Photographing Grand Canyon South Rim

Grand Canyon is considered one of the natural wonders of the world. I recently visited it and decided to write about my experience photographing it with my new Nikon Z6 and also took some infra red pictures

Grand Canyon South Rim

For camera equipment I used the following

Camera: Nikon Z6 converted for infrared from LifePixel
Lenses: NIKKOR Z 24–70mm f/4 S Z-mount, NIKKOR 12–24 mm with ATZ adaptor
Filters (infrared photography): Super Color Infrared (590 nm), Hoya Infrared R72 (720 nm), Polarizing filter & ND8 Neutral Density
Filters (normal / non-infrared photography): Visible bandpass filters, Heliopan Digital UV-IR Cut Filter
Tripod & cable release

For those seeking a photo safari, some do’s and don’ts

Do’s

  • Start the trip with a visit to the National Park Service Visitor Center.
  • Stay in the park since it is easier to drive to these locations very early in the morning to take sunrise pictures. E.g. left hotel in park at 4:30am in the morning to catch the Yavapoi Point sunrise
  • Check for sunrise / sunset times and make sure you get at the photo shoot location atleast a half hour prior
  • Visit these photogenic locations: Hopi Point, Yavapoi Point, Bright Angel Trailhead, Desert View Watchtower. Note that I was only there for 36 hours and barely scratched the surface in terms of seeing the park
  • Take a photo tour, especially if you are short of time and want a guide. I took a photo tour with Canyon Country Tours and highly recommend them. Glenn Tamblingson was very patient and diligent in the photo tour. I learned a few new things and got to visit many photogenic sites in 8 hours

Don’t

  • Take any rocks or artifacts from the park
  • Use drones. Not only are they illegal, they also disturb the wildlife. Unfortunately, I saw a drone in the park that was disturbing a condor
  • Venture too close to the rim. It’s very easy to lose your balance and fall off

Quick start guide to Infrared photography

Infrared photography captures heat not just light in the infrared portion of the spectrum. Great way to capture images that with some minor Photoshop processing turn into surrealistic, otherworldly images

Spectrum
  1. Convert your camera for infrared photography: Normal cameras have a hot mirror that only allows visible light to pass through. The ideal camera for IR is a mirrorless one which is why I went with a Nikon Z6. Suggest a full spectrum conversion from LifePixel. A full spectrum conversion will allow you to use the camera in infrared and “normal” modes with external mounted filters.
  2. Buy appropriate external filters to be able to shoot infrared: I used two filters, a Super Color IR filter from LifePixel and a Hoya Infrared R72. With the Super Color IR when you swap the red & blue channels, the foliage takes on a golden orange tone and sky a royal blue. This is due to the fact that this filter does not block all visible light, it allows some visible light and near infrared to pass above 590nm. Very surrealistic! The R72 only allows light to pass above 720nm so it essentially cuts off almost all of the visible spectrum.
  3. Decide whether you want more contrast or more color in your IR image: The higher the nm, the more the contrast. Typically the higher you shoot into the near infrared spectrum the greater the contrast and the less the color tint. If you want greater contrast / monochrome image go with an R72 filter, if you want IR color, go with a Super Color IR filter
  4. Set the right white balance before shooting: White balance camera controls the overall color tone of your picture. In a “normal” image you want white tones in the scene to appear white in the image. Unless you set a custom white balance, your infrared pictures will have a red hue. I recommend setting a custom white balance from an object at the scene which has is lit by the same light that you will be using for your actual shot. I chose organic materials for setting the white balance (grass, foliage, soil). Always check the image from the view finder after you set the custom white balance
  5. Process the image in Photoshop: Here is a good primer from LifePixel for processing IR images in Photoshop

My images

Desert View Watchtower

This watchtower is a 70-foot high stone building in the Grand Canyon designed in the style of Ancestral Puebloan towers

Below is the original color image with HDR

Desert View Watchtower. Nikon Z6 12mm ISO100. Jun 1, 2019 with HDR. Photo by Prakash Hariramani

