Grand Canyon Sunrise

Photographing The Grand Canyon’s Epic Beauty: 9 Beginner Tips

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Are you curious about photographing the Grand Canyon in the best possible way? Look no further, as we have some great beginner photography tips to help you out!

As experienced travelers, photographers, and frequent National Parks visitors, we are here to help with your adventure.

We have visited the Grand Canyon several times, as well as other parks in Arizona, and it has been a mesmerizing experience each time.

Anytime we visit a national park, we want to come away with the best photos we can, as we are sure you do as well. But because the Grand Canyon is so epic, it can feel a bit daunting to photograph it.

So we are sharing some easy tips to make your experience photographing this natural wonder less scary and more fun.

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Tips For Beginners For Photographing The Grand Canyon

Let’s get straight to the Grand Canyon photography tips.

1. Check The Weather

This first tip for Grand Canyon photography is important, even though it may not seem like it. Weather can have a huge impact on the lighting in the Grand Canyon.

the grand canyon during the day

For example, if you visit on a cloudy day, the colors in the canyon will seem muted. Overall your photos will look flatter and have less dimension than they would on a sunny day.

It also can lead to problems with the sky looking blown out due to the cloud cover. But the actual image isn’t the only reason to check the weather.

Another reason it is important is that you don’t want to have hiked down into the canyon with all your equipment only to have a storm blow in. Not only can it be quite dangerous, but it can also damage your equipment if you don’t have a way to protect it from the rain.

We suggest that if your itinerary allows you to head to the Grand Canyon on a couple of different days, you pick a day it will be sunny for your photography day. Doing so will set you up for a successful shot.


2. Visit During Sunrise Or Sunset

To go along with our first tip on picking a sunny day, we think it is incredibly important to hit up the Grand Canyon either at sunrise or sunset (or both!).

photographing the grand canyon at sunset shows sun just on the peak

If you have been photographing for any amount of time, you have heard the term golden hour. If you haven’t, golden hour is the hour or so just after sunrise and before sunset.

These are the absolute BEST times to be photographing the Grand Canyon. The sunlight low in the sky will give depth to the canyon and bring out all those amazing colors. The lighting will be beautiful and soft.

You also should be able to get the full range of tonal values within your histogram. This will avoid having bright whites (highlights) blown out or blacks (shadows) showing up as solid black with no texture.

camera histogram with good lighting
camera histogram with lighting blown out taken at mid-day

The histogram on the left shows what we mean when we say the full range is within limits. We want everything visible within the histogram with nothing pushing over the right or left edges. This is what you should expect to see during the golden hour.

The histogram on the right shows what we mean when the highlights got blown out. See how the graph is pushed past the right side? You can expect this if you head to the Grand Canyon at noon.

If the histogram lesson is above your head, don’t worry. Just trust us that hitting up the canyon at sunrise and sunset is best.

๐Ÿ“Ž Tip: Plan to arrive earlier than you would expect. The walk from the parking lot can sometimes take a while, or you find too many people at the location and need to adjust your plans. You want to be ready for the shot when the lighting is right.

3. Use The Rule Of Thirds

One of the first composition rules you learn in photography is the Rule of Thirds. It states that you should put a horizon line on your photo’s 1/3 or 2/3 line.

grand canyon with some clouds hovering low

Regarding photographing the canyon, we suggest putting the horizon line on the 2/3 mark for most of your shots. The Grand Canyon is the most important part of the photo. It should be taking up the bulk of the space within the frame.

If you feel like the sky is quite dramatic due to a storm rolling in or if it has some nice puffy clouds rather than just straight blue sky, feel free to try putting the horizon at 1/3.

Just don’t center it.

4. Wander Away From The Overlooks

It is easy to see why the creators of the park installed the overlooks where they did. They are placed where the ground naturally juts into the canyon, giving you expansive, clear views for photographing the Grand Canyon.

gorgeous golden light strikes the grand canyon as the sun sets and creates a starburst effect in the sky with dramatic clouds

For the average person with a cell phone who wants a quick memory or family shot, they stop at the overlook for a couple of minutes, then quickly move on to the next.

That makes the overlooks extremely busy. It can be quite hard to get a decent photo with the crowds, especially if you want to use a tripod.

