Sunday, May 29, 2016

Photographing Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon from Hopi Point at dusk, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
Grand Canyon from Hopi Point at dusk.
I wasn't sure what to expect when visiting Grand Canyon National Park for the first time.  Based on all I had heard and read, I expected to be under-whelmed.  I heard stories about the almost permanent haze, the crowds, the canyon being too big to get a true perspective, etc.

Well, visiting the first week of April, none of these came into play.  I was absolutely amazed!

The South Rim offers amazing views of the canyon along its entire stretch.  I highly recommend walking the West Rim Trail to experience all the viewpoints, then come back with your camera for the golden hour and hopefully, a spectacular show.

Grand Canyon wall from Mathers Point, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
Canyon wall from Mather Point.
The most obvious viewpoints along the South Rim are Mather Point and Yavapai Point.  Both are very accessible and can be quite crowded during the day.  In mornings and evenings, I didn't have any problems photographing from these locations.  They were quite pleasant and the views outstanding!  Both these locations are excellent for both sunrise and sunset.  Enjoy the views of Wotan's Throne and Vishnu Temple, as well as the sheer views down into the canyon.

As with all locations, I recommend arriving at least half an hour early (I typically arrive an hour early) to not only get set up, but to allow the creative juices time to start flowing on how you are going to approach the scene before you.  Depending on the weather, there are lots of different ways to approach photographing the canyon, whether it is isolating certain scenes, offering an expansive panorama, or something in between.  Storm clouds can add much drama to the scene and make you want to capture much of the sky above the canyon.  Clear skies will probably have you wanting to cut the sky out as much as possible and focus on the canyon itself.

Grand Canyon at dusk from Hopi Point, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
Sunset on the Grand Canyon from Hopi Point.
Hopi Point is located along the Hermit's Rest Road and is an excellent sunset location.  To get there, you must either walk the West Rim Trail or catch the shuttle bus as private vehicles are not allowed on this road (the exception being December thru February).  I always chose to walk simply so I could scout other locations along the way, then catch the shuttle bus for the return after sunset.  Hopi Point can get pretty crowded, so be sure and arrive early.

Grand Canyon from Mather Point, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
Grand Canyon from Mather Point.
Yaki Point rivals Mather Point as the supreme destination for sunrise photography.  The view is very open looking westward, offering miles of canyon.

Getting to Yaki Point requires the same logistical challenge as Hopi Point.  You must catch the shuttle bus at the Canyon View Information Center.  I recommend arriving an hour before sunrise.  Both mornings I did this, I found myself alone on the bus and the first one to arrive at Yaki Point.

The other option is to park at Desert View Road and walk the mile to Yaki Point.

Grand Canyon from Yaki Point at sunrise, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
Grand Canyon at sunrise from Yaki Point.
As for lenses, I recommend mid to long range telephoto lenses.  You can leave the wide-angle lens at home, in my opinion.  The exception might be if you are lucky enough to get a dramatic sky with storm clouds, but even then the mid-range telephoto should serve you well.  I would also recommend a warming polarizer and a selection split GND filters.  Of course, a tripod goes without saying.

Above all, take time to enjoy your visit.  The Grand Canyon is an amazing place and should be experienced beyond the camera.  Be sure to get out and walk around and experience this magnificent wonder.

You can view more of my photography at  I hope to have more of my Grand Canyon images uploaded soon.

As always, thanks for looking!