James Udall (@jkudall) has been enchanted by the landscapes of Utah for as long as he can remember. Photography is his way of bringing the valleys, mountains and vistas of the state to the public eye.
What brought you to Utah initially?
I’ve lived here my whole life, born and raised. Living in Utah is a pretty good balance between having both access to medium-sized cities and to nature. If you want to, in less than an hour you can be almost completely alone. It suits my needs perfectly.
Your photos are beautiful. What drew you to photography?
I’ve always had an interest in photography, but I started getting more serious about it four or five years ago. I had some friends who were already professional photographers, and they took me under their wings and gave me some tips.
There was a lot of trial and error along the way, and I also practiced on my own, which is what allowed me to really hone my skills. My desire to travel and explore has also been a motivation to improve. Plus, going out in the field and meeting people has been so enjoyable.
What draws you to landscape photography specifically?
I think a lot of it is based on how accessible the mountains and in Utah are — and how beautiful the vistas are, too. This state has a lot of diversity as far as landscapes go. In one direction you’ve got the desert, but if you drive the opposite way, you’ll be in the high alpine mountainous areas, or near a lake.
I enjoy being out in nature and really appreciate how peaceful it can be. I like being able to see the world as it is without much development or alteration.
Where is your favorite place to photograph in Utah?
I really like photographing the National Parks landscapes in southern Utah — they’re probably my favorite. We call them the Mighty 5, and some people try to visit them all in one trip. There’s Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef.
While I love photographing the dry, red rock, and desert areas, the landscapes of northern Utah are also beautiful. It’s where you get more of a mountainous, alpine experience. Shooting always depends on the time of year, but overall, I like southern Utah best.
What is your photography process? Do you rely on any specific gear?
It’s a nice juxtaposition when landscapes like those in Utah have movement in them. I like to take long-exposure photos that incorporate light. That effect is dependent on the shutter speed of the camera — the slower it is, the more light is captured, creating light trails from moving cars or clouds shifting through the sky.
To take those photos, I typically shoot in low light environments, when the sun is setting. However, you can also use neutral density filters that cover your camera lens and reduce the amount of light that makes it to your lens, so you can capture a similar effect during the daytime without overexposing your image.
Taking these kind of shots is fun, but it takes a lot of equipment, a lot of patience, and a lot of trial and error to get it just right.
What elements do you look for when composing your shots?
I try to find places that are meaningful to me but, visually, I’m drawn to nice scenery that has a couple of elements.
I like to implement leading lines that will draw the viewer’s eye to the subject of the image. Good light is also a big deal, so I tend to shoot at sunrise, when you have better light and better colors. Color is important, too. I like incorporating a variety of tones and using them to evoke the feeling of being there, but in a dream-like way. I often create pictures that aren’t necessarily something you’d see with the naked eye, like the long-exposure images or light-trails in the sky. It makes the scene a little more interesting.
Is there a recent moment stands out to you?
A few months ago, a buddy and I drove down to Zion National Park with the intent of photographing Angel’s Landing, which is a well-known viewpoint, but the more famous aspect is the hike to get there. It’s treacherous, and there have been a number of people who have died trying to access the spot because of the thousand-foot drop on either side of the ledge you have to walk across to reach the peak.
I’d done it a couple of times, once in the winter with ice on the path, so I knew how dangerous it can be if you don’t know what you’re doing. This past April we did it in pitch black darkness because we wanted to catch the sunrise. We started at 5 in the morning, knowing that the sun was coming up at 7.
We couldn’t see anything other than the light from our headlamps, and we knew about the drop on either side. We had no leeway and had to hold onto the chain barrier to stay on the trail.
That was quite the adventure. There was a decent sunrise that morning, so it was a fun experience — but definitely not for the faint of heart.
Do you have any tips for aspiring landscape photographers?
I think patience is the most important aspect of photography. You also can’t be afraid to make mistakes. Each time you go out, take pictures, and process them, it’s inevitable that you’ll see that you made a mistake, but the next time, you just have to try to improve on those and, gradually you’ll be able to get what you want out of your photography.
There’s still plenty for me to learn, plenty of mistakes I still make. Photography is a journey, and you have to be patient with yourself and enjoy the process.
You can see more of James’ photography on his website.