Our suggestion is to wander slightly down from the overlook. See if you can find a beautiful shot AND some solitude. We are not suggesting walking a mile. But heading even 100 feet in either direction could make all the difference.

Please remember that the overlooks are the only sections of the Grand Canyon with barriers. So be cautious when moving further down and only do so if you feel comfortable.

Want to really get away from the crowds? Why not try a helicopter ride over the canyon?

Not only will you have some solitude for a bit, but you will see (and photograph) the canyon from a completely different perspective that few rarely see.

๐Ÿš Book an exciting Helicopter Flight Over the Canyon

5. Change Your Depth Of Field

When photographing the Grand Canyon, we feel pretty good about saying you probably want the entire image to be in focus. That is the case with most landscape photography, though there are exceptions for creative reasons.

the expansive grand canyon "socked in"

We all want to come home with at least a few photos of the Grand Canyon, where you can see everything sharp and in focus.

So how do you do that?

To have your image sharp, you will want to change your camera’s f-stop number so you have a larger depth of field. That way, everything in the image from the front to the back will be in focus.

It is best on a sunny day to start around F8. Does the furthest object look sharp? If not, change it to F11. Look again. Continue this until the photo is in focus throughout. But we believe F8 or F11 should do the trick.

Remember that as you change your f-stop, the shutter speed will need to be slowed down to compensate. So make sure you use your tripod or a speed you can hand-hold without blurriness.

There is one more part to making your image sharp.

Increasing your depth of field is important, but you also have to focus on the right place for everything to come together. We recommend trying to focus about 1/3 of the way into the image.

๐Ÿ“Ž Tip: Consider using aperture priority rather than full manual. This allows you to change one setting (f-stop), and the camera automatically changes the other setting to compensate (shutter speed). It is what we use all the time here at Traveling In Focus.

6. Pick A Foreground Subject

We have all seen the iconic photos of the Grand Canyon, which is just the wide-angle view of the expansive canyon. And we are definitely not saying to forgo that shot.

As you saw, we already shared a few of our own.

a tree is the focus in the foreground of this grand canyon photography shot

But when photographing the canyon, please think about other possibilities.

It’s true; the Grand Canyon is a wonder to behold. Unfortunately, when you get home and start looking at your images from the overlooks, they might all start to look a bit the same.

Finding a subject you can put in the foreground (in front) of the Grand Canyon creates something different. It helps attain some perspective and depth to your shot. Someone viewing your final photo will understand how large the Grand Canyon truly is.

Use the crowds and take a photo of some strangers as they look into the vast canyon. And use tip #4 to your advantage.

Since you have moved away from the overlook, take a photo of it with the people showing how small they are compared to the canyon. Or use a loved one or friend.

One of our favorite tricks is to use nature. A tree or plant can be the perfect subject.

7. Don’t Forget About The Wildlife

We know that most of you came for advice on taking classic shots when photographing the Grand Canyon. And we absolutely understand that the majority of the shots will be of the canyon itself.

squirrel eats in a pine tree in grand canyon national park

But as we are wildlife enthusiasts here at Traveling In Focus, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to mention that there is, in fact, wildlife in Grand Canyon National Park.

We saw plenty of birds, lizards, chipmunks, and squirrels. Larger species that can possibly be seen are deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and javelina (which we enjoyed seeing just outside Tombstone).

8. Get Creative

We want you to get creative when photographing the Grand Canyon.

We said it before up in #6, but there are only so many shots of the Grand Canyon itself that you can come away with before they begin to look similar.

snow covered trees and the grand canyon train is an example of being creative while photographing the grand canyon

So once you have those epic shots, it is time to see what else you can find within the national park.

Get up close to a plant until it starts to look abstract. Use a zoom lens and focus on a small portion of the canyon showing off the coloration.

Take a photo of the transportation shuttles in a unique way. Photo the crowds to show how busy it is if you are there at the height of the summer season.

When you return from your trip, we want you to have a well-rounded portfolio of your day(s) at the Grand Canyon. That means trying to find new ways to shoot rather than the same way over and over again.

9. Go With The Flow

Our last tip is to go with the flow.

