Celebrating the Wilderness Act through Photography

"A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

As photographers we often find ourselves visitors. Visitors to a new country, new people, new environment, and ever present new challenges. And we strive to be visitors—visitors rather than intruders. We like to come and go unnoticed, capture the scene as it truly was, and leave things just we left them.

Likewise, as a photographic supply store based in one of most picturesque and diverse landscapes on earth, we understand how important it is to leave things just as we left them. Every day we encounter people who have come from near and far to revel in the pristine landscapes that we’re lucky enough to call home. Photographers come to Utah hoping to capture just a fraction of this natural beauty on camera, and it’s our job to provide them with the best equipment to do so. Yet, it’s also our job, and everyone’s job, to ensure that these undeveloped lands and sanctified wilderness areas stay just as magical and untouched as they have been for generations. Accordingly, in honor of the historic half-century anniversary of the Wilderness Act and alongside the Natural History Museum of Utah, we would like to share some of those landscapes in which we all find ourselves visitors.

To commemorate the 50th year of the Wilderness Act—which has preserved more than 9 million acres and nearly 100 more million in the subsequent five decades—the museum invites photographers from all disciplines, locations, and experience levels to submit their best photos and personal experiences of the Utah wilderness for the photo contest. Fifty photos will be selected and displayed at the museum in Fall 2014. To spark your inspiration and give you a glimpse at what you can expect to see on display, the Utah Wilderness 50 Photo Contest team has provided some of their best shots and experiences of Utah at its best.

James Kay // Utah Wilderness 50 Photo Contest - Judge

James Kay is a regular contributor to Outdoor Photographer Magazine and has been one of their professional advisors for 20 years. His work has been featured in the Nikon Legends Collection. James’ photographs have been published in a wide variety of magazines including Nikon WorldLos Angeles TimesArizona HighwaysSunsetNational Geographic Adventure, and Time. A short list of his commercial clients includes: the New Zealand Tourism Board, VF Corp, American Express, Sundance Institute, Nikon USA, Visa, and the Nature Conservancy. Jim’s fine-art landscape prints have been displayed in the Utah Museum of Art & History, the Natural History Museum of Utah, the US Capitol Rotunda in an exhibit advocating wilderness protection for Utah's Colorado Plateau region, and are currently displayed in private and corporate collections worldwide.

One of the most rewarding aspects of his work over the years has been his involvement with the Grand Canyon Trust, the Wilderness Society, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and other advocacy groups in their efforts to prevent the short-term exploitation of the last remaining fragments of wild land in North America and the communities of life they support. One of the primary goals of his landscape work is to educate, inform, and inspire people with the beauty and importance of these places in the hope they too will become actively involved in their protection. Visit James’ work at jameskay.com.

Sunset Arch, Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument Location // Pentax 67, 105mm Pentax Lens


The greatest challenge to capturing this image was simply finding the arch itself. While it is shown on USGS topo maps, this was in the days before GPS and there was no sign or trail to it and it's very small and not visible until you are almost right on top of it. It's a little more than one mile from the nearest road in the middle of a vast monotonous sagebrush-covered flat.

When I first set out to locate it, I was hoping to capture a sunset image. However, the light angle was not optimum, so instead I made a quick calculation as to when the angle would be better and wrote it down in my schedule for the following spring. My goal was to return in April or May on a day right after a cold front swept through so the air would be crystal clear and there would be a few clouds in the sky. It's a long drive from my home so I didn't want to make another trip in vain, so beginning in early April I waited and waited for those ideal weather conditions to occur before heading out. Checking the satellite loop one day, I determined that it was time to go so I loaded up my truck and began the 6-hour drive. As I arrived upon the scene, the clouds and sun were in perfect position to create the image I had imagined in my mind's eye. Watching a pre-visualized scene like this materialize before your eyes is one of the most rewarding moments for any photographer.

Jeff Clay // Utah Wilderness 50 Photo Contest - State Team Coordinator

As a self-taught photographer, Jeff Clay has been creating images for more than three decades and recently launched Clayhaus Photogrpahy to focus on fine-art landscape, architecture, and travel photography. At this time he also established Clayhaus Consulting to concentrate on project management and website strategization and implementation for small businesses and local not-for-profits. During this latter period, he also began working with a number of local non-profit organizations focused on land conservation, climate change mitigation, and clean, sustainable energy. He sits on the Boards of a number organizations, including the Executive Committee of the Utah Chapter Sierra Club, where he is the Chairperson for the Utah Wilderness 50 committee. Jeff has been shooting primarily with Pentax cameras since the late 1970s and usually travels with two colour cameras and two infrared-converted cameras. Visit Jeff’s work at clayhausphotography.com.

