Kanarra Creek Falls Photography

Kanarra Creek Falls Photography

Along Interstate 15 in Southwest Utah, by a little town called Kanarraville, right before you get to Zion National Park, is a hidden gem of a hike. Kanarra Creek Falls is a medium length but simple hike that should take approximately 2-3 hours, depending on your hiking speed and how much time you spend at the falls.

On the East side of town is a set of parking lots which are clearly marked. The lot is well maintained and has a few porta-pottys for use. Bring some cash! There’s an honor system box to collect the $10 parking fee. Here is a link to the trailhead and parking.

The Hike

The hike is fairly flat, about 3.5 miles round-trip, with an uphill section for the first quarter mile or so, and offers some unique challenges. You’ll cross the creek numerous times and clamber over a boulder or two. Every now and then the trail appears to branch or disappear, but as long as you keep following the creek, all of the trails eventually converge.

Now, about those creek crossings. We stopped on a whim, so did not have a chance to bring any water shoes or other equipment. The hike is still very doable, but depending on the time of year, your feet might get cold! We went in mid-April when the water was ice cold, but hiking, good socks, and the occasional break meant that our feet stayed plenty warm for the duration. I would imagine in the summer the creek crossings are very enjoyable. As we left, a man passed us wearing knee-high neoprene waterproof boots. That’s the way to go!

Photos

Photos can be a real challenge in the canyon. Even at midday the canyon is enveloped in shadows. Your camera will have a tough time adjusting to meet the dynamic range of the sky above and the darkest parts below. I found it best to simply exclude the sky using some creative framing, and to just meter for the middle of the canyon. The shadows will be dark and the lights light, but we can fix that in editing later!

If you want a nice creamy look to the water (hint: you do!), you’ll need a longer exposure time. I found 1/10 to 1/4 to be a good starting point, although, as this was an unplanned trip, I was shooting by hand. With a tripod, you could very well go as long as 1.5 and get a great looking shot. We were a bit rushed for time, so I didn’t get a chance to take as many shots as I would have liked, so I recommend you take your time and explore all the options!

Editing

Editing was fairly straightforward. I’ll include all the relevant sections of Adobe Lightroom to show how I turned a drab, too-dark photo into one that accurately represents the natural beauty of the red rock canyon!

Before | After


Camera Calibration

I usually start editing photos in the Camera Calibration tab. It’s not intuitive, as Adobe has placed this tab all the way at the bottom of the Develop module, but it’s the best place to begin. I’ll let this excellent post by Andrew S. Gibson explain.

In this tab, I set the Profile to Camera Landscape, set the shadows slightly more towards magenta, and upped the blue saturation. The blue saturation has a similar effect as the vibrance slider under the Basic tab, but in a more subtle manner. It’s difficult to put into words, so I suggest you try it on some of your photos! The only caveat is that if there is a significant amount of blue in a photo, using the blue saturation slider can quickly get out of hand.

Basic Edits

Next I work on the basic edits of the photo. In this case, there’s some significant work required to even out the lighting. To accomplish this, lower the highlights, raise the shadows, and then use a combination of whites, blacks, and clarity to bring some depth back to the image. Without these, the image will appear 2d and lifeless.

HSL

In HSL we want to make the ugly brown of the canyon walls really pop with the red of the rocks in that area. To accomplish this, I set hue using the targeted adjustment tool. If you’re not sure what that is, it’s the small circle to the upper left of the sliders. After clicking on this, you simply hover over the part of the image you’d like to affect, click, and drag up or down to change all of the sliders associated with that area. In this case, the red, orange, and yellow sliders were affected, bringing back the color.

Finishing Up

The last steps I took were some split toning to give the shadows a purplish tone, and some slight bright pink in the highlights. I’ve included my detail panel settings as well, although that will vary wildly depending on your specific camera and preferences.

 

Final Thoughts

The single most important thing you can do when shooting photos is to shoot in RAW. If I shot the canyon in JPG, all the detail in the shadows would be unrecoverable, and the color changes would severely degrade the image.

As it is, I wasn’t able to take incredible images because I wasn’t prepared. A tripod, something other than my point-and-shoot, and some more time to think about the type of image I wanted would have gone a long way.

I hope this guide helps you. If you have any thoughts on it, please leave them in the comments below.

Have fun out there!

-Joe

Easter in Utah