The Vanishing Grand Staircase Escalante
May 14-19, 2020
Venture deep into Utah's Grand Staircase Escalante and capture brilliant panoramic images of the Milky Way under some of the darkest skies in the country! Trip includes a fully outfitted camping trip to White Pocket and all lodging.
- May is one of the best months to photograph the desert southwest. Temperatures are still moderate and there is greenery and wildflowers to enjoy.
- The Milky Way is visible during most of the night which allows us to create brilliant landscape images and panoramics. You will learn both natural light and low-level lighting techniques for foreground enhancement. We'll be shooting every night the skies are clear.
- The Grand Staircase has been determined by ambient light measurements to be the darkest sky location in the lower 48 states! You will photograph many iconic, yet hard to reach locations within the monument. Expect some rough 4x4 transportation and moderate hiking.
- Post-processing and image critique sessions will be scheduled throughout the workshop to help make the most of your images.
- The itinerary is kept flexible so we can chase the best weather conditions. We have permits to guide in many locations in the Southwest so we have many options.
- The itinerary if flexible. If skies are clear, we'll focus on night shooting. If storms and clouds are moving through, we'll photograph more during the day. The itinerary below is just an example of what you can expect.
- Day 1 (Thurs May 14): Meet at 1 PM at the Best Western in Kanab for a mandatory introductory session. After a short break we load up for our fully outfitted overnight camping adventure to White Pocket! After shooting sunset, we return to camp for dinner and then head back out to shoot Milky Way!
- Day 2 (Fri May 15): We rise early to shoot sunrise at White Pocket before making our way back to Kanab. After a midday break, we reconvene to shoot sunset at a spectacular viewpoint that is rarely photographed. Since skies are clear, we decide to shoot Milky Way at the Great Chamber - one of our signature Milky Way locations. Return to town around 3AM.
- Day 3 (Sat May 16): We start off with an afternoon post-processing session and learn how to edit our Milky Way shots from the previous nights. With clouds are in the forecast, we venture into Zion for our sunset shoot.
- Day 4 (Sun May 17): We get up early to catch the sunrise and then regroup for another afternoon post-processing session. After that we drive up to the town of Escalante, UT. Since clouds are looking good, we find some great comps in and among some strange rock formations. We stay out after dark to light up and photograph these rocks. Fortunately, the clouds clear later in the evening revealing the Milky Way!
- Day 5 (Mon May 18): Today we do our final post-processing session. In the afternoon, we venture out to a slot canyon or two and then hit one of our favorite spots. You will love this hole with a tree growing out the middle! Once we're done, we'll hike over to an iconic arch and capture the Milky Way rising above. Expect a very late arrival back in Escalante.
- Day 5 (Tues May 19): In case the skies didn't cooperate for night shooting the day before, we'll shoot sunrise as a group. We'll eat lunch as a group and then bid goodbye to all the new friends we've made.
- Workshop Extension: If anyone wants to extend the workshop by one day either before or after, please let us know. We have lots of places we can take you to!
Please arrive in Kanab, UT prior to 1PM on Thurs May 14th for the orientation session at the Best Western Hotel. The workshop fee includes 1 night of outfitted overnight camping at White Pocket, 2 nights hotel in Kanab, and 2 nights hotel in Escalante. We will finish the workshop by noon on Tues May 19, so it's up to you if you want to stay in Escalante that night or head somewhere else.
Participants should have their own vehicle to get to Kanab. All transportation during the workshop is included except we'll need you to follow us up to Escalante, UT in your own vehicle. This will allow you more flexibility in what you do after the workshop concludes.
All participants on this trip should be in reasonably good physical condition. We aren't planning any long hikes on this trip, but the uneven terrain, sand, and steep uphills can make short hikes seem much harder. You should be comfortable walking around 2-4 miles per day.
We timed this workshop for optimal spring Milky Way photography. However, we can't control the weather and if skies are cloudy one day, we'll plan an outing to a different location and focus on sunrise/sunset photography. Don't worry - we'll make the best possible use of our time. Our job is to get you the most stunning photos and help you learn as much as possible!
The weather can vary quite a bit in spring. It could be temperate and sunny with cool nights. Or it can be windy and rainy. You need to come prepared for the worst conditions. Please bring a warm layer to ensure you don't get cold photographing at night. Please see the gear list further down.
$2895 per Person
Double Occupancy Discount: $300/person
- All ground transportation and photography guiding during the trip.
- One night fully outfitted camping trip at White Pocket.
- 2 nights lodging in Kanab, UT (Best Western or similar).
- 2 nights lodging in Escalante, UT (Canyon Country Lodge)
- Post-processing and image critique
- Lighting equipment and fixtures for night photography.
- Final Group Lunch.
Trip Does NOT Include:
- Transportation to/from your home to Kanab, UT and from Kanab to Escalante, UT.
- Alcoholic Beverages.
- Meals and snacks.
When you complete the checkout process, you will be given the option to either pay the full amount or put down a 50% deposit. If you pay the deposit, the remaining amount will be charged 30-days prior to arrival to the credit card we have on file.
Recommended Camera Gear
- Sturdy tripod and ballhead
- Digital SLR or Mirrorless Camera Body.
- Fast Wide Angle Lens. Our favorite night photo lenses include Tamron 15-30mm f2.8, Rokinon 14mm f2.8, Nikon 14-24mm f2.8, and Canon 16-35mm III f2.8.
- Mid-range zoom lens in the range of 24-100mm.
- Telephoto lenses will come in handy if we go to Bryce and Lake Powell.
- Circular polarizer filters are useful. Bring any ND filters if you have them.
- Extra batteries, memory cards, and cleaning supplies.
- Remote cord for your camera. An intervalometer will be especially useful for doing long exposures at night.
- Laptop if you wish to backup your photos or follow along during the post-processing instruction.
- We may be able to rent you gear if you don't have everything you need.
Personal Gear List
- Sturdy hiking footwear, hiking socks, and long pants .
- A rain jacket and several warm layers since it can get cold at night.
- Headlamp for night photography.
- Sunscreen, Sunglasses, Hat.
- Water bottle or hydration bladder.
- Hiking poles if you like having them.
Your Instructor - David Swindler
David Swindler is a National Geographic award-winning landscape and wildlife photographer. He received a degree in chemical engineering and worked many years in the semiconductor industry specializing in optics and photolithography. Thus, the technical side of photography came very easy to him. Back in 2014 he decided to quit his day job to follow his true passion. As a photographer, he has traveled to many locations around the world and has extensive experience with landscape, wildlife, night, and macro photography. He finds great satisfaction in helping others learn photography, especially in the wild desert environment near his home in Kanab, UT. Follow the links below to see more of Mr. Swindler's work.
Mr Swindler has been leading guided photo tours for several years and knows many different camera systems and how to capture the best photos. On his trips, you'll travel to impressive locations and receive photography instruction at the same time! Unlike many other photo guides, his clients are his top priority while out in the field. Read what others are saying about his trips here: Trip Advisor. Mr Swindler has extensive outdoor experience and will ensure your safety and well-being. If you have any questions, please Contact Us and we'll be happy to assist. Happy travels!