Then I switched to infrared. Since I used a Hoya R72 filter (720 nm), it cut off almost the visible spectrum so there was no color tint and it came out as a monochrome image

Desert View Watchtower. Nikon Z6 ƒ/11 1/100 12mm ISO100 with Hoya R72 filter (720nm) in HDR. Jun 1, 2019. Photo by Prakash Hariramani

Now I switched to the Super Color IR filter. I got a lot more color tones since this is a 590nm filter and allows some visible light infrared to pass

Desert View Watchtower. Nikon Z6 f/11 1/640 70mm ISO100 with Super Color IR filter (590 nm). Jun 1, 2019. Photo by Prakash Hariramani

Other infrared images

Note how the Super Color IR filter gives the foliage a golden orange tone and the sky a royal blue, after channel swapping in Photoshop

Nikon Z6 ƒ/11 1/250 70mm ISO100 with Super Color IR filter (590 nm). Jun 1, 2019. Photo by Prakash Hariramani
Nikon Z6 ƒ/13 1/80 24mm ISO100 with Super Color IR filter (590 nm). Jun 1, 2019. Photo by Prakash Hariramani

Note the Colorado river in the image in blue below snaking in the background

Nikon Z6 ƒ/11 1/500 70mm ISO100 with Super Color IR filter (590 nm). Jun 1, 2019. Photo by Prakash Hariramani
Nikon Z6 ƒ/11 1/250 70mm ISO100. Jun 1, 2019. Photo by Prakash Hariramani

The image below is with a Hoya R72 filter

Nikon Z6 ƒ/11 1/160 12mm ISO100 with Hoya R72 filter (720 nm). Jun 1, 2019. Photo by Prakash Hariramani

Sunset at Hopi Point

Hopi Point is a very popular viewpoint for sunset and sunrise because of its wide vistas

Sunset at Hopi Point. Nikon Z6 ƒ/11 1/40 35mm ISO100 with a neutral density filter. Jun 1, 2019. Photo by Prakash Hariramani
Sunset at Hopi Point. Nikon Z6 ƒ/13 1/6 70mm ISO100 Jun 1, 2019. Photo by Prakash Hariramani

Sunrise at Yavapoi Point

This is a great place to catch the sunrise and has very nice vistas

Sunrise at Yavapoi Point. Nikon Z6 ƒ/13 1/5 24mm ISO100. Jun 2, 2019. Photo by Prakash Hariramani

Sunrise under a blood red sky, I purposely did not do any white balance adjustment for this one

Sunrise at Yavapoi Point. Nikon Z6 ƒ/13 1/125 24mm ISO100 with HDR. Jun 2, 2019. Photo by Prakash Hariramani

Road to the Colorado River..

Bright Angel Trail is the road frequently traveled to descend 4380 feet to the Colorado River in the Canyon. Started descending down this trail for less than a mile and was able to capture some amazing shots as the sun was also descending

Nikon Z6 ƒ/9 1/160 70mm ISO200 with HDR. Jun 1, 2019. Photo by Prakash Hariramani

California Condor

The highlight of this trip was seeing a California Condor. They are the largest land birds in North America. They are also an endangered species; less than 300 condors in the world (approximately half in the wild). The condor is a dramatic bird with a wingspan of nine-and-a-half feet. They have large wings because they’re scavengers and find their food by sight by soaring across the landscape. The condor I saw had wing tag # 6 as you can see in the image below.

While the sun was setting on me, I hope the sun never sets on the California Condor. They became extinct in the wild in 1987; all remaining wild individuals were captured and subsequently the species was reintroduced to the wild

California Condor. Nikon Z6 ƒ/14 1/200 70mm ISO200. Photo by Prakash Hariramani
California Condor. Nikon Z6 ƒ/14 1/250 70mm ISO200. Jun 1, 2019. Photo by Prakash Hariramani

I hope this is the first of my many visits to Grand Canyon!

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Prakash Hariramani

Prakash Hariramani

12 Followers

Interested in landscape photography, payments, education & meditation