Grand Canyon Sunrise

Photographing The Grand Canyon’s Epic Beauty: Tips For Beginners

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Anytime we visit a national park we want to come away with the best photos we can. Photographing the Grand Canyon is no different. But it doesn’t even have to be a national park does it? Anytime you travel you want to take home the best possible images.

But perhaps because the Grand Canyon is so epic in proportions, it can feel more daunting to photograph it.

Well, have no fear. We are here to share with you some Grand Canyon photography tips for beginners.

And for those of you saying you aren’t a beginner…take a look anyway. Maybe it will be a refresher, or maybe it will make you think outside the box when you visit.

Photographing The Grand Canyon For Beginners

Check The Weather

This first one is an important one 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.

Our suggestion is 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.

๐Ÿ“– Are you wondering if the Grand Canyon is worth a visit? Is it too crowded or just a big hold in the ground?

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 colors (highlights) blown out, or dark colors (shadows) showing up as solid black.

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. This is what 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? This is what you can expect if you head to the Grand Canyon at high 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 time comes.

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 the 1/3 or 2/3 line in your photo.

grand canyon with some clouds hovering low

In terms of photographing the Grand Canyon, we suggest trying to put 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.

๐Ÿ“– Curious about what other national parks and monuments are in Arizona? We have just the list for you.

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 out a bit into the canyon, giving you amazing clear views.

the expansive grand canyon "socked in"

For the average person with a cell phone who just 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 (30.4 meters) in either direction could make all the difference.

Please keep in mind that the overlooks are the only sections of the Grand Canyon that have barriers. So be cautious when moving a bit further down and only do so if you feel comfortable.

Want to really get away from the overlooks and crowds?
Book an exciting Helicopter Flight Over the Canyon!

๐Ÿ“– If you are heading south from the Grand Canyon, look no further than these stops on the way to Tombstone.

Change Your Depth Of Field

When photographing the Grand Canyon, we feel pretty good in 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.

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.

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

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. Move the F-stop number to F16 if needed, and continue this until the photo is in focus throughout. But we believe F8 or F11 should do the trick.

Keep in mind that as you are changing your f-stop, the shutter speed will need to be slowed down to compensate. So make sure that you are using 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 have the other setting automatically change to compensate (shutter speed). It is what we use all the time here at Traveling In Focus.

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 Grand Canyon, we want you to think about other possibilities. It’s true, the Grand Canyon is a wonder to behold. Unfortunately, by the time 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 just how large the Grand Canyon truly is.

Use the crowds and take a photo of some strangers as they look out into the vastness of the 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 in comparison to the canyon. Or use a loved one or friend.

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

๐Ÿ“– Have you thought about heading back into the Old West with a trip to Tombstone?

Don’t Forget About The Wildlife

We know that most of you came for advice on how to take 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
Photo Credit: Frank Eiffert

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 had the pleasure of seeing just outside Tombstone).

๐Ÿ“– If you want to incorporate visiting the Grand Canyon into a trip to Las Vegas, many excursions are available. We pick the very best ones for you.

Get Creative

We want you to get creative. 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 just 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 come home 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.

๐Ÿ“– Hoping to see all 3 of Arizona’s national parks? We have a great Saguaro to Petrified Forest road trip.

Go With The Flow

Our last tip is to just 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.

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.

In our opinion, it is better to just go with the flow. Try to adjust what is in your control, and let go of the rest.

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

And 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, if you are there in summer then storms can blow in unexpectedly. If it isn’t putting you in danger, photographing storm clouds above the Grand Canyon can create some incredible shots you weren’t expecting.

Or the day we happened to visit, the canyon was what they call “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.

What Camera Equipment Do You Need At The Grand Canyon


As always, we recommend bringing a “real” camera with you on a trip like this. A camera phone just isn’t going to really cut it in our opinion, 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.

