to make my photograph from the bridge like everyone else. If that’s what my eyes and my heart told me, fine. But I allowed myself to search independently. I did not allow that iconic image to influence me or obligate me in any way, and instead I thought about how I wanted to present the scene.

As an artist, it’s important for me to think. My goal is not to take all the same photographs others have taken. But neither is my goal to avoid taking photographs similar to what others have taken. I approach a location with my eyes wide open. I follow my eyes, and I let my heart tell me where to point my camera. My photographs represent me, so I go out there and search for my vision. I try to remain independent, and whatever I feel is right, that’s what I photograph. That way, when you look at my photographs, you are always looking at my vision. You’re seeing everything the way I want you to see it, not the way the majority of people think you should see it.

I was joined by three other brave individuals that evening. The first came and set his camera down next to me and asked if I minded if he joined me. I said, no of course not, this is a great location to make a photograph. A little later a couple others came down to join us. They said they wanted to see why we chose this location. The point is, when I turn around and see 20 people with cameras on the bridge behind me, I don’t think to myself, maybe I’m in the wrong place here. Instead I just do my thing and make my photograph in the privacy of my own thoughts and the space of my selected location.