I’ve found heaven on earth and that place is the Bonneville Salt Flats. A bold statement, I know, but when you see the imagery from this wondrous, magical place, I think you might agree. I was recently in Salt Lake City for a conference, and had the opportunity to stay in Utah for the weekend. It also happened to be at the same time as Sundance. I knew the stars were aligned— this trip was going to be amazing and full of gram-worthy moments. It did not disappoint.
I had never heard of the Salt Flats until recently, when my fellow Visceral Vision-er mentioned seeing them during her cross country trip from New York to California. After some more research, I found out that they’re in Utah and only 1.5 hours away from Salt Lake City. Serendipity at its best, don’t you think?
As a lifestyle photographer that loves nature, I was equal parts excited and nervous about photographing the Bonneville Salt Flats. What if I can’t fully capture its beauty with my camera? While I know I should be present and enjoy the moment, I also felt a lot of pressure to be able to able to produce some epic shots. Travel photographer Emilie Ristevski, who I admire greatly, described it perfectly when she said, “It is a love/hate aspect of the job, as a large part of what I do is purely focused around capturing imagery or a moment. My mind often gets stuck in this mood, always observing and looking at a location through a lens.” And so I did a lot of Googling, looking for tips for shooting the salt flats. To my dismay, there wasn’t much there. There was a TON of info about shooting cars on the salt flats, as they act as a speedway during the summer months for big races, but nothing about photographing the landscape itself. Also, not much about getting there, weather, conditions, etc. So pretty much I had no “pro-tips” and pressure was fu***** on.
The only thing I knew was that I had to get there by either sunrise or sunset. It didn’t make sense for us to go for sunset due to the fact that we planned to go to Sundance later, so sunrise it was. And boy, was it the right decision.
This is going to sound a little crazy, but I used three different apps (magic hour, native iOS weather app, sun finder) to see what time sunrise was expected to be. Need confirmation from multiple sources, of course. Sunrise was due to be at 7:45am or so, with magic hour starting at around 7:15am. For reference, we went in the winter, specifically on January 23rd, 2016. We dragged our butts out of bed at 4:30am to leave by 5:30am or so. The trip is almost exactly 1.5 hrs west of Salt Lake City, so we got there right around 7:10am. There are a few different points to view the flats, and I would recommend the route we took. We got off at Exit 4 on I-80 in Utah and headed north. We took the first right on Salt Flats road and just headed down the road until there’s no more road to drive on (check out this map). Once you get out of your car, you will be surrounded by the flats. It is epic.
You could drive onto the flats, but we had a rental car and didn’t want to risk it. We walked a little bit and reached the water. We were extremely lucky as it had rained two days before, so by the time we got to the flats, there was just enough water to create the mirror effect that I so desired, without us trudging through several feet of water. It was fate.
The sun began to peek right from behind the mountains, and it was absolutely breathtaking. It first began as a blazing, fiery orange and then slowly melted into purple and pink pastels, and finally a blue/grey sky. What’s amazing about the flats is that different angles give you completely different pictures. It’s like being in multiple places at once. At one side, you have the bold sunrise. On the other side, it’s a serene mountainscape tinged with pale blue.
After we gorged on photos at this point, we moved to a different spot for photographs. Closer to the highway exit is a rest stop that completely overlooks the flat. We headed there at around 8am, before the sun began to blow out pictures. The only thing that we didn’t quite plan out too well is that if you go on the way back from the flats, you’re on the “wrong” side of the rest stop. A road and the other rest stop obstruct your view. So be prepared to run like a maniac across the street to get the rest stop with the epic view. Why we ran? There was no good place to drive and turn around. You’ve been warned.
After spending our morning at what felt like heaven, or at least something otherworldly fourth dimension, we happily headed to Park City and was ready for Sundance by noon. Seeing the salt flats was truly something I will never forget. The dreamy beauty of the flats were unreal, and a great reminder of how amazing nature is. It’s especially meaningful to me because I’m always stuck behind a computer and attached to technology, so this reminder of well, the world, made a lasting impression on me.
Due to lack of information found during my research, I am also sharing all the details of our visit in hopes that it will help you in the future. Regarding the equipment that I shot with, I was using a Canon 6D, Sigma 35mm f1.4 ART lens, Canon 17-35mm f2.8 lens, and a tripod. I shot mostly at iso 400, f7.0-f11.0. For portraits, I shot around f2.0 to f2.2. I shot manually and underexposed a few notches to ensure that the photos wouldn’t be too blown out.
Oh… and I MADE MY FIRST VIDEO. Literally, I’ve never used the video capability on this sucker until now. When I was there, I was suddenly struck with inspiration to press that record button, and knew that I had to film it so you could get the full experience. And along that vein, this is also the first video I’ve ever edited. I had no idea what I was doing, and still don’t know what I’m doing, really. But I am learning. So bear with me while I delve into this new world of videography. However, I was lucky in that the subject matter was so beautiful that I feel it detracts from the amateur filmmaking. Enjoy!