Field Notes: Big Spring Canyon Overlook

Learn how to locate and photograph Big Spring Canyon Overlook in Utah like a professional photographer.

Big Spring Canyon Overlook is an easy to get to location with wide views of canyons and rock formations. It’s located in the Needles District in Canyonlands National Park in Utah.

GPS Coordinates

38.178671, -109.818354
View on Google Maps

I'd recommend bringing a super wide lens to photograph this location. The shot above was taken with a 16mm lens. There are many other rock formations and canyons to photograph in the area too so anything between 16mm to 50mm would work well.

Time To Shoot

This location is best photographed during late afternoon, right before sunset. It's possible to photograph after sunset to get the warm, ambient light glowing on the rocks. Be sure to review the Photographers Ephemeris to best predict the direction of the light for your shot.

Trail

This is a very easy location to get to as it’s inside of Canyonlands National Park in the Needles district.  Turn on to Road UT-211 from highway 191 near Monticello, Utah. It’ll take about 50 minutes until you reach the parking area which is also the end of the road. Along the way there are interesting things to stop and see, such as Newspaper Rock and Wooden Shoe Overlook. Once you arrive, it’s about a 5 minute hike to this location on easy terrain. View directions on Google Maps.

Compositions

The composition for this shot is a bit tricky for a couple of reasons. First, you need to position your camera very close to the wall so you can fill the frame with the surface of the textured rock. Second, you need to make adjustments to the position of the camera to balance the distance of elements around your frame. It’s very easy to slightly tilt the camera and cut off parts of the rock that create the framing for the landscape in the background.

This shot was taken with a 16mm focal length to capture as much detail in the rocks and help frame the rock formation in the background. Since the camera is so close to the wall, you’ll want to focus stack your images and blend them in post-processing.

Lighting is very important for this shot, because it’s what gives depth to the photo with its shadows. Otherwise the image looks quite dull and flat. The timing of the light for this shot is a bit tricky. This shot was taken 10-15 minutes before sunset, and the lighting only lasted a few minutes before it dipped below the horizon. I recommend paying close attention to how the lighting changes as the sun is setting, because it starts to cast more shadows and create more depth quite quickly.

In the shot above, I waited for the sun to peak right past the rock to capture the sun flair. Because I was shooting directly in the sun, I wanted to preserve as much of this high dynamic scene as possible, so I bracketed my photos. I heavily underexposed the sky so it wouldn’t blow out, and correctly exposed the foreground so I could easily blend them during post-processing.

Nearby Camping

Canyonlands has the Needles District Campground which fills up quickly, so I’d recommended reserving a spot well in advance. Otherwise, there are plenty of dispersed camping opportunities around, especially near Hamburger Rock Campground. I found that a lot of the dispersed campsites were filled up when I arrived at night, and I had to drive further from the main road to find a spot.

Things to Keep in Mind

Be sure to have a trip that allows you to maneuver the legs up to a horizontal position. You’ll need this feature to be able to position the camera properly near the rock wall for the exact composition.

Be sure to gas up your vehicle before traveling down this way, and bring lots of extra water and food. There are no gas stations nearby, and the closest one has very expensive gas prices.

Crows like to hang out in the parking lot and are quite clever at stealing things from your car if the windows are rolled down. I witnessed a crow steal a huge back of Swedish fish candy.