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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

10 Tips For The Grand Canyon

A seasoned pro shares his secrets for getting original shots in one of the most iconic locations in America

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Postcard racks are filled with pretty pictures of iconic landscapes. Venture into any visitor's center in any national park, and you'll see a plethora of photos that show the usual vistas at the usual times of day. They're sort of like trophy shots, but to go beyond a trophy shot takes a little work and special attention to the conditions. The Grand Canyon is among the most visited parks in the world. If you've never been there, words simply can't describe the place, and even photographs don't fully do it justice. These tips address some specifics that are unique to the Grand Canyon, but you can apply most of them to any iconic locale where you're trying to get your own singular photographs.

1 Location, Location, Location: Which Spot You Pick Is Important
Spend a little time at the canyon, and you soon realize why most viewpoints were chosen as the primo places to view the canyon. It's because overlooks are on points of land that jut out into the canyon, providing the best views. And, consequently, they're the best places for the photographer to begin looking for pictures.

The South Rim points I favor were chosen because they provide profound views/photo ops in multiple directions. All the East Rim viewpoints, Lipan, Navajo and Desert View offer tremendous views to the west and north, as well as have copious amounts of rim and foreground to explore. On the West Rim Drive, similar conditions can be found at the Powell Memorial Viewpoint.

My personal favorite points for sunrise are Lipan, Powell Memorial, Cape Royal (North Rim), Navajo and Point Imperial (North Rim). For sunset, I prefer Lipan, Hopi, Mather and Yavapai.

2 Include People For Perspective
It's impossible to describe the overwhelming vastness of the canyon. For that, it truly must be viewed in person. One of the best ways to convey that feeling of vastness in a two-dimensional image is to include a person or people in your composition.

And the concept also can come in handy when the intrepid tourist climbs into your picture just before the light gets good, leaving you little or no time to find an alternate location. And sooner or later, especially around the most prominent viewpoints, it will happen. Call it making lemonade after being dealt lemons.

3 Keep Your ND Grads Close
As a canyon is pretty much the inverse of a mountain, we need to remember that as the sun descends, less and less of the canyon itself is illuminated, and indeed, when the sky fills with color after sunset, there's little to no light on the canyon itself. In these cases, there's a very large difference in contrast between the canyon and the sky, and I use graduated neutral-density (ND) filters to hold back highlight exposure in the sky, allowing greater exposure in the shadows of the canyon.

Blending exposures is certainly an option here, and a good one at that, since it provides a very natural-looking sky. However, I often like to go with the ND grads to cut down work in postprocessing, as well as to be able to provide a contiguous RAW file should I need one for contests or any other purpose.

Since it's the nature of the canyon to provide some of its best drama and light after the sun sets and before it rises, I consider one of these contrast-controlling tools to be essential for good canyon imagery.


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