How to Photograph the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is a photographer's paradise. It's also a great place to have your picture taken. But getting great photos of the is tough. Why? Because it's so, well, Grand and BIG! Follow these tips for great photos of your next GC adventure:
For Great Grand Canyon Scenics
Click for more CG Photos. (c) Rob Kleine, All Rights Reserved
Get close enough to your subject so s/he fills a good part of the frame.


Think Small! The natural tenancy is to want to get the whole into a single picture. You can't. At best, you'll get a picture that looks like a mistake. Instead, focus on interesting details or patterns within the canyon itself. Your photos will be stronger and more pleasing as a result. Seek out small details: the lone barrel cactus that's blooming, the rock that looks like a turtle.


(c) Rob Kleine. All Rights Reserved. Cactus Sunrise.  Grand Canyon National Park.


Shoot early or late in the day. The low angled magic light of morning and evening really brings the canyon to life. Colors are richest during those hours. Avoid shooting scenics during midday.

Photos of People in the Grand Canyon

Click for a Larger Version. (c) Rob Kleine, All Rights Reserved
People in your image help scale the landscape and provide a sense of perspective.

Choose a Dramatic Backdrop. Look for a dramatic well-lit backdrop. Avoid dark backgrounds as your subjects may disappear into the darkness.

Get Close. Move close so your subjects fill the frame. If shooting horizontal, place your subjects to one side with the majesty of the canyon filling the rest of the frame. Avoid the 'ants at a picnic' look that results when your subjects are too far from the camera.

No Stepping Back! NEVER ask a subject with her back to the rim to 'step back.' Lives are lost that way.

Use your camera's flash. Use your camera's flash for all people pictures you take at the Grand Canyon. The harsh desert light will make eyes disappear under hat brim shadows. Flash will bring-out facial details and help make your subjects 'pop' from the background.

Technique Tips

Be Steady! Hold that camera rock steady with two hands. A firm grip will reduce blurred photos due to camera movement. My hiking staff doubles as a monopod. This arrangement saves weight and helps deliver extra sharp on-trail photos at a moment's notice. Even better, use a tripod. I often carry one. Yes, I'm also of questionable mental stability.

Film: Pack Plenty. For prints, stock up on ISO 400 film. To my eye, there's nothing more satisfying than a well exposed slide. I highly recommend either Fujichrome Velvia (RVP) or Provia 100F (RDP-III) for your Grand Canyon photos. Both yield super color and sharpness. Kodak EBX (Elite Chrome Extra) is also a strong candidate. Digital shooters, make sure you pack an extra memory card or two. Bring spare batteries, too.

(c) Rob Kleine, All Rights Reserved
Tanner Rapids is an exciting place to watch river runners in action.

Keep that Camera Handy! Keep your camera within easy reach for quick access along the trail. My camera travels in a special case that attaches to the waist belt of my pack.

Protect that Camera. Fine camera ruining dust abounds at the Grand Canyon. Dust storms are common. Keep a pair of zip lock bags handy at all times. If a dust storm picks up, double-bag your camera fast!

Protect Your Film. Extreme desert heat can damage film. During the hot months, keep film buried inside your pack. If possible, wrap it in a shirt or other fabric item to insulate the film from the heat.

Use a Polarizing Filter. A polarizing filter is your secret weapon for reducing glare and getting ink blue skies. The canyon colors much richer, too. If your camera accepts accessory filters, invest in a good quality polarizing filter. Your photos will really look great!

What Camera should I use for my Grand Canyon Trip?

Click to Buy Now from Amazon.comI recommend taking a camera that's small, light, waterproof, robust, and that you know how to use. The small clamshell Olympus Stylus cameras are great hiking companions. Even a single use camera can yield compelling photos.

What Camera Gear Does Rob Pack?

I carry more camera gear than most into the canyon. Here's a list of what I normally take with me:

  • Canon Elan IIE SLR 35mm Body (replaced by the very competent Elan 7). It is small, light, full-featured, and hardy.
  • Canon EF 75-300 F/4.0-5.6 IS USM zoom lens (Canon, Image Stabilized). Great for bring the far, near, or for isolating interesting patterns.
  • Canon EF 28-105 F/3.5-4.5 ll USM zoom lens. A great all purpose on-trail lens. Canon's 28-135mm Image Stabilized zoom lens would be even better.
  • Canon EF 20-35mm zoom lens. This is my most used lens. I love this optic!
  • Canon 380EX Speedlite
  • Remote flash cord (for getting the flash off-camera)
  • Singh-Ray 1-stop and 2-stop soft-transition neutral density split filters. A must for taming scenes with extreme contrast between bright and dark.
  • Circular Polarizing filter
  • Lens cleaning cloth and liquid
  • Bogen 3001 tripod with small Bogen head (head also fits on my hiking staff)
  • Film: 10 rolls per trail day.

All that weighs a lot (I've never had the courage to put it all on a scale). It also consumes a heap of pack space. Increasingly I'm tempted to simplify (lighten) my kit. A simpler kit might look like this:

  • Canon Elan IIE 35mm Body
  • Canon EF 28-135 IS USM Zoom Lens. Canon's impressive Image Stabilization technology reduces the need for a tripod. The 28-135 mm range of this lens makes it a super general-purpose "when you can take only one" lens. (My only wish is that this lens were a 20-135).
  • Canon 380 EX Speedlite
  • All the other necessary accessories

Ditching the tripod alone would reduce my load by about 5 lbs. The obvious cost is that my ability to take long-exposure shots would be compromised. Ad economists are fond of saying, "There's no free lunch."

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