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Tag: photography tips

3 Rules I Learned while Taking Photos at Grand Canyon

If your pictures aren’t capturing the majesty of this incredible space, you’re not alone. Here are a few tricks that will help while shooting at Grand Canyon.

Sure, my family’s bucket-list trip to Grand Canyon was a fantastic vacation I’ll never forget. But parts of our adventures in the Southwest also kicked my butt.

First off, I overpacked my camera gear and still felt underprepared to capture the photos I really wanted in the three glorious national parks we visited.

As I’ve previously mentioned, in addition to Grand Canyon, we also hiked in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

Now, how hard can it be to snap a good photo among such natural beauty? As it turned out, pretty hard. Zion and Bryce Canyons were easier, but Grand Canyon was simply ridiculous. (We visited the South Rim.)

Why? These places are just too big. Too awesome.
Grand Canyon
Bryce Canyon
Zion Canyon

How the Massiveness of Grand Canyon Flattens its Depth
I must admit, when you look out over Grand Canyon and see sections of its 227-mile length… it seems almost surreal. The huge space actually feels flat… almost 2-D, like a painting. The massive rocks’ muted colors flatten the imagery even more. (If you’re into conspiracy theories, you might even feel inclined to suggest that Grand Canyon is a giant green-screen set.)

Trying to capture a ‘representative’ photo to match your ocular perception is really difficult, because it’s almost impossible to capture the scale in a 4×3 or 3×2 frame. Even wide angle or pano shots seem only to miniaturize the massiveness.

So, the enormity of this place upended so many of my sensory norms. And my camera gear felt woefully inadequate to capture the canyon’s stunning beauty. (I eventually acknowledged my gear was just fine.) I just had to step up my game and figure out how to visually adapt.

My Equipment List
Yes, I brought along all of my gear:

  • My beefy Panasonic LUMIX GH5II Micro Four Thirds camera (primarily for landscape videos)
  • My older but more compact Panasonic Lumix LX10 (especially good over the neck during our rim mule ride)
  • My trusty GoPro for wider angle views
  • My tiny DJI Osmo Pocket camera with its nifty timelapse-capture skills
  • And of course, my iPhone’s camera

I brought it all with me and schlepped it in my Peak Design V2 30L Everyday Backpack throughout our hours of hiking, because I knew I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Now, that concept may seem clever, but it’s also an excuse that’s not going to win me any photography awards.

The irony is some of my family’s most successful shots were captured by my 12-year-old son using my wife’s iPhone 13 in pano mode.
Impressive. Most impressive.

Barrett’s 3 Camera Rules when Shooting Massive Canyons
Still… I did succeed in capturing a number of solid shots and some fun timelapses.

But not before I figured out these three key rules to follow while shooting at Grand Canyon.

#1
Include Context in the Imagery
I tried to capture closer objects in my photos to provide some context against the impossibly large landscape. Nearby trees or people can work nicely for this. That little trick really helped to fight the Grand Canyon’s visual flatness and create a more 3-D perspective.

#2
Use The Sun’s Shadows for Contrast
I looked to include any shadows I could find on the canyon’s walls. These darker regions instantly created more contrast in my shots. So, early and late-day sunlight provided prime-time opportunities. Lunchtime was mostly a washout.

#3
Don’t Shoot on a Cloudless Day
It quickly became clear that partly-cloudy days were the best times to take pictures. Those wonderful billowy white clouds or even incoming storm clouds were much more interesting than a bland blue sky. Total cloud cover was no good either, but partial cover added critical texture to the flatness I was fighting against.

Take in the Total Experience
By following these framing techniques, you should be able to include enough visual variety in your Grand Canyon shots to allow the scope of the canyon to really stand out.

But I must admit, there’s probably not a photo that can capture the almost incomprehensible nature of Grand Canyon. To truly experience it, you’ve got to go there and just open your eyes.

It’s simply amazing.

