18 Nov

Court of the Patriarchs sunrise, Zion National Park

Monday, November 8th: I stood on the shores of the Virgin River, along with my good friend Joe Rossbach and one of his workshop students Mike Walker. I watched, as if in slow motion, my lens, camera, and tripod fall face forward into the water. It seemed as if in a movie, screaming “noooooooooooo” with a contorted face as everyone moved like molasses in a vain attempt to catch my camera before it got soaked. Then, the camera landed in the river with an audible “thunk,” and time returned to normal. Within seconds, my camera and lens were back on shore, dripping wet but undamaged. After taking out the memory card and battery, and taking off the lens, I dried everything off. It seemed that the interior of the camera had managed to stay dry, but when I replaced the battery and powered the camera on, it started acting wiggy and spitting out random error messages. My camera was out of commission, at least until it dried out (P.S. I already mentioned in a previous blog entry that after cooking the camera in my oven it returned to full functionality and is now doing fine. My lens is okay as well, although I did smash another lens a few days before hiking into the Subway. Not a good trip for the equipment.) And it was a real shame that I was out for the count, because the sunrise that morning was absolutely stunning. Nonetheless, I was fairly nonchalant about the whole affair. Why? Because luckily for me, I had photographed the same spot several days before, and witnessed an equally stunning sunrise!

"Court of the Patriarchs" - Zion National Park

"Court of the Patriarchs" - Zion National Park

Now we go back in time to Saturday, November 6th. I stood on the shores of the Virgin River, alone at a secret spot of mine. I watched, as if in slow motion, as the most gorgeous sunrise I had seen in weeks suddenly erupted before my eyes. I was out of breath, because although I had been shooting at this spot for a few hours (photographing star trails and then the dawn twilight), I had walked upriver a few hundred yards to shoot something else that seemed more promising for sunrise. When I turned around to look back at the mighty Patriarchs, I realized that the sunrise light over them was going to be incredible, so I made a  mad dash back to my original spot, just in time for peak color. I choose a wide-angle perspective, using my adapted Nikon 14-24mm lens, to include the curving shape of the rapid in the foreground. Because my 14-24 has a bulbous front element, filter use is extremely difficult. So instead of using a graduated neutral density filter to balance exposure in the scene between the sky and river, I took two exposures (one for the shadows and one for the highlights) and blended them together manually in Photoshop using layer masking techniques.

Technical details: Canon 5D Mark II camera, 14-24mm lens, ISO 100, f/11, two exposures of 13 seconds and 3 seconds manually blended in Photoshop. 

P.S. My camera somehow started an exposure while it fell into the river. Here it is! Arguably my most brilliant work ever.



Ian PlantAbout Ian Plant (414 Posts)

World-renowned professional photographer, writer, and adventurer Ian Plant is a frequent contributor to and blogger for Outdoor Photographer Magazine, a Contributing Editor to Popular Photography Magazine, a monthly columnist for Landscape Photography Magazine, and a Tamron Image Master. Ian is also the author of numerous books and instructional videos. Ian leads photography workshops and tours around the world to help beginner and advanced photographers explore and expand their personal vision.


  • Hi Ian, I really love that topshot! I once dropped a bag with lens in a stream and fixed the lens with a hairdryer. :-)

  • Too bad about the camera, that was epic light on the 8th. Looks like you got a fantastic sunrise though Saturday.

    I do like the low angle perspective of shot #2 though 😉

  • Hi Ian,

    Your “Court of the Patriarchs” is one of my new favorites (but there are very many) of your work. Everything fits together so well. I would dunk my camera on purpose if that’s all it took to get one shot in my lifetime that exquisite! :-)


  • I’m always scared something like that is going to happen to my equipment being as how clumsy I am! I love the top shot.

  • nice work on image #1 and I do have to say #2 is pretty nice as well for it falling into the river.

    I remember when I dropped my camera and it slammed against a concrete planter (for a tree). It scared the crap out of me, but the camera seemed fine. I always keep my equipment close and make sure it’s tucked against something tight. You got lucky!

  • Ouch! Sorry to hear about the camera! As careful as we are, stuff happens out there. On this trip, I saw a photographer slip and dunk his pro Nikon body back in the Narrows. It hurt to see that happen.

  • Might want to check this accessory for your 14-24: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMX5p9Iwx3Y

    Pricey, as anything else made by Lee or Sing-Ray, but the only game in town when it comes to GNDs for the 14-24.

  • Ian

    Hi Boyon, I already ordered one last week! I’ve been waiting for it to become available for months. Now I have to wait another 5-7 weeks, according to B&H . . .