An Elevated View of the Escalante

The April/May (2014) issue of Nature Conservancy magazine takes readers to one of the most rugged and remote rivers in the American West, Utah’s Escalante River, where a coalition of volunteer groups is working to remove invasive trees.  Photographer Chris Crisman and his crew hiked more than a 10-mile round trip to the invasives removal site (with a pack horse to help carry camera equipment) to document the work on the ground.  

But it was up in the sky where the expansive beauty of the Escalante River took shape.  

Here, the photographer and his assistants describe capturing aerial photographs of the region with the help of LightHawk, an organization that provides volunteer pilots and planes to help conservation groups collect images and data.

Photo: ©Chris Crisman

In the fall of 2013 we spent a week in the Escalante, shooting stills and motion for Nature Conservancy.

Our goal was not only to document the people involved and their conservation efforts, but to bring the river itself to life, a prominent player in the cast of characters that make up this wildly remote and beautiful landscape.

We took to the skies to shoot aerial photography of southern Utah to capture visuals that would help show the changing landscape of the Escalante region as well as illustrate the problematic nature of the invasive species the folks on the ground are working so hard to eradicate.


Our pilot Will Worthington’s expertise was invaluable to our ability to capture these stunning landscapes. (In this photo, Will helps Chris plan the flight.)

cc2013046 - Landscape & Portrait shooting for The Nature Conserv

Climbing towards 10,000 feet our jaws dropped a little bit. The change in perspective redefines your view of the landscape in a way that’s almost impossible to describe.

cc2013046 - Landscape & Portrait shooting for The Nature Conservcc2013046 - Landscape & Portrait shooting for The Nature Conserv

Little did we know that the best position for aerial photography was while the aircraft was in process of making sharply banked turns. We learned that pretty quickly. We also learned that the horizon became a very relative term—good thing we didn’t have much for breakfast that morning.

cc2013046 - Landscape & Portrait shooting for The Nature Conserv

The results were absolutely worth it… Seeing the entire ecosystem from a birds-eye view was necessary to help us wrap our heads around the true size and scale of what we were shooting. 

This post is excerpted from Chris Crisman’s blog, which published a series of posts about this assignment. For more observations about photographing the Escalante River, read the full post 

All photos ©Chris Crisman,

For more information on LightHawk’s work providing free flight services to conservation groups, visit its website.

Opinions expressed on Conservancy Talk and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conservancy.



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  1. From a photographer point of view, I fully understand and believe in the value of high quality Aerial pictures. I am a fan of aerial photography, I wouldn’t hold my camera over the fence to take pictures of my neighbor’s yard, but obviously we have made it possible with a aerial photography. Aerial photography is a fun thing, if you want to look everything in one view only aerial photography make it possible. I like your clicks and looking forward some more surprise clicks.

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