If a more professional camera is out of your price range, a point-and-shoot that has a large zoom will suffice. We suggest something like the Canon Powershot SX740.

ice on a pine tree taken while photographing the grand canyon


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 then this is the single 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 certainly get some fantastic shots with a wide-angle lens, like the Canon 15-35 zoom or the 24 fixed. A wide angle is really 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 then stitch them together later in Lightroom. It won’t be quite the same but will have a similar feel.

Tripod And Remote Shutter Release

This is a MUST if you are taking our advice from tip #2 and photographing the Grand Canyon at sunrise or sunset. With light low in the sky during those times of day, your shutter will have to stay open longer to compensate.

This means that you need a tripod or your image will be blurry. We feel like it isn’t possible to hold a camera steady for 1 sec or more. Unless you have magic hands but we certainly don’t.

To go along with the tripod, a remote shutter release is always a good idea. 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 might.

So anytime we use our tripod, we always use our remote shutter release as well.

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

FAQs For Visiting The Grand Canyon

Where Is The Best Place To Take Pictures Of The Grand Canyon

Every place is the true answer. The views from every overlook are breathtaking. You really can’t go wrong.

The South Rim is the easiest side to visit and is, therefore, the busiest. If it is your first visit, we suggest starting there. It is the side we visited. So we can say from personal experience that the photos we have taken there exceeded our expectations.

Mather’s Point is extremely popular for sunrise and Hopi Point for sunset. Expect crowds, but they are popular for a reason.

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

Any time to be honest. It depends on what you are looking for during your visit.

If mild weather and fewer crowds are what you are looking for then April to early June is a great time. Mid-June till August sees the largest crowds while schools are out. But you also have a higher chance of unexpected summer storms to get some amazing cloud formations above the Grand Canyon.

Winter can be a great time to go if you want to see the canyon possibly covered with a smattering of snow. Be aware of ice. And know that during the winter the North Rim closes.

We were there in December on our last visit. While it was cold and we had to dress warmly, we had many of the overlooks practically to ourselves. The views were still spectacular, and we even found some snow here and there.

grand canyon photography consists of more than just the canyon itself, for instance, this close-up of a plant is all about shape and texture

How Many Days Do You Need For The Grand Canyon

We suggest at least two days for the Grand Canyon.

If you are at the South Rim, the first day will be spent visiting all the overlooks, stopping by the visitor center, and possibly taking a short hike if time allows. For us, we spent the whole day photographing. In the evening, stay for sunset and possibly even do some night photography if you are up for it.

Then on the second day, you have the opportunity to re-visit any place that you really enjoyed, and take some of the hikes within the park.

Because you did most of your photography on the first day you can carry less equipment with you for the hikes if you prefer. Or like us, you will lug it around anyways because of that what-if scenario.

Reserve a PRIVATE half-day hike for you second day now!

Where To Stay During Your Visit To The Grand Canyon

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

one of the hotels that sit within Grand Canyon National Park, seen along the canyon rim edge
Photo Credit: Aiden Craver

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 will need to 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 in terms of 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.

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


This town is the closest place to stay NEAR the Grand Canyon, located about 6 miles away. You will find the hotels here have a better price-to-quality ratio as you are not inside the national park itself.

The hotels located here are all within the same price range so you really can’t go wrong. We recommend staying at the Grand Hotel.

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.

Check Availability & Prices at Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon

Is The Grand Canyon Worth Visiting

Absolutely! Not only is it one of the most popular parks in the US, but it is also considered one of the world’s seven natural wonders.

From photography to hiking to rafting, there will be something for you to enjoy during your visit. And while it is just a “giant hole in the ground,” it is something that we feel shouldn’t be missed.

It is incredible to stand on the edge of the canyon and look at its vastness. What our environment can do over thousands of years is amazing.

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

Enjoy More from the Southwest USA:
25 Interesting Things To Do In Tombstone, Az
-Is The Grand Canyon Worth It

Zion National Park VS Grand Canyon: Which Is Better
24 Unique Arizona National Parks & Monuments Not To Miss
Road Trip Stops Between Saguaro and Petrified Forest

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, we feel that 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.