Grand Canyon Photography: It's [Not] About The Views
The Grand Canyon is on the bucket list of many landscape photographers and for a reason. The change of colors during sunrise or sunset and epic surreal views is what makes the Grand Canyon like candy land for photographers. So, of course it's about the views. The views from any of the rims of the Grand Canyon are majestic and it's on the UNESCO World Heritage List for a reason. But let's be honest: There are too many pictures of the Grand Canyon. Well... too many of the same pictures anyway. That's why I try to do something different whenever I visit a famous landmark or sight.
South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point
But let's talk about the views first. The first time I visited the Grand Canyon, I only saw it from the famous viewpoints and while that's unforgettable already, I discovered that a visit to the Grand Canyon is even more memorable when you hike down. You don’t even have to do a full day hike all the way down to appreciate a different side of the canyon. This time we hiked down the South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point. Probably the best hike if you only have limited time or if you just don't like hiking that much.
It took us 20 minutes to hike down and 45 to go back up but it's definitely worth it. The views from the South Rim are beautiful but you need to go down to understand and appreciate what the Grand Canyon is all about. Next time, I hope we can hike even further down to see what's at the bottom. Are you going to the Grand Canyon? Pin the South Kaibab Trail now!
Hopi Point and Hermit Road
The Grand Canyon has to be seen and photographed around sunrise and sunset. That's when the colors are vibrant and change from orange and red to blue and purple. Even though there are so many pictures already, I was still amazed by the results because this time I also took photos after sunset instead of half an hour before. The colors are amazing!
Most of the photos are from Hopi Point because you can look down the canyon to the East and the West. We started walking the trail along Hermit road around 90 minutes before sunset to arrive at Hopi Point an hour later. Just don't take the shuttle bus; you'll miss half the fun AND views.
Another reason to pick Hopi Point is because it's one of the most popular ones. Bus loads of tourist arrive here at sunset and they’re the whole point of this article. Don't worry, if you want to photograph the sunset at the Grand Canyon in peace, just walk a few minutes to the East. There are plenty of spots to set up your gear without being blocked by tourists.
Grand Canyon Photography: A Different Angle
Now let's go back to the fact that there are way too many of the same photos of the Grand Canyon. If you're following our blog then you probably know I like to take photos of tourists or at least include them in the scene or landscape I want to photograph. The Grand Canyon is no different. Actually, it's the perfect location because the park gets thousands of visitors each day.
The best way to take photos of people in the Grand Canyon is by hiking the trail along Hermits Road. Some of the most popular viewpoints are along this road and the shuttle bus drops people off all the time. By walking, you can hit them all. It took us around an hour to reach Hopi Point.
What intrigues me the most is why people need pictures of themselves posing in front of the views. A lot of times they don't even take a minute to actually watch and take the beauty in. I guess the picture goes straight to Instagram and that's it. “I've been there. Check.”
The Selfie Line
I know, it's probably just me but I find it fascinating. Another fascinating thing is what I call the selfie line. Some viewpoints seem to be more popular for selfies than others and often there's a line of people; all waiting to take the same picture of themselves. It's like an Instagram photo conveyor belt or copy machine. Crazy!
Anyway. I really enjoyed our visit to the Grand Canyon this time and I had a lot of fun taking photos from a different angle. So, next time you visit the Grand Canyon, take a minute to take in the views instead of only hopping off the shuttle bus for a selfie. You won't regret it.
How to visit the Grand Canyon in a one night stay?
A road trip in the US is expensive so we decided to go for 21 days and see as much as possible. We only had time for one night near the Grand Canyon and 'near' means we stayed in Williams, around one hour away with the car to the Grand Canyon. Traveling on a budget, that was the only affordable place to stay.
Day One - Viewpoints along Hermit Road
How did we make the most of it? We arrived on day one in Williams somewhen in the afternoon. After checking in our motel we drove to the Grand Canyon right away so we'd arrive around 2 hours before sunset. We parked on Parking Lot D, which is close to where the trail along Hermit Road starts. From there, we walked to the beginning of the trail and hiked all the way to Hopi Point where we arrived around half and hour before sunset.
After the sun had set for half an hour, instead of taking the bus, we hiked the same way back. You have to try it. Most people storm back to the shuttle bus once the sun is gone but even an hour later the views and colors along the trail are amazing! I think we arrived back in Williams around 10pm.
Day Two – South Kaibab Trail
On day two we checked out and drove back to the park. Make sure you have an “America The Beautiful” pass to visit the parks on a road trip in the South West. We hiked down into the canyon to Ooh Aah Point and were back up before noon. I think hiking down the trail even earlier to see the sunrise is an even better idea. Around 1pm we were on our way to Monument Valley and had plenty of time to stop at the viewpoints along Desert View Drive.
Joris Hermans is a portrait, documentary and travel photographer based in Belgium. Since 2009 he has been combining personal and freelance work and won several awards, among them a Nikon Press Photo Award in 2017. In 2018 he set off on a journey around the world with his girlfriend documenting everything on The World Ahead Of Us...