Planning a trip to Utah and want to get photos at the gorgeous Bonneville Salt Flats? Here’s everything you need to know! Where to go, what to expect, and who to call for a great photo shoot at the Utah Salt Flats!
There are a few things everyone knows about Utah: Land of the Mormons, home to the Great Salt Lake, a random island full of wild buffalo, the famous national parks, and the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Even if you didn’t know the salt flats by name, you’ve probably heard of the mythical salt field where land speed records are made and shattered.
Well, it’s no myth. The salt flats exist, and they are breathtaking.
The Bonneville Salt Flats are a gorgeous spot for family pictures or drag racing. Your choice.
The Utah Salt Flats seem to be known for two things: the Bonneville Salt Flats Speed Week and gorgeous photo shoots. Yes, this is an area where fashion and adventure meet. Beautifully.
I’ve seen drool-worthy photo shoots at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah for years. I’ve been as mesmerized by the pure white background as everyone else, and having my own salt flats family photo shoot soon landed a place on my bucket list.
It’s what the beautiful people do. The stylish people. The creative people.
So when the opportunity arose to hire a professional photographer for our first ever family portraits I jumped at the chance to take them in this coveted location.
We (I) decided it was time to take official family photos before leaving on our 2-year adventure abroad. They would be a great way to mark our family pre-adventure, and could double as Mother’s Day gifts to the women who would be saddest not to see us regularly anymore. Besides, most of our family pictures were selfies, so it really was time to finally see that we have legs.
Planning a Creative Salt Flats Photo Shoot
Since making this photo shoot happen was going to be expensive (professional photographer) and a time commitment (I’ll never convince Ben to drive 2+ hours for a photo shoot again) I wanted to make sure our pictures were as memorable as possible. I researched Utah Salt Flats Family Photo Shoot in Google Images to get some inspiration, but that’s not what I found.
Instead of family photo shoot pictures I mostly saw high-end images which looked straight out of Vanity Fair. They were gorgeous!
What stood out to me most when researching salt flats photo shoots was how creative they seem to be. I saw musical instruments played there, wedding photo shoots, brightly-colored designer gowns, and other over-the-top sets which looked amazing because they have no place in the middle of salt flats.
Photo Shoot Props
I wanted to take advantage of this unusual setting in the same way by planning our own interesting photo shoot set: Adventure.
Since our pictures were meant to capture our adventurous spirit, we designed our photo shoot set to be filled with our favorite outdoor and travel gear. We borrowed my sister’s SUV and stuffed it with 2 bikes, kayaking paddles, skateboards, rock climbing gear, a snowboard, and our son’s orange suitcase.
Photo Shoot Wardrobe
I really debated having us wear super-fancy clothes, as I love the juxtaposition between ballgowns and the white, outdoor field. It’s stunning to see something beautiful in an out-of-place environment, which is why so many people go this route.
Since we had decided to use adventure props, though, I didn’t want the end result to be too complicated.
I think you can easily choose one or the other to take focus, but having too much going on just confuses the person looking at the pictures. The beauty of the Bonneville Salt Flats is it’s simplicity, so you don’t want to mess that up too much.
In the end I chose for us to wear simple, everyday clothes. We are simple, real-life people going on this adventure and I wanted the photo shoot to reflect our sincerity. Our solid color tees complimented each other and the landscape, and the clean lines kept the focus on us and our props.
My ideas were great, but the reality had to be flexible (as reality so often is.)
First, Here Are Some Issues With the Bonneville Salt Flats:
The Salt Flats are pretty far away from Provo and Orem
As it turns out, the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah are almost 2.5 hours away from our city of Orem. I didn’t know that. Our photo shoot was scheduled for 7:00 pm (to get those dreamy sunset colors), so we had to leave by 4:30 to arrive on time! I forgot snacks or a kindle, but luckily Whit fell asleep for the majority of the drive there.
There’s nothing nearby
The salt flats are also not near anything. The nearest towns are Tooele, Utah, in one direction (around 1.5 hour away) and Wendover, Nevada, in the other direction (20 mins away). This meant we had to drive to Wendover for gas (and food) to make it home since, as mentioned, the next nearest town is so far!
