Admittedly, Yosemite was a tough act to follow. Maybe I should have aimed a bit lower for my first post in the series. I think, however, I may have found a worthy successor. On a recent road trip through the USA, we stopped off at the Grand Canyon.
Which is rather a pretty place, quite nice for photography. I have no idea how I’m going to follow these two locations up, to be honest it’s probably going to be downhill from here.
Back to the Grand Canyon. We had allocated two full days to take it in, and I spent a good deal of time researching the best places to shoot the sunrise and the sunset at the Grand Canyon, both online and through questioning the park rangers when we arrived. Note that this is all for the south rim – time was tight, so we didn’t have a chance to get to the other side.
I appreciate that a couple of days isn’t very much, but to be honest, I think that most visitors come for around about this length of time, and you will have enough time to see as much as you want. I took in the Grand Canyon sunset from two different locations, and sunrise from one, and was very happy with the results. Here are my tips for where to go for shooting the Grand Canyon at sunset and sunrise, as well as some general advice on visiting.
Sunrise and Sunset at the Grand Canyon: The Best Photography Locations
Sunset at the Grand Canyon: Hopi Point and Yavapai Point
A little pre-visit research, followed by a chat with the rangers on arrival confirmed that Hopi Point was a good option for sunset at the Grand Canyon – the location thrusts out a way into the Canyon, so you have a clear view in both directions.
The key thing to remember when shooting sunset at the Grand Canyon is that you really want to be shooting in the opposite direction to the sun, slightly counter-intuitively. This is because the contrast is super high as the sun sinks low, and shooting into the sun won’t reveal the glory of what is below you very well.
Point your camera away from the sun though, and you’ll see the light on the rocks below, which is just spectacular.
One thing to note at this point, about this location, and about many of the locations in the Grand Canyon. It’s going to be busy. Sunset is a very popular time for folks to come out, and locations such as Hopi Point get very crowded. It’s not all bad news though! Just step a little away from the crowds and fences (take care, the drops are quite incredible!), and you will be able to find your own quiet photography paradise to get the shots you want.
In the case of Hopi Point, I went a little way east of the main viewing area, and was very happy with the results. The advantage of Hopi Point was that as it’s so popular, there are a great many buses ready and waiting to get everyone home after the sunset is over. More on getting around and the bus system at the end of the post.
The other location I went for sunset was Yavapai Point. This is a little walk from the visitor centre, although there is a shuttle bus option. I found myself a route down to the edge which appeared to have excellent views up and down the canyon, and waited to see what would happen.
As you can see, what happened was quite pretty! Admittedly, the mile deep drop was fairly terrifying, but the views of the Canyon and the light (again, shooting away from the sun until it set), were magnificent!
Sunrise at the Grand Canyon: Mather’s Point
I will freely admit that I have a major flaw as a photographer – I hate early mornings. Given that the best light of the day is at sunrise and sunset, this means that I’m missing around fifty percent of my shooting opportunities just because I’m lazy.
Well, I think I’m going to have to change that, and start trying to get up earlier.
I’m going to issue a spoiler – the sunrise at the Grand Canyon was easily the best I’ve ever seen, and entirely worth the 4am start for.
I took a bit of time to find a great location for sunrise, walking up and down the rim path near Mather’s Point, which is by the visitor centre. Mather’s Point is a popular location for sunrise, as this photo shows:
and I didn’t want to be battling crowds to get the shot. So again, I headed east along the rim, in this case around 300 metres, and found myself a handy spot away from both people and railings. I grabbed a selfie (tripods have so many good uses!) to give you an idea of where I was.
As you can see, not a bad spot for sunrise. And these were the photos I got:
Which, as you can imagine, I was quite happy with.
Other Grand Canyon Photography Locations
Ok, so it’s not all sunset and sunrise. If you’ve got more time at the Grand Canyon, then you’ll find yourself wanting to shoot during the day. In this case – pray for some clouds. The canyon is vast, and getting a sense scale can be a bit challenging.
We drove up and down the Canyon Rim a little, and found countless opportunities to stop off and take photos. One favourite was Duck Rock (first photo below), a rock which is said to look like a duck. I admit I wasn’t totally convinced, but it made for a nice piece of foreground!
Finally, in the main cluster of hotels and bars near the train station there are ample opportunities along the rim for photos, including some excellent spots to get that all important selfie. Which, I promise you, will look a lot better with a tripod.
Practicalities for visiting the Grand Canyon
First, you need to remember that the Grand Canyon is a hugely popular destination, for overseas visitors and Americans alike. If you plan on going, book your accommodation well in advance! Camping, which was what we did, is a good option, but in the busiest summer months sites can book up months in advance. Lodging options and links for reservations can be found here.
Next, all those people mean that getting around the Grand Canyon is a process that is carefully managed. Whilst you can drive your own car, the canyon road network is labyrinth like, and I’d suggest that instead of driving you take the free shuttle bus. Large parts of the park can only be accessed by this shuttle bus network for much of the year, and they’ll get you where you want to go. At popular times of day (sunset!), be aware that there can be queues for the buses, so arrive well in advance (at least an hour) so as not to miss a moment.
What else? Well, in the summer of course it’s going to be seriously hot here, so be aware of the signs of dehydration and keep yourself well topped off with water. Food is available in a variety of locations, and there’s an excellent grocery store, as well as a bank and post office, so you don’t need to worry about that.
Further Reading and other Resources for Photographing the Grand Canyon
If you want more information, both on photography at the Grand Canyon, and on visiting in general, then I can highly recommend the following resources:
- The Photographers Guide to the Grand Canyon is a good book option if you want something printed to bring with you
- For more general advice on visiting the Grand Canyon, including visiting both the north and south rims, this excellent post on spending four days at the Grand Canyon has you covered.
- If you’re looking for a fun road trip which includes the Grand Canyon, see our two week USA road trip itinerary
- We have a guide to hiking Havasu Falls if you’re looking for an epic hike with amazing photography opportunities. This is also within the Grand Canyon, but on an Indian Reservation.
- If you are looking for a tripod (and if you’re serious about your photography, you absolutely should have one!), then Vanguard have an excellent range. The VEO system I was using for this shoot is specifically designed for travel, meaning it’s super-light and easy to use, plus they won’t break the bank.
- If you’re in the market for a new camera, check out my definitive guide to the best travel camera, with something for every budget
- My other photography location guides, to get you the best shot in destinations around the world
- Finally, if you’re looking to learn more about photography, I run an online travel photography course which covers everything I know about photography, plus you get one on one feedback directly from me as you go! Check it out and let me know if you have any questions.
If you’ve visited the Grand Canyon for sunrise or sunset, do share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below – particularly if you found a great spot for sunset or sunrise!