Molted light affords me an otherwise not advisable centered composition highlighting and framing the subject: Bright Angel Trail leading to the Colorado via Indian Gardens.
In 2005, I took a photo expedition to the Grand Canyon and I was overwhelmed. In later years I came back a handful of times for more. The Grand gave me a ton of lessons over the years on landscape photography. Here I share some.
The Grand Canyon is a tough photographic subject in many respects:
Usually in landscape photography, finding a "Point Of View" (POV) is a fairly hard task. Particularly if searching for a unique fresh point of view. The Grand Canyon, especially the south rim, has been photographed to death. So, stay away from the rim sidewalk where your tripod and a million other tourists will take the same shot....most likely behind your shoulder with their crappy camera phone...or a selfie with you bent over your tripod as the background.
Next. Lets say that you stay away from the rim sidewalk, you scout some spots. Lets say you even used some software application like "The Photographer’s Ephemeris" to study the light at a particular location at a particular time of the year. You stake your tripod and wait for the light, you take 20, 30, 40, 50 photos and yet somehow none of them capture the grandeur that lays before your eyes.
In think that the singular most important and creative decision a photographer makes is what to leave out of the frame. This is the next challenge in a place like the Grand Canyon. Every grand view looks so amazing, how to decide what to leave out? What to leave in? What is the focal point of the photograph?
For a place like the Grand Canyon, your sense of composition needs to be dialed up and attune with many elements all at once: Light direction, shadows, horizon placement, sky conditions, major elements in the composition, dominant lines, frame ruptures, the list goes on...
On the field, usually there is not enough time to sweat all these factors. Sun and clouds moves fast, conditions change, so all you can do is sharpen your compositions skills so they become second nature.
Diagonal composition of the Colorado River bisecting the Grand Canyon
After you are done and satisfied with some of your shots, how will you know if your photographic work in the Grand Canyon is...unique? offers a new point of view? Chances are you will never know....but if you are in for the long haul, get past the Ansel Adams stuff and get acquainted with the the work of the major landscape photographers that have dedicated part, or all of their time to the American Southwest: Fatali, Ilk, Dykinga, D. Muench, M. Muench, Wolfe, Rowel, Cornish, Buselle, K. Duncan, Everton, to mention some. As you become more familiar with their work, you will make more informed decisions on your own body of work.
Even if you do not come with groundbreaking images....the Grand Canyon will teach you tons about composition.
I close this post with one of my favorites quotes from one of my favorite art authors:
A truism from the experience of many landscape photographers: One does not for long wrestle with the view camera in the wind and heat and cold just to illustrate a philosophy. The thing that keeps you scrambling over the rocks. risking snakes, and swatting at the flies is the view. It is only your enjoyment of and commitment to what you see, not to what you rationally understand, that balances the otherwise absurd investment of labor.