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8 Photography Tips for Grand Canyon Sunrises and Sunsets

With seemingly endless layers and rich colors, Grand Canyon is an epic place to capture the light at sunrise and sunset. Make the most of your time there with these tips from Ken Hubbard, field services manager for Tamron. Need more suggestions? Hubbard is co-teaching our new online Night Sky Photography course with André Costantini.

1. Scout your location during the day.

Don’t waste the golden hour trying to find the perfect spot to shoot. Hubbard suggests making a plan during the day, when you won’t be rushed. On the South Rim, he suggests Moran Point, Grand Overlook, and viewpoints near Desert View Watch Tower. “You get really good views of the Grand Canyon, and all of them are different,” he says. Go further east to see more of the river in your shots, and go west for layers of the canyon.

Download a park map.

Grand Canyon sunrise
Grand Canyon sunrise (Photo: Ken Hubbard)

2. Get to your spot an hour early.

If the weather changes and you need to find a new place to shoot, you want to have time to make a new plan. Arrive at least an hour before sunset, Hubbard suggests, so you get all the different types of light.

Grand Canyon sunrise during a cloud inversion
Grand Canyon sunrise during a cloud inversion (Photo: Ken Hubbard)

3. Always bring a tripod, and turn off your vibration reduction settings.

No matter how steady you think your hand is, or how good you assume the light is, Hubbard suggests always having a tripod with you. Then you’ll be prepared for all kinds of light conditions. When you do have your camera on a tripod, you’ll want to turn off the vibration reduction settings, Hubbard says. “When you put it on a tripod, your camera is so stable that vibration reduction settings have a counter effect,” he says, meaning your photos might appear a bit blurry.

Grand Canyon sunset
Grand Canyon sunset (Photo: Ken Hubbard)

4. Pack Well

Always bring the right equipment for sunsets. Some key pieces I bring so I am ready for any condition are circular polarizer and neutral density filters, tripods, shutter release cables and plenty of media and batteries.

Evening storm at sunset at Lipan Point in the Grand Canyon
(Photo: Ken Hubbard)

Sunset, Nov. 4
Location: Lipan Point on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park
Pro Tips: Keep an all-in-one zoom lens in the backseat of your car, so if you see an incredible scene while driving, you’re ready to shoot.
Shot Details: Nikon D801 using Tamron’s 28-300mm Di VC PZD shot at 28mm 1/30th F/11 ISO 200

5. Download weather apps and use them.

When he’s shooting sunrise and sunset, Hubbard uses the Sunseeker app to plan out his position. It shows you where the sun will be in the sky at any given time. “It helps knowing what it’s going to hit and at what angle,” he says. For night sky shots, Hubbard uses Sky Guide to calculate what time will be best for shooting the Milky Way. He also uses PhotoPils to calculate the sun’s position, star trails and the optimal time to shoot the Milky Way.

6. Composition is Key

Use good compositional techniques like the rule of thirds. For example, the sky should be in the top third, mid-ground in the middle third and the foreground in the lower third.

Incoming storm on Grand View Trail at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
(Photo: Ken Hubbard)

Time: Sunset, Nov. 4
Location: Grandview Trail, South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park
Pro Tips: When bad weather rolls in, do not go back inside and call it a day. Some of the best and most dramatic light is before or after a storm. During sunset, not only is the lighting dramatic, it can be extremely colorful.
Shot Details: This image was captured with a Nikon D810 camera body and Tamron’s SP 15-30mm Di VC USD lens with settings of 1/15th sec., f/8, ISO 800 at 15mm.

7. Use Elements

Find strong foreground, mid and background elements to create depth in your image and compliment the main subject of your scene. Then remember the rule of thirds. This will help you place those elements and create an image with strong composition.

Sunset beside the red rock of the Grand Canyon
Sunset beside the red rock of the Grand Canyon (Photo: Ken Hubbard)

8. Exposure is Critical

Expose your images properly and for the highlights. Sunsets can create images with a lot of dynamic range between highlights and shadows. Try to under-expose your images about 1/4 to 1/2 stop to ensure you save detail in your highlights.

Tamron photographer Ken Hubbard
Photographer Ken Hubbard

Ken Hubbard is the field services manager for Tamron. His portrait and landscape work has appeared in galleries nationwide and he teaches enthusiasts how to take better photos at workshops across the country.

Want to improve your game on starry nights? Sign up for our online 9-part Night Sky Photography course, taught at your own pace by professional photographers André Costantini and Ken Hubbard.  Get full access to this course plus other in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses when you sign up for Outside+.