But don’t only focus on the destination.

Next time, I’ll share how we maximized our journey

Why You Should Never Wait to Take that Photo

A last-minute photo attempt may not result in the best picture. Then there’s no opportunity to try again. Here’s how to avoid that disappointment.

Whenever I feel inspired to take a particular photo, it’s based on an almost subconscious series of creative choices. My brain constructs the framed image, and I can visualize it. Then, I just need to capture the actual photo.

If it’s beautiful scenery, then I simply snap the picture. Easy!

But if it involves other people in the scene itself, then I have to interact with any number of other brains that may or may not want to conform with my brain’s vision. The challenge becomes one of staging the moment you see in your head.

Maybe it’s wrangling a good group shot at a party or event. Or perhaps it’s capturing a key family vacation photo that you’ll need for that photo book you’re planning to create.

Here’s my number one tip to help ensure your success:

  • Don’t wait to get the shot!

That’s because a photo ‘moment’ is by definition a short period of time. It’s rarely going to wait around for you. So you’ve got to move quickly.

Early Departures can Crush your Plan
If you’re with a group of people at a party, snap that group shot as soon as everyone has shown up. Any number of variables may then quickly thin the ranks. As soon as you see everybody in one space, that’s the moment to ask for the group picture.

I think there’s a social norm that suggests the end of an event is the more appropriate time for everyone to gather for a group photo. While that may feel like a better flow, it assumes all your guests are still there. See the problem?

Be Mindful not to Ask for Too Many Photos
Family vacation photography doesn’t typically have that same challenge as you’re tracking fewer people who should theoretically be together through much of the trip. But as the family photographer, I always need to pay attention to the reality that my family doesn’t always want to pose for my frequent requests for a picture. (They’re not my photo models!)

So, I’ve got to be strategic and not waste opportunities for a posed photo or a family selfie.

That said, I often try to front-load the family pictures I take early in a vacation to ensure I’ve got what I think I need. (And you can see how that thinking can negatively impact my family’s tolerance for my photography later in the vacation.)

Ultimately, I find it’s a balancing act. And I’ll admit that as a family photographer, I’m still a work in progress!

Don’t Wait for your Last Day
I recently snapped a few group photos with my work colleagues, because I’m changing jobs. (I’ve really enjoyed working with them, and of course, I wanted some pics.)

I used my ‘take-the-picture-early’ strategy and did not wait until my last day. And I’ve got to tell you, it was a delightful process (and more relaxed than it would have been as a last-minute attempt). It removed all the unnecessary stress about whether everyone would be available to take the shot.

There is no Perfect Moment
The bottom line is never wait for the perfect moment to take a picture, because that moment may never arrive!

When you see an opportunity that contains the imagery and people you want, then you’ve got to make your move. It’s as simple as that.

It might feel a bit forced, but if you’ve got some staging to do, it may be your only chance.

Everyone will thank you later when you text the group what they see as the perfect photo.

Time to Explore the Expanse of your Shrinking Space

You don’t always have to worry about the big picture. Here are eight ways I’ve expanded my view by focusing on the small.

If you’re feeling like your world continues to shrink around you after weeks of sheltering at home, you’re certainly not alone. 

Here’s one suggestion to help rebalance your equilibrium: 
Pay more attention to what’s right in front of you. There’s actually a lot to see. 

You might be pleasantly surprised!

Open your Eyes and See the Beauty
If it’s at all possible to spend a little more time with Mother Nature while also practicing social distancing, of course now is the perfect time to take a closer look. In fact, get really close and narrow your focus.

And you don’t necessarily have to travel far to explore the intensities of spring. It’s amazing what’s right in front of you when you zoom in your view a bit.

Here’s what I found…

Narrow your View to Find Relief
So, instead of yearning for what is currently unavailable, I say let’s take advantage of all of that beauty nature has provided.

Sometimes, you’ve just got to pay a little more attention to the smaller details.

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