The Grand Canyon is one of the most visited national parks in the USA. It has nearly 5 million visitors each year.

the blue hour after sunset shows the canyon the a pink sky and clouds

It is very easy to get frustrated with the crowds, with the loud noises, and with people being disrespectful and thinking they don’t have to wait their turn to get the shot.

Unfortunately, that is part of being in a national park these days.

Move down from the crowds as we suggested in #4. Wait those few extra minutes for the rowdy bunch to move on.

Getting angry will only damage YOUR enjoyment of the day. Try to adjust what is in your control and let go of the rest.

Of course, people aren’t the only obstacles. Sometimes it is the weather.

While tip #1 was to pick a sunny day to head to the canyon, storms can blow in unexpectedly if you are there in summer. If it isn’t putting you in danger, photographing storm clouds above the Grand Canyon can create some incredible shots you weren’t expecting.

On the day we visited one year, the canyon was called “socked in” in parts. That meant low-hanging clouds were covering sections of the canyon. But you know what? It was so beautiful in its own way, and we came away with a sunset shot we loved.

Prepare as much as you want before your visit. But unexpected things can and will happen. Enjoy the experience and be willing to adjust on the fly.

the grand canyon in focus from front to back showing the canyon itself with a few low-hanging clouds

Popular Photography Spots For The Best View Of The Grand Canyon

You can photograph Grand Canyon National Park from practically anywhere in the canyon. But here are some popular photography locations.

Grand Canyon South Rim: Mather Point

As you approach Mather Point, you’ll feel a rush of excitement.

The vast expanse of the canyon unfolds before you, it’s vibrant colors and dramatic rock formations beckoning you to capture their essence through your lens.

The sweeping panoramas of the South Rim stretch out before you, showcasing the intricate layers of rock and the Colorado River snaking its way through the canyon’s depths.

But Mather Point’s allure doesn’t stop there. This spot also offers a unique perspective of the Grand Canyon during sunrise and sunset.

Now that you’ve experienced the magic of Mather Point, it’s time to venture further along the South Rim and discover another gem: Hopi Point.

The contrast between the illuminated rocks and the deep shadows adds drama and depth to your photos, creating truly unforgettable images.

a close up of the grand canyon showing different heights and colors

South Rim: Hopi Point

This stunning vantage point offers some of the most expansive views of the Grand Canyon, making it a must-visit spot for photographers.

As you make your way to Hopi Point, you’ll be greeted by the sight of the canyon stretching out in all its grandeur. Here, the Colorado River comes into view, meandering through the canyon and providing a striking focal point for your photographs.

What sets Hopi Point apart from other viewpoints is its unobstructed views of the canyon’s depth and breadth.

It also happens to be one of the premier spots to witness a Grand Canyon sunset.

As the sun dips below the horizon, the sky erupts in a symphony of colors, from fiery oranges and reds to cool purples and blues. The dramatic cliffs of the canyon are bathed in light, providing a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity you won’t want to miss.

South Rim: Desert View Point

As you continue photographing the Grand Canyon along the South Rim, there’s one more must-see location you won’t want to miss: Desert View Point.

Situated at the eastern end of the Grand Canyon, along Desert View Drive, this unique vantage point offers captivating views of the canyon and a fascinating glimpse into its storied past.

Upon arriving at Desert View Point, you’ll immediately be drawn to the 70-foot-tall Desert View Watchtower.

This historic stone structure is an attraction in its own right. The watchtower’s design is inspired by the ancient Puebloan architecture throughout the region, connecting to the canyon’s rich cultural history.

Climb the winding staircase of the watchtower, and you’ll be rewarded with a bird’s-eye view of the Grand Canyon.

From this elevated vantage point, you can appreciate the full scale of the canyon, with its dramatic cliffs and valleys stretching out as far as the eye can see.

Be sure to capture the watchtower in your photographs, as its unique architecture and rugged texture contrast beautifully with the surrounding landscape.

a close up of a spiky plant along the edge of the grand canyon

Grand Canyon North Rim: Cape Royal

While the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is a popular destination for photographers, the North Rim has its fair share of hidden gems, including Cape Royal.

Located at the end of the scenic Cape Royal Drive, this lesser-known viewpoint offers a fresh perspective on the canyon’s beauty and a chance to capture unique images away from the bustling crowds.