The Salt Flats aren’t pure white
Once we drove into the salt field zone I was surprised to realize it’s not all pure white. Most of the salt flats are brownish, actually. This means you can’t just stop at a more accessible point of the road, you really have to go to one specific spot to achieve the iconic look. The whiteness begins at a rest stop on 1-80 just a couple of miles before the turn off for the speed way. You can’t miss it!
It’s more windy and cold than expected
It makes sense, though, since it’s a wide open field in the middle of the mountains! We weren’t prepared with jackets or a hair tie, so my hair is whipping around in all of our pictures and our son almost refused to get out of the car. Be warned. Some days are better than others, but signs stay up year-round warning visitors of high winds.
The salt makes your car pretty dirty
You should expect to take your car for a thorough wash afterwards! It is possible to drive onto the salt flats, which will cover your car in white powder and could corrode the underside. Also note that smaller cars should not attempt driving onto the salt flats- it’s common for them to get stuck and calling in a tow truck is expensive!
The Salty Ground Hurts on Bare Feet
We were there in May a few days after a rain storm. The ground still had an inch of standing water that had yet to evaporate, and the salty ground was sharp and painful. We chose to wear shoes during our photo shoot to protect our feet, but we had to throw away one of our three pairs due to damage from the concentrated salt water. We cleaned all three once we were home (at 11:00 pm!), but one pair of fabric slip-ins couldn’t be salvaged.
You Won’t Get Cell Phone Service
Unfortunately, you’ll have to pre-record those Instagram Stories from your visit to the salt flats. There’s no cell phone service. If you’re meeting a photographer or friends at the Bonneville Salt Flats be clear on where and when to meet, as the old fashioned way is the only way to connect with them!
Here is the Best Place for a Salt Flats Family Photo Shoot
Our photographer, Callie, was well-seasoned on hosting photo shoots at the salt flats and had great advice for us!
She told us to stop off of the road a couple of miles down from the rest stop. Most people park at the rest stop or drive onto the salt flats from there for photos, so it can get crowded. The shoulder is really wide just down from the rest stop, though, so we were able to park our cars with no threat to I-80 traffic and no other visitors around!
Callie left her car on the side of the road and hopped in ours to drive onto the salt flats with us. She showed us a spot 1/4 mile away from the road which gave us plenty of unencumbered space to run around for candid photos! I’m so glad Callie knew what she was doing. If we were on our own I would have hesitated to walk or drive onto the salt flats and probably would have been left with headshots from the road!
I was so grateful Callie decided to start our photo shoot late. Yes, it was hard to drive 5 hours (total) with a 5-year-old at night, but it left us with beautiful photos. The light is perfect just before sunset, and it also meant the salt flats weren’t too bright for us to see comfortably.
I also loved that we were there after a storm. I was nervous about it when I saw the initial weather report, but Callie told me that it could work to our advantage.
Yes, it made walking more difficult, we had to immediately clean our car and bikes and throw away a pair of shoes, but that inch of water created a beautiful reflection in our photos. I bet it’s an even smoother reflection when there’s more water! If possible, I would now schedule a photo shoot around a rain storm!
Final Thoughts on our Bonneville Salt Flats Photo Shoot
Yes, we drove forever to get there, but it was worth it. I’m not sure the drive would be worth it just to see the salt flats, but for a family photo shoot? Perfect. No question.
The pictures we got were absolutely stunning! I really debated our outfits and what gear to bring, but, in the end, I think we could have been wearing trash bags and the landscape would still deliver incredible photos.
I’m also thrilled that we hired a professional Utah photographer. She knew the area so well, communicated everything we would need to know, helped with prop ideas, was really friendly and patient the whole time, was great with our son, and had wonderful ideas.
The best part: we were left with pictures so much gorgeous and well-executed than I could have gotten with my camera and a tripod!
For all the effort it took to plan the photo shoot and get there in so glad I didn’t leave the pictures to chance, you know?
As long as you’re prepared to combat the issues we had I think you’ll love the Utah salt flats, too!
I hope you make time to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah while visiting, and be sure to bring a camera with you!
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