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

If you like grandiose mineral landscapes, or if you wish to capture photos that create an impact upon first glance, you will certainly enjoy the opportunity to photograph the Canyonlands.

In this article, I share with you some of the techniques I use to showcase this unique region of the world that is located in the state of Utah in the United States.

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, my dream was to photograph iconic places such as the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, and Death Valley.

My photographic culture of American landscapes was limited to the places 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, which was 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 originally decided to spend three days in the Arches National Park. But something about this flyer spoke to me, and I felt encouraged to take an extra day and visit 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 more than enough time to capture the beauty of this place in some pictures.

It was when I arrived at the end of the only road in the park that I was shocked. In front of me ran the Green River, and beyond that the landscapes stretched as far as the eye could see, carving into the 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 to be even more beautiful. By the end of that first day, I was hooked. I decided to stay two more days, which was the maximum amount of time I could afford.

This first trip will remain forever engraved in my memory. Since that year, I have returned every two years in May to escape in this unique mineral landscape, and to contemplate its beauty.

Each trip is an opportunity to capture new photos. The Canyonlands have become a place to make different an 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 why I think this site is the most beautiful site in the entire country.

Geographic Location of 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. 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 You Should Photograph Island in the Sky in the Canyonlands

You may be asking yourself, “Why should I photograph the Canyonlands? What is so special about this place?” This was exactly how I felt before I visited this place for 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 in this site without ever getting bored.

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

Personally, when I travel by car or on foot in Island in the Sky, which is the northernmost region of the Canyonlands, I feel rejuvenated. I find the energy to continue my projects and start new ones. It is quite inexplicable, but this region is truly a spring of new life, of new beginnings.

On the photographic level, the Canyonlands offer you the possibility to make both very wide shots and very tight shots. Everything is possible. The flowers that appear in May will allow you to make wide shots close together that will create photos with a strong impact.

Another advantage of Island in the Sky is that you can photograph from the top of the canyons. You will have extraordinary breathtaking landscape views. If you have an all-terrain vehicle, you will be able to venture into the canyonlands on stony (but accessible) trails.

You will be able to take pictures of both rivers and capture incredibly close-up shots. 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 it.

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.

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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.

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.

A general list of the material you will need includes:

  • 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 journeying inside the canyon 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 pick up your camera 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, relying on only your imagination for power when photographing this rejuvenating place.


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