From the Cape Royal vantage point, the canyon appears even more vast and dramatic, as the North Rim sits at a higher elevation than its southern counterpart.

This unique perspective allows you to capture the canyon’s grandeur from an angle few have the chance to experience.

One of the most iconic features of Cape Royal is the natural arch known as Angels Window.

This rock formation frames the Colorado River far below, creating a breathtaking visual effect perfect for capturing in your photographs.

Step out onto the viewing platform that extends over the arch, and you’ll feel as though you’re standing on the edge of the world, surrounded by the canyon’s awe-inspiring beauty.

North Rim: Point Imperial

Our final suggestion for your photographic journey of the North Rim is Point Imperial.

Point Imperial is the highest viewpoint in the Grand Canyon at over 8,800 feet.

It offers unparalleled views of the canyon’s vibrant colors and dramatic rock formations, making it an ideal location for capturing truly awe-inspiring images.

On a stop, you’ll be struck by the vivid hues that seem to dance across the canyon walls.

Here, the sandstone layers’ reds, oranges, and yellows are even more pronounced, creating a kaleidoscope of color that’s simply mesmerizing.

In the distance, you’ll see the Painted Desert and the Vermilion Cliffs, their vibrant tones adding depth and dimension to your photographs.

One of the most striking features of Point Imperial is the contrast between the canyon’s sheer cliffs and the lush, forested slopes of the North Rim. This difference in textures and colors provides a unique and captivating backdrop for your images, ensuring that your Grand Canyon photography stands out from the rest.

The magic of Point Imperial truly comes alive during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset.

golden light strikes the grand canyon as the colorado river runs thru the left side of the shot

Camera Gear For Grand Canyon Photography

What should you bring for photographing the Grand Canyon? Let’s talk about it.

Camera

As always, we recommend bringing a “real” camera with you on this trip.

In our opinion, a camera phone just isn’t going to cut it, especially if you are interested in learning about photography and trying to improve your skills.

We use and prefer a DSLR, and are currently using the Canon 5D. We also think a mirrorless camera like the Canon R6 is a good choice.

A point-and-shoot with a large zoom will suffice if a more professional camera is out of your price range. We suggest something like the Canon Powershot SX740.

ice on a pine tree taken while photographing the grand canyon

Lenses

Medium Telephoto Lens

The main lens we used was a medium telephoto lens, in our case, the Canon 24-70. If you don’t want to or can’t bring any other lenses, this is the most important one to have.

Long Telephoto Lens

If you want to play around with zooming into small sections of the canyon in the distance or shooting some wildlife, then bringing a long telephoto lens is a must. We tend to use the Canon 100-400.

Wide Angle Lens

This one is up to you. But you can get fantastic shots with a wide-angle lens, like the Canon 16-35 zoom or the 24 fixed.

A wide angle is going to show off just how immense the Grand Canyon is.

If you don’t have a wide-angle and want to make do with the medium telephoto, you can also do some panorama shots and stitch them together later in Lightroom. It won’t be quite the same, but it will have a similar feel.

Tripod And Remote Shutter Release

This is a MUST if you take our advice from tip #2 and photograph the Grand Canyon sunrise or sunset. With low light during this time of day, your shutter must stay open longer to compensate.

You need a tripod, or your image will likely be blurry. In our opinion, it isn’t possible to hold a camera steady for 1 sec or more unless you have magic hands (but we certainly don’t).

A remote shutter release is always a good idea to go along with the tripod. Even with a tripod, when you push the shutter button on the camera, you are inadvertently causing a small vibration. It may not affect the quality of the image, but it could.

So anytime we use our tripod, we also use our remote shutter release.

the grand canyon on a sunny day with some low hanging clouds

Where To Stay At The Grand Canyon

As mentioned above, the South Rim is the park’s easiest and most visited side. Therefore, it has the closest accommodations.

In Grand Canyon Itself

If you would like to stay WITHIN the park at the South Rim, they have some wonderful accommodations. But you are paying a bit more for the “experience” and must plan ahead and book early.

At The Top – El Tovar Hotel

Built in 1905, this is the oldest hotel in the park. It was for the elite in its heyday and is still considered the cream of the crop regarding the hotel options within the park.


