A Grand Grand Canyon

September 06, 2020

Grand Canyon, USAGrand Canyon, USAOne of the many locations in the world that I struggle with (photographically) is the Grand Canyon. I remember before I had visited there the first time, someone told me I would be blown away by the scale. I was sure I would be, because everyone says how big it is, but there are big places in Australia, too.
Yet, knowing all this and thinking I was prepared for 'big space', when I first stepped out of the rental car and looked over the edge, I couldn't help myself, exclaiming "F*%# me, that's huge!!"
Now, I realise you will be utterly shocked to learn that I swear. My parents taught me proper, especially in public. On the other hand, if you have already visited the Grand Canyon, you're probably smiling and remembering your own first encounter with 'big space'.
Yet despite the Grand Canyon being so grand, I struggle to get great shots. Sure, I can take panoramas and overviews, but often there is so much haze that the photos struggle to look impressive. In the photo books you find in the souvenir shops, you see that this style of photograph works best when there's a weather system pushing through. And I guess the more times you go, the greater the chances of finding interesting light.
If the weather isn't cooperating (photographically), then early mornings and late evenings provide me with the best opportunities. If there's direct sunlight, it can be a struggle to deal with the high contrast: deep shadows inside the canyon versus the bright sky above. Before sunrise and after sunset, the light softens out and this is when the above photo was taken. There's also a bit of a colour cast in the file - from memory there was a little cloud over the horizon where the sun was rising - and I've chosen to keep the colour in the final image.
I've also used a telephoto. While everyone should take a grand view and a panorama, if you're looking for images with impact, then I think a telephoto allows you to concentrate on small sections of the Canyon. And there is no shortage of opportunities as you drive along the rim road.
This photo was taken earlier this year on a photo tour with Tony Hewitt, travelling from San Fran to Las Vegas. We're going again next February and there is just one seat left in our luxury van, so if you're interested, check out the website here.

Grand Canyon Detail 
Phase One XF 100MP Trichromatic, 110mm Schneider lens, f5.6 @ 1 second, ISO 50

I'm currently updating my Landscape Photography MasterClass, taking advantage of the quiet time I have with no travelling. While most of the existing material in the MasterClass is very relevant, it has been created on earlier versions of Photoshop. Now, if you know how I use Photoshop, you'll realise that more recent versions of Photoshop haven't made any significant difference to my workflow. However, if you're new to photography, then you may be wondering if the material in the classes is relevant.

Rather than taking the old material out, I'm just adding new material presented on current versions of the software, so if you're an existing Landscape Photography MasterClasser, the new material is available for you with your lifetime licence. If you're not yet a subscriber, check out the free sample lessons on the www.betterphotographyeducation.com website.

So, to the photo. This is one of the new examples I have added to the MasterClass and in the introduction, I explain that the Grand Canyon is one of the most amazing places to photograph, and one of the most frustrating. Having visited the Canyon a dozen times in all sorts of weather and at all times of day, I think it's fair to say that it's not possible to encapsulate the experience in a single image. Yes, it's one big hole in the ground, but the nuances of topography and vegetation create a myriad of photo opportunities.

Another observation I make is that I struggle to take a strong photo which includes both the canyon and the sky above. My default approach is to point downwards with a telephoto lens and remove the horizon, as shown here. Once I take this approach, then every time I visit I find new compositions and colour palettes to please me! I hope you enjoy it.