Photographing Grand Canyon South Rim
My first foray at Digital Infrared Photography
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- Process the image in Photoshop: Here is a good primer from LifePixel for processing IR images in Photoshop
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
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
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
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
Note the Colorado river in the image in blue below snaking in the background
The image below is with a Hoya R72 filter
Sunset at Hopi Point
Hopi Point is a very popular viewpoint for sunset and sunrise because of its wide vistas
Sunrise at Yavapoi Point
This is a great place to catch the sunrise and has very nice vistas
Sunrise under a blood red sky, I purposely did not do any white balance adjustment for this one
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
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
I hope this is the first of my many visits to Grand Canyon!