04.01.2022 Karen Hutton

Searching for Zion

Karen Hutton

Karen Hutton is an International Landscape and Travel Photographer, Artist, Speaker, Author, Educator, and Voice. Through stunning imagery, humor, thought-provoking ideas and a genuinely positive outlook, she inspires people to discover their artistic voice in photography — while making it all feel like an unforgettable and eye-opening adventure. Photography has been a part of her life from inception. She’s widely followed in social media and her voice has been heard around the world in commercials, narrations, apps, trains, tutorials and television. 

As well as being a Professional Fujifilm X-Photographer, Karen creates online courses and leads photography workshops/retreats in the U.S. and Europe focused upon Storytelling, Seeing Photographically, Finding Your Artistic Voice and the Power of Awe and creates online courses for Kelbyone. Her articles have been translated into multiple languages and she speaks all over the country about photography and inspiration. She is also featured in a short documentary film about her approach to photography, created by Smugmug. Her adoring fans + customers have called her “Pure JOY, LIGHT & absolute FUN!”, “An inspirational gem” and “Incredibly artistic. Captivatingly genius. World class!” Karen believes deeply that finding your truest voice and “living life as if it were your art” is of the highest calling. That when you let it in, light, artistry and creativity flood everywhere, pouring through life’s nooks and Guilty pleasures? When she’s not traveling the world, you can find her watching epic movie trailers, crunching popcorn at the latest superhero blockbuster and sipping Bulletproof coffee.

Favorite Quote:
“The artist vocation is to send light into the human heart.” – Robert Schumann

Karen Hutton examines Utah’s staggering designs with the might of macro

French philosopher René Descartes once described wonder as an innate, primal feeling. Owing to our tendency to react emotionally to unexpected phenomena, the father of analytic geometry perceived awe as a quintessentially human sensation – the fundamental means by which we interact with the world. In many ways, he wasn’t wrong. Throughout the ages, this simple, psychological occurrence has produced some of art’s most revered works. They’ve been colossal. Monumental. Man has endeavored to epitomize that which inspires, bewilders, and amazes. Just how does the poet convey the way the clouds carve to reveal the spotless moonlit vista? How exactly can the musician compose a melodic testament to sunrise in the big city, its latent potential cast in that singular stillness of daybreak? And what’s to be said of the landscape photographer, surveying the scenic terrain, searching for the soul and spirit of the space?

Armed with GFX100S and FUJINON GF120mmF4 R LM OIS WR Macro, Karen Hutton recently travelled to Zion National Park, a comparable conundrum in her path. In those ruddy Navajo sandstones, an implicit energy presented itself – one that spoke to this sense of admiration and astonishment. Foregoing a more traditional means of capturing landscapes, Karen would adopt a steadfast attitude. Macro glass was ideal for surrounding idiosyncrasies. It was perfect for interpreting particularities. But when it came to extensive vistas, the lens was a more unconventional choice, and consequently, an exciting challenge.

“Seeing Zion through a macro lens was like walking through a doorway to another world,” she gushes. “It opened up a new way of thinking, experiencing, and creating. This might sound like a paradox, but as my vision got wider, it also became more focused.” Images in Karen’s cataloge affirm the precision one expects to encounter with this lens, but then there are landscapes – the cosmic spaces that attract around 4.3 million visitors to Zion every single year. Pondering the power of these outlooks, she realized that the potency didn’t exist in the totality of the image. The design was multidimensional, encompassing countless components, each one as unique as the last. These ingredients comprised the majesty of what Karen saw, and ultimately, what she was able to photograph.

Photo 2022 © Karen Hutton | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF120mmF4 R LM OIS WR Macro, 1/120 sec at F13, ISO 800

Photo 2022 © Karen Hutton | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF120mmF4 R LM OIS WR Macro, 1/1800 sec at F8, ISO 2500

“The more you look through a lens like this, the more you appreciate the idea of fractal designs,” she explains. “Smaller elements making up a bigger whole. You begin to consider more substantial questions. It really does take the breath away. It’s a formula present in everything we see and love – multiplicity, adding up to something bigger. You see that formula.”

For wider scenes, Karen merged multi-shot panoramas together, creating a cohesive amalgamation of various images, fused as one. Because of the lens’s relatively long focal length, the field of view was especially narrow, so sewing multiple exposures together became essential. The end-to-end sharpness was an exceptional draw. “There’s a way you can use this lens… for an incredible variety. I did a few multi-shot panoramas – ending up with a really unique perspective. Very intense, crisp imagery. From a purely technical standpoint, that was interesting. A macro lens lets you find the heartbeat of a place.”

