Photograph the Grand Canyon! Some tip, right?
Thousands of readers will be amazed to hear that DearSusan recommends the Grand Canyon as a photographic HotSpot, no doubt …
Unlike Monument Valley which, as grand as it may be, puts you in a one-size-fits-all front-row seat that only light of day and the passing seasons can paint with variety, the Grand Canyon is a tremendous place to exercise your creativity to the full.
Take a look at the photographs on this page and see those created in the same spot by Valerie Millet, and you’ll see how different interpretations are easy to come by. In fact, my hunch is that if you dropped ten different good photographers at the same spot at the same time, you’d end up with ten different lots of photographs. Better still, drop a same photographer at the same place on different days and he/she’ll come back with different photographs.
(1) The light changes rapidly. See above and below, pictures made within a couple of hours of one another.
(2) It’s easy to walk around, catch buses and explore freely various angles and various compositions. If you look closely, you’ll notice 80% of the pics on this page are made around the yellow ridge above. There’s an enormous range of possibilities within a small radius.
Of the two, I think the light plays the greatest role. Although obvious on retrospect, it only dawned on my while taking a second look at the photographs made last summer during a morning in the area.
At the time, having gone to some lengths to arrive before sunrise, I was disappointed to be greeted by a dull-looking canyon and uninteresting blue sky. Again, take a look at Valerie’s stunning Canyon shots to see what a photographer can hope for by returning again and again in search of interesting atmospheric conditions.
For us non-returning visitors, finding a stunning drape of clouds or a breathtaking sunset is purely a matter of luck. If you’re visiting in the summer-time, like I was, odds are pure uninterrupted blue will greet you, ruining your chances of making that money shot you look at with envy on the websites of local photographers that have placed their tripods on the ridge several hundred times.
No biggie, though. The changing light is your friend.
Compare the pre-sunrise photographs at the top of this page to those surrounding this sentence. They are made from the same area, just a couple of hours from one another. The individual buttes play beautifully with the haze, the rhythm of their shadows changing with the elevation and orientation of the sun. Just like Monet painted over 70 versions of the Rouen cathedral from the exact same spot to study the variations of light, you could easily spend a lazy day sitting on a wall, feeding the chipmunks and shooting the evolving atmosphere.
Then, just like Monet, you could retreat to the comfort of your studio to rework each photograph into a different version of a same reality. You’d end up with as much variety as a photographer visiting 100 times and the post-processing training is invaluable.
I’m not much of an early riser, pitching my tripod in exotic locations hours before sunrise to catch the golden goodness of our star piercing the clouds over a poetic landscape with a stack of ND, polarizing and warm-up filters in front of my lens.Call me lazy, you’d be right 😉
But this is one place I’d recommend making the effort.Not for the pre-dawn goodness alone but for the bewildering range of lighting scenarios you’ll have witnessed by the time your tummy grumbles its famished song. Having arrived at 5:20 AM, we retreated to the Old Tovar for a front row breakfast of sinful pancakes and fruit juice, a solid 30 potential wall-hangers in the memory card and a memorable but easy 90 minute walk in our legs.
From then on, we walked another 3 hours further down the canyon, jumping on and off the shuttle buses to hasten our arrival at tourist hotspot views, before eventually taking the car back to visit other views upstream from the South Rim village.
Unless you’ve visited before and crave new vantage points, my recommendation is to keep it simple and early. You’ll get far more (on a typical sunny day, that is) from a sunrise at a convenient access point than from driving hundreds of miles in search of exotic locations in less variable lighting conditions.
This comes with a major caveat. Allow for plenty of time to drive slow. At night, the roads are crawling with wildlife. I’ve had my fair share of night-time driving in wild areas, including an exhausting 9-hour epic through the back roads of SW Australia, but I’ve never seen as many deer along the roadside or on the road as on the long stretch of US 180 S between Flagstaff and Grand Canyon Village. Sadly, we got a very close up view of a huge elk lying dead on the road side with a totally flattened SUV on the other, it’s aghast occupants miraculously still in one piece. We counted on 2 hours from Flagstaff to the photographing from the South rim, that’s cutting it way too fine. 2h30 is a far more relaxing proposition. Check out sunrise times and plan accordingly.
Lenses ? Mine ranged from 15mm to 85mm and some of my photographs are stitches. All will serve you well but my preference to enhance atmospheric veil and pick out specific compositions is the longer end of that range. I quite suspect that someone with a good eye for longer gear would create superb abstracts. Oh, for a 300/4 from Zeiss …
So, let’s recap:
Tip1: Allow for 30 minutes more travel than you think and drive slow.
Tip 2: Plan to arrive a little before sunrise.
Tip 3: Time is more important than location for first-time visitors. Keep it simple.
Tip4: Walk about for 90 minutes then head off early to one of the lovely lodges for breakfast. After that, just enjoy your day, you’ll have bagged splendors before most others even arrive at the scene.
What are your thoughts on time, lenses and locations for the Grand Canyon?