6 Jan

The Watchman, Zion National Park

If there is one place I hate in Zion National Park more than anywhere else, it is the Canyon Bridge, which looks into the Watchman, a prominent mountain looming over the Virgin River valley. Every sunset, a horde of photographers gather there to photograph the most iconic view in the park. Actually, the horde starts to gather two or three hours before sunset. On any given evening, there can be as many as forty or fifty photographers packed elbow-to-elbow, all jostling for the best position on this small bridge. I’ve decided that I’d rather be eaten alive by a pack of ravenous otters than stand on that stupid bridge just to wait to get the exact same shot as forty other people. Yes, I said otters—somehow it seems more painful and humiliating than facing down a manly death at the hands of ravenous tigers or wolves.

"Dawn Watch" - Zion National Park

"Dawn Watch" - Zion National Park

One morning while scouting sunrise locations for my Zion photo workshop, crystal clear skies reigned supreme, so I wasn’t too excited about my photo possibilities. While driving over the Canyon Bridge in the pre-dawn light, I noticed a few stray clouds drifting in over the Watchman, so I stopped and decided to shoot from the bridge. Unlike sunset, barely anyone goes to the bridge at sunrise, so I practically had the whole place to myself. Sure enough, the clouds lit up quite nicely, and for a brief moment the shape of the passing clouds worked well with the landscape below. I don’t often like shooting icons, but if the opportunity presents itself to do so without having to fight the crowds, I’ll take what I can get!

Technical details: Canon 5D Mark II camera, 17-40mm lens (@29mm), 2-stop reverse graduated neutral density filter, ISO 800 (to stop the motion of wind-blown foliage), f/8, 1/6 second.    

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.


  • How are you able to get into Great Falls before the gates open? I’m in nova and would like to get some predawn shots of the falls, but don’t know how to get in. Any help is appreciated, thanks!

    • Ian

      Hi Jason, I haven’t been to Great Falls in awhile. They used to keep the gate open in the morning but I hear that they lately have been locking the gate, and I also hear they have become more aggressive about keeping photographers and fisherman off of the rocks near the water’s edge. One option is to use one of the parking areas outside the park, such as the one off of Georgetown Pike, but that means you have to hike about two miles to get into the park.

  • Hey Ian,

    Great shot.

    Fighting crowds is a pain but I love how it really makes you focus on doing something different.

  • great shot, I am hoping to spend 7 days in Zion during the peak of fall color.

    Nice F-Stop ad!

  • You know I used to feel the same way about shooting an icon like the Watchman. That is why line up and get the same shot? Then I saw the resulting photos and realized there were about as many different images as there were photographers. Sure the scene was the same but to me composition is key. When each resulting comp was totally different it didn’t give me that hang up anymore.

    BTW-nice shot!

  • 1

  • very true!