Photo 2022 © Karen Hutton | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF120mmF4 R LM OIS WR Macro, 1/170 sec at F16, ISO 800

When we first encounter something striking, we’re liable to be affected by its entirety; its wholeness. But it’s only when we really see that the internal mechanisms become apparent. Karen uses a universal language to impart this experience. “It’s like falling in love with someone,” she remarks. “You start to appreciate the smaller elements, the slighter quirks. That’s what I get when I put a macro lens on. The way the light fell in certain areas, for instance. It’s always spilling and pouring and flowing. It doesn’t just hit. It has this movement, this caress. I knew that would happen, but not on this scale. It elevated everything. Zion really is epic.”

In the late 1800s, Mormon pioneers were some of the first explorers to arrive in the south of Utah. Initially named ‘Mukuntuweap’ or ‘Straight Canyon’ by John Wesley Powell, the park’s name would soon shift to reflect the piety of its discoverers (‘Zion’ is an ancient, biblical Hebrew word indicating refuge or sanctuary). Once home to the Anasazi tribe, occupants of the park stretch back as far as 1500 BC. Karen knew an extensive story was woven throughout these canyons, present in the insects, the flora… the waters flowing through the slender chasms of the Virgin river. The history was overwhelming, as were the individual facets of the park itself.

“We have an innate curiosity as humans. It doesn’t necessarily have to be outer places, it can be inner spaces, too. I think the pandemic showed us that. There’s a soul-stirring thing that happens when you explore places like Zion. In American culture, we’ve been conditioned to believe that bigger is always better. I think it’s purposefully habituated for very specific reasons. Photography is an inherently competitive medium, and everybody’s going all out, but there’s this thing about limitations that makes you go deeper. That’s what this macro lens did for me. You lose specificity when your scope is too large.”

Photo 2022 © Karen Hutton | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF120mmF4 R LM OIS WR Macro, 1/800 sec at F13, ISO 800

Photo 2022 © Karen Hutton | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF120mmF4 R LM OIS WR Macro, 1/850 sec at F5.6, ISO 250

Naturally, Karen would also utilize the macro lens in its more orthodox form – detailing meticulous close-ups of Zion’s exquisite features. As well as zeroing in on various wildlife, she also took the time to scrutinize the symbolic incongruity of dead leaves, defiantly vivid in spite of their expiration. “Fall was long gone, this was the higher elevation – about 6,000 feet,” she recounts. “I used the film simulations. I boosted the sharpness; I boosted the colors. There was life in these leaves, even after they were dead. How beautiful is that? These are the kinds of notions that swirl through the mind when you’re met by this scenery. Nothing is as it seems.” Moving through the upper reaches of Zion’s Kolob region, Karen encountered more symbolic courage – more fortitude displayed in the foliage.  “I looked at this particular tree, and these leaves. It was as if they were caught in human-like gestures, hanging on for dear life. Here they were, caught in this moment of resilience. GFX100S helped me capture that poignancy.

Photo 2022 © Karen Hutton | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF120mmF4 R LM OIS WR Macro, 1/170 sec at F5.6, ISO 800

Photo 2022 © Karen Hutton | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF120mmF4 R LM OIS WR Macro, 1/420 sec at F6.4, ISO 500

“Photography is really spiritual to me. I don’t want to sound clinical, because this whole thing is so otherworldly. What you discover is that epic isn’t a matter of size – it’s a matter of design. We all have that connection with nature. In the shapes, the light, even in the mathematics of it all. It’s really a quantum experience, and weirdly biophilic. Looking through this macro lens just makes it explode. You see everything in such detail. Awe is transformative when you realize that you’re part of something so much greater. I had that experience every day.”

In the end, wonder is about what you feel, not the cold veracity of what’s actually there. Karen Hutton’s photographs operate somewhere between the fantasy and reality of this emotion – where magic and spectacle are inherent natural law. It might begin with realism, but where does it end up? When you get to know someone, you learn their moods, their flaws, their inner workings. In order to understand Zion, Karen had to meet her with macro. There, she found the tacks that tie this tapestry together.

Photo 2022 © Karen Hutton | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF120mmF4 R LM OIS WR Macro, 1/170 sec at F14, ISO 400