Notch Peak and the House Range, West Desert // Pentax 10D converted to 780nm, Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8 lens


Utah’s West Desert and the Basin and Range region in general is one of my favorite places to explore and photograph. I have been documenting this region since 2005 with IR photography. It is especially well-suited for infrared as often the wide vistas are rather monochromatic any way, especially compared to the glorious colors of the Rocky Mountains or the Colorado Plateau. This image was captured this past spring at the start of a short trip to the Confusion Range, about 70 miles west of Delta and bisected by Highway 50. To the north sits the awe-inspiring limestone massif of Notch Peak rising more than 4,000 feet from the valley floor, acting as the prow to the House Range’s ship. This image would be nothing if there were no clouds and indeed the play of clouds and mountains, light and shadow are well-suited to the expressiveness of IR photography. Various images from my ever-growing West Desert portfolio have been used by the Sierra Club, Wild Utah Project and The Wilderness Society in multiple efforts to protect these lands.  

Stephen Trimble // Utah Wilderness 50 Photo Contest - Judge

As a writer, editor, and photographer, Stephen Trimble has published more than 20 award-winning books. Through four decades of work in the Southwest, he worked as a park ranger at Arches and Capitol Reef, ran the Grand Canyon with the Paul Winter Consort, helped defeat an anti-Utah wilderness bill in Congress by co-editing the essay collection Testimony, and spent 10 years collecting stories and photographing in Southwest Indian Country. Stephen has received a broad range of awards for his photography, his non-fiction, and his fiction, including: The Sierra Club's Ansel Adams Award for Photography and Conservation; The National Cowboy Museum’s Western Heritage "Wrangler" Award; a Wallace Stegner Centennial Fellowship at the University of Utah Tanner Humanities Center; and a Doctor of Humane Letters from his alma mater, Colorado College, honoring his efforts to increase our understanding of Western landscapes and peoples. Stephen teaches writing in the University of Utah Honors College and makes his home in Salt Lake City and in the Red Rock Country of Torrey, Utah. Visit Stephen’s work at stephentrimble.net.

Capital Reef National Park // Nikon D80, 18-55mm zoom lens


I’ve been photographing at Capitol Reef for nearly 40 years, ever since I was a seasonal ranger in the park in 1975. I’ve taken countless pictures of the view across the red cliffs of the Waterpocket Fold to the Henry Mountains, but I’ve never seen better light than on this day at the end of summer 2007.  My wife and I had been hiking in the park, and as we headed back to our little house outside Torrey, the storms lifted, and the light got better and better. I drove frantically, aiming to reach the turnoff to Panorama Point before the light faded.

As photographers, we create luck by putting ourselves in the path of opportunity. We guess where the rainbows might happen and position ourselves accordingly. We wait for storms to lift. And we hike endless hours and days, with our cameras at the ready, paying attention to the changing light. I’d always fantasized about being at Panorama Point when a rainbow touched down over the Fold, with perfect golden sunset light. This picture captures that moment, when I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

Tom Till // Utah Wilderness 50 Photo Contest - Judge

Tom Till is one of America's best known and most published landscape photographers—called one of the "Lords" of landscape photography by Outdoor Photographer Magazine and one of America's top ten nature photographers by Nature's Best Magazine. In 2006 he was honored as a fellow by the North American Nature Photography Association, one of the few landscape photographers and the only Utahan to ever receive this distinction. Using a 4x5 camera for most of his 37-year career (though he recently switched to a Nikon D800E), the large prints reflect the detail and color that can only come from this large camera and film.

Although best known for his work in Utah and the Southwest, Tom has photographed in all 50 states and in 102 countries outside America. A resident of Moab for almost 40 years, the Tom Till Gallery in Moab has been a fixture of the downtown area for 15 years and has welcomed visitors from around the world. Tom's work has been used in many environmental campaigns in Utah, including the winning fight to keep nuclear waste out of Canyonlands National Park, designation of Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument, and the move of the Moab Uranium Tailings Pond. Visit Tom’s work at tomtillphotography.com.

Gooseneck of the Colorado, Greater Canyonlands // Canon 5D Mark II, 14 mm lens, f/10, 1/40


Most people see this bend in the Colorado River near Moab from high above at Dead Horse Point. I had this image in mind for a long time and was waiting for the right kind of clouds and the correct season. October is a good time because the river is relatively low, wind is usually calm at dawn so I can get reflections, and the sun is far enough south to clear the La Sal Mountains in the east and give good sidelight. I am trying to redo this image with the Nikon and the Nikon fisheye. Lightroom straightens out a lot of the distortion and you just get a really sharp, very wide angle lens. Also, it weighs nothing. I shot this place a lot—from airplanes, from Dead Horse, and even from the river. It should have been part of Canyonlands originally, and hopefully sometime soon that mistake can be corrected. 

UtahWilderness50Poster-webTo celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the Utah Wilderness 50 Photo Contest is calling for all photographers to submit their five best photos of Utah’s public lands. Photographers don’t have to live in Utah and entries will be accepted from January 1st to March 15th.

For more details and to enter submissions, visit the Utah Wilderness 50 Photo Contest page. The contest is part of a larger national commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act to raise awareness, so help us celebrate and let’s see those photos!









January 2014Landscape photographyOutdoor photographyUtah wildernessUtah wilderness 50Utah wilderness 50 photo contestWilderness act

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