Fall Color in The Narrows, Zion National Park

Zion National Park in Southern Utah is pretty darn beautiful. The towering rock walls remind me of a red Yosemite. The first time I visited the park in January 2010, ice and snow blanketed the ground and many of the hikes were inaccessible or dangerous to do. But one of the most iconic hikes in the park, The Narrows, was open so I decided to give it a whirl. But I was unprepared for the nature of the hike and consquently spent 8 hours in 40° water without much protection. Brrrrr. An enjoyable day, but thoroughly freezing.

So when I had the chance to visit Zion again a few weeks ago I made sure everything would be different: first off, I planned my visit for the Fall, before much snow had a chance to accumulate and before the temperatures would get really cold. Secondly, I decided to rent a full-body suit to keep my warm and dry during my hike up the Narrows. And what a difference it made! Now I could stand in the chilly water all day without getting wet, enjoying the sights and wonder of the Narrows without worrying about hypothermia.

Which of course made it a lot easier to focus on photography. I found this beautiful stand of trees about 25 minutes into the hike, perched on a bank overlooking the Virgin River. The yellows of their leaves were positively glowing and the contrast they made with the soaring red rock walls was wonderful. I made many photos during that hike of the Narrows, but this quickly became one of my favorites.

Tech notes on this photo
Nikon D7000
Tokina 12-24 f/4 at 12mm
f/22 – trying to buy some shutter speed
4 seconds – gimme that silky water!

In Raw Converter (Nikon Capture NX2)
– Processed single raw file twice, once for water/foreground and once for trees/cliffs
– White balance correction
– Minor global “s-curve” curves adjustment
– Brightened trees and slightly darkened water
– Local brightness/contrast adjustments to water to help with color saturation

In Photoshop:
– Noise reduction via Neat Image plugin
– Selectively sharpened boulders, trees, cliff walls
– Blended in tree/cliff tiff layer through a layer mask gradient blend
– Color select tool to select tree leaves, then inverted selection, then used a Soft light burn/dodge layer to darken cliffs behind trees, the rocks on the bank, and a little bit of the river to help color saturation
– s-curves adjustment on burn/dodge layer to strengthen the effect
– Color layer to help yellows on the trees at left pop more because they were too dim
– “Fairy Dust” layer to add a soft glow to the trees and cliffs

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