Checkerboard Mesa, Zion National Park, Utah

Checkerboard Mesa, Zion National Park, Utah

On my 4-day marathon run across the American Southwest with friends Suad, John, and Scott. our first stop was at Zion National Park in Utah. It's only a few hours from Las Vegas, where we started our trip, and a natural gateway to the great southwest. This was our first shot last year as well, when we missed the sunset but had some fun with night shooting.

This year we caught the sunset with plenty of time, which I'll revisit later, but knowing how great Eastern Zion is, outside the main canyon, we were anxious to return and shoot it under the nearly full moon. Last year we were all on our first trip to Zion, and none of us were particularly familiar with its layout. We knew that Checkerboard Mesa was a well-known landmark and were looking to shoot it, but being late into the night with no sense of direction, we ended up shooting its backside by accident (only realizing our mistake after returning to the car and driving about another 100 yards).

This year we corrected our mistake and located the recognizable checkerboard facade that gives it its name. One of the perks of visiting the southwest in February is that there's a healthy bit of snow covering many landmarks, and I personally really wanted to draw a lot of it into the shot. Rather than shooting from the more convenient road-side pullout we hiked a ways off the road in the dark, over a hillside covered in snow and ice to find this vantage point (I think each of us had at least one good slip, but no permanent damage was done).

The moonlight and clouds were just what I like to see for nighttime shooting. The one bright star (okay, it must have been a planet, Venus or Jupiter) kind of dominated the sky, and I tried alternate perspectives that blocked it from view, but in the end liked this perspective best, and returned for a lengthy 5 minute exposure.

This took a bit of post-processing to get the color balance right. Moonlight is very blue compared to sunlight, and the red tones in the sandstone were very muted, but with a bit of experimenting I think I managed to coax out the right balance of cool blue night colors without totally giving up the hint of red in the rock.

Nikon D90 | Sigma 10-20@10mm | f/8 | 303s | ISO100 |Tripod

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