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Why and How: Photographing Island in the Sky in the Canyonlands of Utah

If you have the opportunity to travel in the southwestern United States to photograph the mineral landscapes, I suggest you spend some time in the Canyon de Chelly in the state of Arizona.

You will take pictures of absolutely beautiful mineral landscapes that will enchant your friends and family when you return home.

In this article, I will explain why photographing the Canyon de Chelly is not as easy as it seems. I give you some tips on how to create interesting pictures that are different from the ones you have already taken.

Landscape in black and white of Island in the Sky in the Canyonlands. Photography by Amar Guillen, Photographer Artist
Landscape in black and white of Island in the Sky in the Canyonlands.

The Little Story Behind This Article

When I arrived in the United States in February 2001, I had in mind to photograph iconic places such as the Grand Canyon, the mount Rushmore, Death Valley.

My photographic culture of American landscapes was limited to the place made famous by Ansel Adams.

In September 2004, I decided to visit and photograph the Arches National Park in Utah. I had carefully prepared my trip.

When I arrived in Moab, the city where I had rented a hotel room, I discovered the Canyonlands National Park on a flyer. I had never heard of it.

I had decided to spend three days in the Arches National Park. This flyer encouraged me to take a day in the Canyonlands.

On the fourth day, I arrived early in the morning at the entrance of the park. There was nothing special about the desert expanses. I said to myself then that one day would be enough to visit.

It was when I arrived at the end of the only road in the park that I received a real shock. I had the Green River in front of me. The landscapes that stretched as far as the eye could see were carved by huge canyons. The mineral landscapes were glowing red under the morning sun.

I had never seen such landscapes before. It was quite different from the Grand Canyon. I found them even more beautiful. Finally, at the end of the day I decided to stay two more days. That was the maximum time I could afford.

Since this year that will remain forever engraved in my memory, I return every two years in May to dream, to escape in unique mineral landscapes.

Each trip is an opportunity to take new photos. The Canyonlands have become a place to make different and impactful photos. Few photographers are interested in this place. However, I think it is one of the most beautiful natural sites in the United States.

In the rest of the article, I will share with you the reasons that make me think this.

Geographically Locating the Canyonlands

The Canyonlands is a national park located in southeastern Utah in the United States. Moab is the closest city.

The Canyonlands are made up of mineral landscapes formed by numerous canyons, mesas, and buttes whose shapes were drawn by the Colorado and the Green River.

The Canyonlands National Park is divided into three main parts:

  • Island in the Sky to the north.
  • The Maze to the south.
  • The Needles in the middle.

In this article I will only deal with the Island in the Sky part. The other parts will be the subject of other articles in the blog.

The average elevation is 6100 feet (1850 meters). Only one road crosses the national park. Each stop along the road shows breathtaking views.

The big advantage compared to the Grand Canyon is that it is possible to enter the canyons as long as you drive an off-road car.

Why Photographing Island in the Sky in the Canyonlands

You are certainly looking for reasons to go photographing the Canyonlands. You may be like me the first time. Maybe you have never heard of this region.

And yet, these landscapes are a real gem if you are a photographer looking to photograph different subjects. You will be able to spend 4 or 5 days without ever getting bored.

This region of Utah in the United States is inspiring. You only have to look at the landscapes, the mineral forms to feel the passing of time.

Personally, when I travel by car or on foot in Island the Sky which is the northern part of the canyons land, I resource myself. I find the energy I need to continue my projects or start new ones. It is quite inexplicable, but this region is truly a generating rejection.

On the photographic level, the Canyonlands offer you the possibility to make very wide shots or tight shots. Everything is possible. The flowers that appear in May will allow you to make wide shots close together that will give high impact photos.

The advantage also of Island in the Sky and that you can photograph from the top of the canyons. You will have extraordinary breathtaking general views. If you have an all-terrain vehicle, you will be able to venture into the canyons on stony but accessible trails.

You will be able to take pictures of both rivers and make incredible close-ups. Photographically, everything is possible in Island the Sky in the Canyonlands. The only limit will be your imagination. It is truly a place to express yourself fully.

Some Pictures of Island in the Sky in the Canyonlands in Utah

Click on a thumbnail to enlarge the image.

How to Photograph Island in the Sky in the Canyonlands

As I mentioned in the paragraph about why, the main way to photograph Island in the Sky is to use a wide angle.

Focal lengths from 14 to 35 mm are very well suited.

Focal lengths from 35 to 200mm are also possible. Indeed, the landscapes are often clear. The visibility is often several kilometers. A focal length of 200mm will be particularly useful.

If you are passionate about macro photography, you can use macro lenses with focal lengths ranging from 50 to 105 mm.

The most beautiful lights in these mineral landscapes are those of early morning and late afternoon. Filters to densify the skies are also a real asset.

Also, a tripod and a remote trigger are essential.

I am an avid user of the tripod because I can take many pictures of the same scene. The tripod allows me to refine the shots of the same shot while keeping the same point of view.

Finally, the material you will need is :

  • a camera.
  • A wide-angle lens.
  • A tripod.
  • A remote trigger.
  • Grayscale filters.

I recommend a stay of four or five days because the number of viewpoints from the top of the canyons is important. Devote two days to go inside the canyons with a 4-wheel drive.


I hope that this article about the discovery of Island the Sky in the northern canyons will have made you want to take your camera to go and create images in this unique region of the world.

The landscapes you will immortalize are different from anything you have photographed so far. You will have total freedom of movement. Only your imagination will be in power.

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