22 Nov

Kolob Terrace, Zion National Park

Of all the images I made on my recent trip to Zion National Park, I think this one is my favorite, although I suspect most others won’t share my view. I’ll admit that my feelings about this image are biased because of my emotional connection to the place and moment. I made this photograph in the rarely visited Kolob Terrace section of Zion. Most people who visit the Terrace do so in order to access the hike to the Subway, but fail to explore the area further. Which, in my opinion, is a real shame.    

Kolob Terrace, which is a high plateau overlooking deep canyons and red sandstone mountains, has many unique and beautiful qualities. One of my favorite areas is a massive ghost forest of dead trees, killed many years ago by wildfire. I spent several days working this area, trying to find an image that would capture something of its essence.    

"Kolob Dreams" - Zion National Park

"Kolob Dreams" - Zion National Park

I made this image on the edge of twilight  (click on the image above to see a higher resolution version). I scrambled looking for an image during sunset, and only after the light had faded did I find this view where a number of  compositional elements came together to my liking. Lucky for me, the twilight glow turned out to be perfect for the scene. I stood here for half an hour, taking exposure after exposure in the fading light. Clouds were moving quickly through the area, and each exposure was different.  

I’m really happy with the results from my evening shoot on Kolob Terrace. In fact, given the subtle light, juxtaposition of unusual elements, and motion blur in the clouds, I feel that this image might even qualify for Dreamscape status. Not many of my images actually live up to the brand name. Maybe my emotional connection to this place is skewing my view, but I grow more and more attached to this photo every time I look at it.    

My best exposure turned out to be one of the earlier ones, but I’m glad I stayed longer. I had this whole beautiful area to myself, surrounded by miles and miles of wilderness, and all I could hear was the faint gurgle of water coming from the valley seven hundred feet below. It was a magical experience, and although my image doesn’t even come close to capturing the moment, I hope that it in some small part brings back the essence of this wonderful place. But in the end, the simple joy of my time alone on Kolob Terrace was enough for me, and the reason I do this for a living. Everything we are, and all of our deeds and accomplishments, will eventually turn to dust. Fleeting moments are all that we have, and I for one intend to enjoy those moments as much as I can!    

Technical details: Canon 5D Mark II camera, 14-24mm lens (@14mm), ISO 100, f/11, 30 seconds, and a big smile on my face.

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.


  • I’ve noticed that some of the “wow” images lose their impact over time whereas these more subtle shots can grow on you. I can see why you would like this image, there is a balance of interesting elements and the muted light invites a deeper look.

  • Thanks for another great write up. This is one of those captures that I can look at for a long time because with each pass you gain a little more from it. What’s more impressive than the photograph you made was the experience you got while doing it. I think that resonates a lot with those of us that do similar things to make our own images. My favorite photographs are ones that evoke strong emotion. Sometimes that emotion is only revealed when the photographer explains the “behind the scenes” events. Thanks for sharing the moment with us.

  • HI Ian, My name is Paul and I am a new follower of your work. I first found you on Twitter (@UtahTraveler), but again from Google today. This post is the one that made me decide to follow! My favorite part you talked about is how “I’ll admit that my feelings about this image are biased because of my emotional connection to the place and moment.”
    Zion Park does that to people. It sparks a deep emotional connection and it is one of my favorite things about the place!
    Thanks for the post and I look forward to more.

  • Ian

    Thanks everyone for the kind words. Paul, thanks for chiming in and joining the fray. Zion is an amazing place, but I find myself drawn more and more to its hidden places the more I visit. D King, well said about images with initial impact versus those that grow on you over time. I too often find that a year later, my favorite images (whether they are mine or someone else’s) aren’t the “wow” ones but the ones that are initially more subtle in impact. Janous, you are correct, evoking emotion is a very important aspect of successful photography. Thanks everyone for your thoughts!

  • Your picture has a subtle beauty to it that I love. You are attracted to the light colored foreground and slowly drawn in from there. I think it is a great pic because you slowly move through it finding new points of interest.

    I’ve noticed that I almost always use my earliest exposures which makes me wonder why I take so many at times! :)