What do 24 hours in the Grand Canyon look like? From night hikes lit by headlamp to glorious sunrises to afternoon rainbows, every hour in the park brings countless surprises. Here are stunning photos from dawn to evening, and advice by photographer Grant Ordelheide, chief photographer for National Park Journal.
First Light at Lipan Point
Lipan Point extends farther into the canyon than most of the other viewpoints on Desert View Drive, making it a sweet spot to catch the sunrise.
See it: Just west of the East Entrance on Desert View Drive
Pro tips: When shooting from the canyon rim, place a foreground object in your composition to add context to the scene. Here, the twisting tree brings texture to the shot; the first beams of sunlight striking it and the canyon walls beyond tie it all together.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 17-40mm lens at 33mm, ISO 50, f/18, 1.6 sec
South Kaibab Trail
An early start is essential if you want to hike from the South Kaibab trailhead all the way to the Colorado River in one day, a demanding, 7-mile (one-way) trip. For a shorter day hike, hike 1.5 miles to Cedar Ridge, a plateau with excellent views of the inner canyon.
See it: The trail begins near the end of Yaki Point Road.
Pro tips: To freeze the action (like these hikers in motion) in your shot, use a fast shutter speed. In dim conditions, raise your ISO and/or open up the aperture enough to let you speed up the exposure.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 24-105mm lens at 24mm, ISO 250,
f/14, 1/400 sec
Landscape photos are great, but it’s easy to lose your sense of scale in a canyon this large. Include people in your composition to help viewers imagine the park’s massive scope with hikers and people standing on the rim bring it all into perspective.
Circle of Light at Ribbon Falls
Nothing feels quite as refreshing as the spray of a waterfall on a hot afternoon in the inner canyon. If you’re spending the night along the North Kaibab or Bright Angel corridor trails, don’t miss the side trip to see (and feel) Ribbon Falls cascading into a lush oasis.
See it: Hike 1.6 miles from Cottonwood Campground on the North Kaibab Trail.
Pro tips: Include a “sun star” in your composition for a little extra flair. To do it, use a small aperture (f/16-22) and position yourself so most of the sun is blocked; let a small beam of sunlight hit your lens to create this brilliant effect.
Shot details: Canon 5D camera, 15mm fisheye lens, ISO 400, f/18, 1/320 sec
Rainbow Connection at Point Imperial on the North Rim
At 8.803 feet, Point Imperial is the highest point in the park. From here, you’ll get expansive views of the Painted Desert, Marble Canyon, and the sharp pinnacle of Mt. Hayden. The point is a top-notch spot for watching the sunset, or, if you’re lucky, catching a rainbow as a storm clears over the canyon.
See it: Drive 11 miles from the North Rim Visitor Center to the overlook.
Pro tips: Use a polarizing filter to make the most of a rainbow. Play with different rotations: If you move the filter to maximum polarization, the rainbow will disappear, but keeping the filter in the non-polarized position or rotating it only slightly will intensify the colors.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 24-105mm lens at 47mm, ISO 50, f/16, 1/10 sec
Lightning Strike at Yavapai Point
The canyon’s summer lightning storms make for dramatic images, but they’re also very dangerous. If you see a storm coming, leave overlooks and seek shelter in a car or building immediately.
See it: Park at Market Plaza or the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and stroll the Rim Trail to the point.
Pro tips: A lightning trigger, which uses a sensor to trip your camera when it detects a bright flash, makes capturing lightning bolts much easier. No trigger? Take long (10-plus seconds) exposures over and over until you get lucky and catch a strike.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 17-40mm lens at 32mm, ISO 640, f/4, 1/4 sec
Go it Alone for the Best Grand Canyon Photos
The Grand Canyon’s stunning sunrises and sunsets are no secret – you’ll have company on many of the South Rim’s prime overlooks. To get the shot you want without dozens of people crowding into the frame, leave the marked vista points and hike out alone on the Rim Trail. You don’t have to go far to ditch the mob scene, and you’ll find perspectives all your own.
Dusk on the South Rim
As darkness falls on the Grand Canyon, below the rim hikers light up the Bright Angel Trail as they walk to the top. Above them awaits Grand Canyon Village dotted with historic buildings like the famed El Tovar Hotel. Established in 1905, the hotel has hosted such luminaries as Albert Einstein and Teddy Roosevelt.
See it: Perk yourself at Mojave Point, Hopi Point, Powell Point or Maricopa Point and point your camera east toward the El Tovar Hotel.
Pro tips: Set a long exposure time to capture the subtle lights.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 17-40mm lens at 32mm, ISO 800, f/5.6, 15 sec
Sunset at Yavapai Point
No canyon trip is complete without savoring at least one sunset from a rim overlook and they make the best Grand Canyon photos. Besides Yavapai, Hopi, Yaki, and Lipan Points are all hot sunset spots.
See it: Stroll the Rim Trail to this overlook near the Yavapai Geology Museum.
Pro tips: When shooting into the light, take care to prevent any unwanted flares in your image. A lens hood will help block rays from hitting the front of your lens, but sometimes you’ll need to shield your camera with a hat or your hand, too.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 24-105mm lens at 65mm, ISO 50, f/14, 1/4 sec
Thwart the Dirt on Your Grand Canyon Photos
The canyon is full of camera-damaging grit, especially when a wind kicks up. Pack a lens-cleaning brush and cloth and use them often. If you change lenses frequently, find the sensor-cleaning function in your camera’s menu and run it occasionally. Avoid shooting when sand is blowing. When you’re not shooting, shield your gear in a padded chest pouch that attaches to pack shoulder straps or in a specialized backpack.
Painting with Light at Bright Angel Trail
Night hiking opens up a whole new world of sights for your Grand Canyon photos and lets you avoid the brutal daytime temperatures of summer. Pack a headlamp with a red-light mode to preserve your night vision.
See it: Pick up the trail between the Hermit shuttle transfer and Kolb Studio.
Pro tips: Long exposure times can create cool effects at night. When you include a moving object (like this hiker with a headlamp or car headlights) in the shot, you’ll end up with visually striking streaks of light.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 17-40mm lens at 17mm, ISO 1250, f/9, 30 sec