Photographing the Grand Canyon

Michele Wanke
man standing on ridge of Grand Canyon

Photographing the Grand Canyon is a dream come true for many amateur and professional photographers.

Picture Perfect Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is one of the oldest National Parks in the United States. Located in Northern Arizona, the massive natural treasure covers more than 1,900 square miles, with the actual canyon measuring more than 200 miles long and roughly four to 18 miles wide, depending on your exact location. With its awe-inspiring views, numerous trails and dozens of recreational opportunities, it's no surprise that the Grand Canyon attracts more than five million visitors each year. What's more, nearly 90 percent of Grand Canyon guests bring along a camera to capture the breathtaking chasm, which is carved out of the Colorado Plateau. Fortunately, the canyon's South Rim is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This allows photographers prime access to stunning photo ops.

Tips for Photographing the Grand Canyon

It's not everyday that you can photograph one of the seven natural wonders of the world, which is why it's important to get it right while you are there.

Camera

If you buy a new camera specifically for your trip to the Grand Canyon, be sure to experiment with it prior to your departure. Learn all about the camera's features and idiosyncrasies before you get to the canyon. After all, you don't want to be paging through your manual just as the sun is setting behind the North Rim.

Waterproof cameras are also handy to bring along on your trip to the Grand Canyon, especially if you are planning to take shots during a river rafting ride. Waterproof cameras are also sealed, so they protect against the dust and sand which are mainstays at the Grand Canyon.

Lenses

Given the immensity of the Grand Canyon, be prepared to pack and use a series of different lenses. Ideally, you'll want to bring along a set, which includes a wide-angle lens anywhere from 17mm to 35mm, a normal 55mm and a zoom in the 80-200 range. In addition, a macro lens will help you capture details, such as cactus blooms, birds, lizards, and different rock textures.Remember, when shooting with a wide-angle lens, your image may be distorted given how expansive the canyon is in real life. To compensate, consider zooming in on narrow sections of the canyon to emphasize a single landscape element. Or, try including something in the foreground, such as a person or tree branch to give perspective and scale to your shot.

Filters

If you are hiking around the Grand Canyon in an effort to shoot it from different angles, then you will likely need a UV filter on each lens. In addition, a polarizing filter is a good investment, as it helps deepen many of the canyon's colors and reduces haze and the contrast between shadowy and light areas.

Timing

The best times to photograph the Grand Canyon are at sunrise and sunset. These "golden hours" are when the canyon walls are painted in stunning shades of lavender and pink. In addition, sunrise and sunset are when shadows are at their most dramatic. The worst time to photograph the Grand Canyon is at high noon when there are almost no shadows and very little texture or contrast.

Composition

Weather will be a key component in composition when photographing the Grand Canyon. Since Arizona is typically sunny, you should take most of your landscape shots early in the morning or late in the evening if you want to eliminate major contrasts. If you will be photographing the Grand Canyon on multiple days, then consider partaking in the recreational activities offered there, including mule riding, hiking and river rafting.

Use a fast shutter speed to stop the action while rafting. In addition, you can compose an attractive wide shot where you can see the raft and the rapids in the same shot. Don't forget to shoot some close-ups of the expressions on the rafters' faces. Save slow shutter speeds for the canyon's waterfalls and other bodies of water.

Final Tips

While the South Rim is open year-round, it's important to note that the Grand Canyon's North Rim is only open from mid-May to mid-October. This means if you visit during the winter and spring, you will not be able to photograph the Grand Canyon from Point Imperial, Cape Royal and Point Sublime, which offer unadulterated views of the canyon's width, rather than its depths.

Finally, if you plan to visit the Grand Canyon during the summer months, be prepared for a lot of company. Summer is the height of tourist season at the canyon. Crowds are large and the traffic is horrendous. What's more, you will have fewer clutter-free spots when photographing the Grand Canyon in the summer.

Photographing the Grand Canyon