At The Bottom – Phantom Ranch

If you really want an experience, stay at the Phantom Ranch. This accommodation is the only one BELOW the rim, and you can only get there by mule, rafting, or hiking down.


In Tusayan

This town is the closest place to stay NEAR the Grand Canyon, about 6 miles away.

You will find that the hotels here have a better price-to-quality ratio as you are not inside the national park. All the hotels are within a similar price range, but this is the one we prefer.

๐Ÿจ The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon

Featuring a mix of modern and rustic, the centerpiece of this lobby is its gorgeous wood-burning fireplace. Add to that the workout room, indoor pool, and hot tub, and this is our favorite of the hotel options in Tusayan.

โžก๏ธ Check Availability & Prices at The Grand Hotel

one of the hotels that sit within Grand Canyon National Park, seen along the canyon rim edge

Rental Car At Grand Canyon National Park

Renting a car is a fantastic option if you want to explore the Grand Canyon in all its glory.

Not only does it allow you to visit lesser-known viewpoints and hidden gems at your own pace, but it also allows you to create a personalized and unforgettable experience tailored to your interests and photographic goals.

With a rental car at your disposal, you can easily hop between the South and North Rims, discovering a wide variety of awe-inspiring views along the way.

Whether you’re chasing the perfect sunrise at Mather Point or seeking solitude at Cape Royal, having your own transportation ensures you won’t be restricted by tour schedules or crowded shuttle buses.

We always recommend Discover Cars to compare prices because they carry all the big rental companies in one place, like Hertz and Dollar.

๐Ÿš™ Book your ride with Discover Cars

close-up of snow on the trees during out day photographing the grand canyon

FAQs For Visiting The Grand Canyon

Let’s answer some popular questions.

Which is The most beautiful side of Grand Canyon National Park?

Beauty is subjective, but the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is often considered the most beautiful due to its accessibility, iconic viewpoints, and dramatic panoramas. However, the North Rim offers a less crowded, more serene experience with lush forests and unique perspectives that many find equally captivating. Ultimately, the most beautiful side depends on personal preferences and desired experiences.

What Is The Best Time Of Year To Photograph The Grand Canyon?

The best time of year to photograph the Grand Canyon is during spring (April-May) and fall (September-October). These seasons offer pleasant temperatures, fewer crowds, and more stable weather conditions. Additionally, the lighting during these periods tends to be softer, allowing for more dynamic and vibrant photographs that showcase the canyon’s stunning colors and dramatic landscapes.

What Time Of Day Is Best For Photos Of The Grand Canyon?

The best time of day for photos of the Grand Canyon is during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset. During these periods, the low-angle sunlight casts a warm, golden glow on the canyon walls, enhancing colors and creating dramatic shadows that emphasize the landscape’s depth and texture. These conditions result in more visually stunning and dynamic photographs.

What Is The Most Picturesque Part Of The Grand Canyon?

The most picturesque part of the Grand Canyon varies depending on personal preferences. However, the South Rim is often considered the most iconic, with popular viewpoints like Mather Point and Hopi Point offering breathtaking panoramas. The North Rim, with locations like Cape Royal and Point Imperial, provides unique and equally stunning perspectives, showcasing the canyon’s depth, colors, and dramatic landscapes.

How Many Days Do You Need For The Grand Canyon?

The number of days needed for the Grand Canyon depends on your goals and interests. A one-day visit allows for the exploration of key viewpoints and short hikes. A 2-3 day trip provides a more immersive experience, including longer hikes, visits to both rims, and opportunities for sunrise and sunset photography. For a comprehensive experience, plan for at least 3-4 days.

the grand canyon socked in after sunset led to an incredible photo of the peaks almost floating above the cloud cover

To Finish – Photographing The Grand Canyon’s Epic Beauty

Photographing the Grand Canyon can honestly be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.

As a beginner, taking a few of the iconic images until you are satisfied should be first. But after that, we want you to think outside the box and get creative.

It is nearly impossible to come away with only bad photos (though there are always some) when photographing something like the Grand Canyon. You would have to face the wrong way and shoot the parking lots for that to happen.

So while we have shared some of our tips with you, we will leave you with the most important one. Have fun; there is no wrong way to go about Grand Canyon photography.