Scenic Antelope Island


Stansbury Murk. Rain and clouds surround Stansbury Island in the Great Salt Lake, Utah. Three-image panorama.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to take a short business trip to Utah. As it happens, a long-time friend and former coworker recently moved from Tucson, Arizona to a little north of Salt Lake City. By taking a (very) late flight home, I reserved enough time for us to spend a few hours photographing in Antelope Island State Park in the Great Salt Lake.

I have seen a lot of nice photographs of the Great Salt Lake and the birds that live there on Instagram, so while I wouldn’t say it was on my bucket list, exactly, it was on my list of places I would like to visit if I had the opportunity. After driving across the causeway out to the island (a $15 fee per vehicle, by the way) we spent the first hour or so down near the water primarily in hopes of photographing the birds. I’ll talk more about that experience next week, but then we spent the second half of our visit on higher ground and driving around a bit in (successful!) hopes of finding the island’s resident bison herd.

As should be pretty clear from the image above and the two that follow, storms had been moving in over the course of the afternoon and by this point it was pretty gray and cloudy and rainy in most directions. The resulting light was definitely flat, but there were pretty—albeit very subtle—colors in the lake and sky. All three of these images took some effort to bring out the colors, something that had to be done with restraint. In general, I added slight touches of green to the water and magenta to the clouds; both colors were naturally there, just very faint in the raw image. I also tried to add a little contrast to the islands, but again this had to be done very carefully because the natural scene was very low contrast and trying to pretend it wasn’t would not look good at all.

Stomping on the Hat. An anvil-shaped cloud looms above Hat Island in the Great Salt Lake, Utah.
Stansbury Storm. Storm clouds pass over Stansbury Island as seen from Antelope Island State Park, Great Salt Lake, Utah.

Before we hiked down the short distance to the car, I saw the first lizard I think I have seen since leaving Arizona. Some of his scales are a very beautiful golden color, and he and his rock have great texture:

Lizard. A lizard pauses on a rock in Antelope Island State Park in the Great Salt Lake, Utah.

We drove south along the eastern edge of the island and stopped to take a picture of these volcanic rocks. Although we admittedly only explored part of the island, all the other exposed rocks we saw were light-colored, like the lizard’s rock, above. The dark, jagged rocks on this hillside definitely stood out. Again, adding some contrast to this raw image was a challenge. I tried to warm up and lighten the grass on the hillside without making them incongruous with the clouds that were rolling in ahead of the impending storm. Also, I tried to enhance the detail in the rocks enough so that they didn’t just look like black blobs while still keeping them “dark.” Tricky editing was very much in the cards for this batch of images.

Antelope Rocks. Volcanic rocks cover a hill in Antelope Island State Park in the Great Salt Lake, Utah.

After moving on one more time, we finally found our bison herd. This is probably only a quarter of the herd—more were out of frame to the left and right—and there was one large beast on the near side of the mud flats just outside of the lower right corner of the frame; not wanting to appear on someone’s news feed, we gave that animal some respect and stayed up near the road and the car!

When we arrived, all the bison (except the one nearby) were out on the far spit of land. A few were rolling in the dust, but it wasn’t destined to be dusty there for long: within a few minutes, the storm moved in, lightning flashed, and rain pounded. Once the lightning started nearby, the bison started to file across the mudflats, probably having enough sense to realize that being exposed in such a place during an electrical storm was unwise.

Evening Commute. Bison cross the mud flats to return to Antelope Island ahead of a lightning storm, Great Salt Lake, Utah.

By the time we got back to the car (about fifty yards away) it was pouring. We drove back to my friends house in heavy rain, then I headed to the airport. It turns out that my plane back to Denver was also coming from Denver, but had had to divert to Boise, Idaho, because of the storm and was two-and-a-half hours behind schedule when it finally reached Salt Lake City. As it happened, an earlier flight back to Denver was also so late that I easily switched to that one and ended up home a half-hour earlier than planned. No complaints about that!

In summary, the conditions were rather gray for my brief visit to Antelope Island, but some pretty—if not spectacular—images were to be had, although they took a fair amount of careful editing to upgrade their very flat colors into subtle ones. I can, however, see that more colorful and dramatic lighting could really transform this landscape, so I will happily return if given the chance. There are, however, more images from this trip that I would like to share: next week we will turn our attention to some things we found on Antelope Island that can only be considered disturbing.

Technical notes. The photographs in this post were taken with a Nikon Z8. The last photograph was taken with the Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S and the others were taken with the Nikkor Z 24-120mm f/4 S. All were processed from RAW in Adobe Lightroom Classic.

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