The White Throne at Zion National Park.
Two years ago I came face to face with failure. I had gotten a pass arranged through the Department of the Interior to go into Zion after dark. I was excited to set up and get some great shots. Having been super convinced I would ace this and nail some shots so I didn’t really even make a plan. Then I started shooting. Now, most people who have followed my images know I can get light out of about anything. I’ve used dozens of tricks and ideas from my deep space imaging to pull light up that was pretty feeble.
One look at the images in the camera though told a scary story. They were extremely dark and unusable.
This was my first attempt to shoot from the bottom of as steep a canyon as Zion. The narrow gap exposing the sky had cut a huge amount of the starlight in the sky from getting into the canyon. Probably 75% or more of the starlight I normally use was being blocked. I tried upping the ISO dramatically and the image was peppered with green, red and blue “hot pixels.” While it was close to bright enough the pixelation was dramatic. I tried all the ideas I could think of and only managed one so-so image that took dozens of hours of work to just look “pretty good.” I bet I spent 50 hours on that one image.
As painful as that was, as frustrated as I was, I learned some new ideas to try. So I’ve been biding my time, waiting, learning, remembering what Zion had done to me. It wouldn’t do to just do the area by the visitors center that is fairly lit up and more wide open. It would have to be the depths of the canyon to be able to claim victory over the dark side.
So in June, I was ready. Luckily I took this right before a massive fire started just north of Zion. I missed that by a scant few days.
I arranged for the permit and waited. The last buses didn’t leave the area till long after dark, which surprised me. I had ridden the bus up to scout earlier in the day which had topped out at 96 degrees. I headed to my first location which was Big Bend with a peekaboo view of the White Throne (white on the right) and waited. I heard a clicking noise as dark gathered about me and I clicked on my headlamp to see a fox no more than 20 feet from me coming over the top rim of grass into the parking lot I was sitting in. We eyed each other for a moment and then he turned and disappeared back over the curb and into the grass. Big Bend is a little more wide open than many spots in Zion so I decided to use that to my advantage and to test if I could suceed.
Finally, it was pitch black in the canyon. Time to get to work. I took a couple of test shots. Yes, the detail was there I was running the ISO at an astounding 10,000 opened up the lens to full 1.4 and started exposing. I was getting the detail I needed, but the green, red and blue speckle was there when I zoomed in. I had new ways I knew would at least help ameliorate the issue. As it turned out it did it quite well.
So this image is a personal triumph for me. For 2 years I plotted the demise of Zion National Park and ultimately I made it happen to my satisfaction, and hopefully yours as well.
42 images ISO 10,000, f1.4, 50mm Sigma Art