It’s an Instagram world we live in, and that means many are looking for that perfect shot of their trip. For a lot of people that visit Zion, there is one perfect shot in particular that they are looking for—an empty Narrows!
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but in this day and age, that shot isn’t easy to get. It takes some real commitment. Let’s take a look at what you’ll have to do on your next trip to pull off that amazing Narrows shot.
If you plan on chasing after a perfect shot of the Narrows during the spring, summer, or even fall, you will be faced with crowds upon crowds. The secret is out and just about everyone who visits Zion wants to make their way up the Virgin River and into the Narrows. You won’t find a bend of canyon not full of people—during normal hours of the day, that is.
If you want to get a nice long exposure with beautiful, silky water and no random tourists in the frame without doing some extensive photoshop magic, then you have a couple options during peak season.
You can gamble on the first shuttle of the day. This is honestly a pretty safe bet and only requires a little effort to not have other people crowding your shot because only a few of you are in the canyon at this point. Your window is not super long with this strategy, but you can get a few good shots.
Your other option is to get a up really early and bike up the whole main canyon and park the bike at the trail head. I took this route because it gave me over an hour and half to have the canyon all to myself!
Choice of Season
If you don’t like the idea of getting up an hour or two before dawn, then winter is your best friend. I’ve used this tactic as well and it works great for getting some nice one-on-one time with the Narrows. The downside here is that it’s pretty frigid temperatures for the water, so you have to rent the proper cloths from someone like Zion Outfitters or Zion Adventure Company. You will need dry pants and neoprene socks at the very least. It may be worth it for you to get a full dry suit.
Because winter isn’t a high visitation period—and because of how cold the water is—you will have no trouble finding the shot you want and getting it. You will likely only run into a handful of other people braving the river that day. It’s actually a lot of fun to explore the Narrows in the winter. And with the proper clothes, you won’t mind the cold. I promise.
Having the Right Equipment
There is really only three pieces of equipment I would say are a must for getting a killer shot. The first is a sturdy tripod that won’t have a problem with the moving water of the Virgin River. It’s not a powerful body of water, but if the tripod is flimsy, you may suffer from some camera shake that will ruin your long exposure. That leads to the second piece of equipment, which is a DSLR that has a timer shutter and can do at least a 1-second exposure.
The final piece of equipment will only be necessary if there is a lot of direct sunlight in the canyon. If you have a lot of light in the shot, you will need a neutral density filter to darken your image so a longer exposure isn’t blown out with too much light.
No matter how you chose to do it, getting great shot of the narrows is going to require some creativity and extra effort. Don’t be afraid of the extra work though. It’s a great experience and so rewarding to have the picture you saw in your head and hoped for. Good luck and happy shooting.