Photographing Canyons in the Grand Canyon by Whit Richardson

Get inspired and follow these tricks of the trade to make your Grand Canyon scenic photos look like they were taken by a pro.

Follow these tricks of the trade to make your wildlife and scenic photographs look like they were taken by a pro. Photos by Whit Richardson

Photographing Slot Canyons

Photo by Whit Richardson

The Trick: In tight spaces, put people in unusual positions.
Location: Grand Canyon, Matkatamiba Canyon
Tools and Settings: DSLR camera, 15mm fisheye lens, ISO 100, f/4, 1/60 second

For this shot in a slot canyon, I stemmed up the walls as high as I could go and waited for Donna to descend below me to give a sense of scale to the scene. Body positions and expressions vary widely when photographing people in action, so you want lots of options. I shot more than 70 images of this section of canyon. If your subject doesn’t mind, direct her to create more dynamic body positions. If the person is facing you, have her look up naturally every once in a while so you can see her eyes. Move around and shoot down low looking up, and up high looking down, really close and farther away from the person.


> Create dramatic effects by using a very wide lens such as a 16-35mm or a fisheye (used here).
> Experiment with cropping the shot (in this photo, I cropped out the sky) to enhance the emphasis on the person.

Photographing People in Canyons

Photo by Whit Richardson

The Trick: Use fill flash to illuminate faces on portraits.
Location: Grandview Trail, South Rim
Tools and Settings: DSLR camera,16-35mm lens with graduated neutral density filter, ISO 100, f/8, 1/200 second on tripod

When photographing people who are backlit by the sun, use fill flash to provide supplemental lighting on your subjects. This will allow you to get a good exposure of the sky and surrounding landscape while avoiding harsh shadows on faces. If done properly, as with this self-portrait (taken using timer and tripod), the light from the flash looks natural.


>Position flash to the side of camera body and dial down the power.
> Compose a more interesting portrait by using the rule of thirds (see below). Whatever you do, don’t put the person’s head in the dead center of the frame.
> When photographing people under a bright sky, use a graduated neutral density filter for warmer lighting and to keep the sky from being blown out.

Photographing Canyon Features

Pool in the North Canyon. A tributary of Marble Canyon. Photo by Whit Richardson.
Pool in the North Canyon. A tributary of Marble Canyon. Photo by Whit Richardson.

Location: North Canyon, a tributary of Marble Canyon
See it: Colorado River mile 20, accessible by boat on river right
When to go: Fall or spring; avoid summer, when the danger of flash floods is highest.

Explore North Canyon, a winding slot composed of Supai Group sandstones, on a 1.2-mile round-trip hike from the Colorado River. A history of flooding formed narrow channels and pools of water like this one; in high-water periods, look for natural waterslides for splashing.


I keep my camera in a padded case that can be worn on my chest with a lightweight harness: The key is to have your camera easily accessible so you don’t miss spontaneous moments. In places like this, I’m often trying to run ahead of everyone until I come to a picturesque setting. In this case, I stopped at this pool because its teardrop shape caught my eye. I waited for the others and shot as they passed through (don’t be shy about giving them some direction about where and how far apart to walk). Experiment with different perspectives: Shoot some images from below as hikers pass by and some from above, looking down.

Shot on film

Photographing Broad Canyon Overviews

Plateau Point. Photo by Whit Richardson.
Plateau Point. Photo by Whit Richardson.

Location: Plateau Point
See it: From Grand Canyon Village, hike 4.8 miles on the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden Campground. Take the 1.5-mile (one-way) spur to Plateau Point.
When to go: Spring and fall for moderate temps and an ice-free trail

Sunset brings extra beauty to the already stunning Plateau Point, a ledge overlooking the Colorado River and the northern stretches of the Bright Angel Trail. Even with all the trail’s amenities—drinking water and shaded rest stops at regular intervals—the trip to Plateau Point makes for a long and strenuous dayhike. Consider making the trip an overnight at Indian Garden.


When setting up this shot, I got close to the cliff so I could see more of the river. My biggest challenge with this composition (looking to the west) was the extreme contrast between lights and darks. I knew I had to shoot on a tripod and later combine multiple exposures in Photoshop if I was to retain all the detail in the shadows and highlights. It was very windy, so I put my camera on a tripod, kept the tripod low without legs extended for more stability, pulled down on the center column to steady it, and shot off three quick photos using the exposure compensation function to take three different exposures each two stops apart.

Shot details Canon Rebel SL1 camera, 10-22mm lens at 10mm, ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/200 sec

Photographing Expansive Canyon Walls

Redwall Cavern on the Colorado River. Photo by Whit Richardson
Redwall Cavern on the Colorado River. Photo by Whit Richardson

Location: Redwall Cavern
See it: Colorado River mile 33, accessible by boat on river left
When to go: Spring, early fall, and summer are prime for river trips.

This scooped-out cave is one of the largest sandstone amphitheaters along the upper section of the Grand Canyon. Make sure to walk all of the way back to the end of the alcove, where limestone cliff walls harbor fossils of ancient sea life.


Because Redwall Cavern is so big, it helps to have people or boats in the photo to give a sense of scale. For this photo, I was at the edge of the river looking into the cavern. I broke the “rule of thirds” and put the sand horizon line very low to showcase more of the cave. When shooting action, don’t be afraid to shoot a lot of photos because small things like body position, placement, and facial expressions can make a big difference.

Shot on film