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Author Topic: Landscape tips needed on shooting the Grand Canyon  (Read 8798 times)

ahsanford

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Landscape tips needed on shooting the Grand Canyon
« on: November 13, 2012, 09:13:48 PM »

Hey CR folks,

I'm pondering a few days at the Grand Canyon, and I'd love your advice on a host of things. 

WHERE/WHAT I WILL BE DOING

I'm game for level day hiking around the rim, but I'm unlikely to walk/mule the descent into the Canyon itself.  I'm sure I will also get a good look at Sedona, the Page/Lake Powell/Antelope Canyon area, and possibly even Monument Valley.

Generally, I will be shooting landscapes (day and night).  But street/walkaround stuff (in the touristy places) and handheld macro work (cacti, flowers, etc.) will likely happen as well.  I have no desire to go after birds/wildlife unless I stumble across something (please note that I've spared myself the burden of owning huge glass -- madness that way lies, IMHO).

WHAT I WILL BRING

Since I'm driving to this, it will be easy to over pack.

Body + Lenses
5D3
24-70 2.8L (Mk I)
28 2.8 IS
50 1.4
100 2.8L IS macro
70-200 2.8L IS II + 2x III
Hoods for everything

Filters
UV and CPL for all of the above
ND grad 0.6 Hard + 0.9 Hard + Big Stopper only for the 77mm dia lenses above (the two zooms)

Standard stuff
Tripod, ball head, Arca plate, level, remote shutter, batteries, backup cards, etc.

QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS

Now, all that said, here are the questions:

1) Should I consider renting an ultrawide prime or zoom?  Given the wide open spaces, one might think I am missing 16-24mm on the list above.  Rent a 16-35?  Rent a 14 prime? 

2) I don't own a flash (no, I'm not kidding), but I can get my hands on a friend's 430 EX II -- how essential is a flash with landscapes?  In your answer, please consider that I'm only capable of doing rudimentary flash work at this stage (no trick shot / off-camera / radio stuff).  I will learn that someday, I'm sure, but this isn't likely to be that moment.

3) I've never done star trail work but might give it a go one night.  I'll read up on how, settings, etc., but is there any specific gear above what I'm bringing needed to do that?  Is the weight of my bag enough (15-20 lb loaded up), or should I build/buy some heavy stabilizing weights?

4) For those who have been to the GC, assuming the North Rim is closed this time of year, where is the best place on the South Rim to shoot?  I've heard that Lipan Point is a good spot shooting the Colorado from East to West, but I'm game for other great vistas if you know of any.

5) Will I have any flat horizons to use the ND grads against, or will I largely be bracketing for HDR to capture everything I am seeing?  I am opposed to HDR just for HDR's sake, but I recognize that with any bright sky I will have to make some tough exposure decisions.  Depending on my orientation to the sun, a CPL can only do so much to rein in the sky.  Have any thoughts on how to manage this best?


As always, I am in your debt.  Your advice is appreciated to no end.

Thanks,
A

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Landscape tips needed on shooting the Grand Canyon
« on: November 13, 2012, 09:13:48 PM »

DianeK

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Re: Landscape tips needed on shooting the Grand Canyon
« Reply #1 on: November 13, 2012, 11:52:10 PM »
Lipan Point and Navajo Point along the Desert View drive are great vantage points if you want to get the Colorado River in your shot.  Although you said you are not interested in hiking, the South Kaibab trail down to Ooh-Aah Point or a little further to Cedar Ridge is worth doing and only takes about 2 hours round trip.  We did that during the early afternoon, leaving Lipan and Navajo for sunset. If you actually get accommodations in the park that opens up more possibilities for avoiding mid-day sun.

I had a 60D and used the 10-22 and 15-85 (which is sharper than the 10-22), often doing stitched panos in post with images from the 15-85 so I certainly would advise something wider than the 24-70 unless you want to stitch.

If you are also thinking you want to take in the surrounding areas you mentioned you may want to change "a few" days to "several" days.

Diane

Minh Nguyen

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Re: Landscape tips needed on shooting the Grand Canyon
« Reply #2 on: November 14, 2012, 12:01:42 AM »
I think you've got a wide range of photography covered with the assortment of lenses you're bringing. If you're strictly doing landscapes and looking to rent a wide angle I would go with a 17-40 f/4 or a 14mm prime over a 16-35 f/2.8, from what I remember during my research the 16-35 f/2.8 is a great event photography wide angle because of its fast optics but overall it was not as sharp as the 17-40 f/4.

1.) Between the 17-40 f/4 and the 14 prime. I'd still go with the 17-40 because it'll give you range and versatility over the 14 prime. and I don't think losing 3mm of wide angle on a full frame is much. Primes are sharper but both lenses are L lenses so I don't think sharpness will be a concern.

2.) I don't think you'll need a flash. A flash is not powerful enough to illuminate a grand expanse like the grand canyon. It won't even come close. A better and cheaper investment for landscapes would be a trigger release. You can set your camera to Bulb and capture the stars traveling across the night sky in the background with the grand canyon in the foreground. How beautiful would that be right?

3.) Oh whoops star trails...I mentioned that in #2. :) But you'll need a trigger/cable release and a tripod. I would invest in at least a Giottos or Enduro tripod if not better. Something that can handle a lot of weight. I've got a Giottos and a Gitzo Traveler myself.

4.) I've been to the Grand Canyon but this question is too difficult for me to answer. I'm not an expert on that area. I did see tours by mule/horse and I think that might be more creative and give you a more unique look than just the top down view most people do.

5.) HDR all the way. This seems like a trip where you'll have a lot of time to set up for your shot in which case you have time to do a proper HDR. Forget bracket shooting. Do a proper HDR. I'm talking 5-8 photos depending on the time of day and range you want to capture.

ND and Grad ND shooting is for run and gun shooting where you don't have time to set up. I did that in Spain and New Zealand...mixed feelings about it. HDR will always give you a better look. But please please don't over do the contrast. I HATE it when people make their skys look like some sort of electrical storm or apocalyptic explosion is happening. I think the best HDRs are the ones that have slightly more range than the human eye captures at that moment. Just my opinion though.

Here are a few of my own HDRs
http://www.flickr.com/photos/halogenlab/8184226516/#sizes/l/in/photostream/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/halogenlab/3703942284/#sizes/o/in/set-72157621035695209/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/halogenlab/3703934582/#sizes/o/in/set-72157621035695209/

- Minh Nguyen

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Re: Landscape tips needed on shooting the Grand Canyon
« Reply #3 on: November 14, 2012, 12:08:14 AM »
3) I've never done star trail work but might give it a go one night.  I'll read up on how, settings, etc., but is there any specific gear above what I'm bringing needed to do that?  Is the weight of my bag enough (15-20 lb loaded up), or should I build/buy some heavy stabilizing weights?
A laptop and cable will be handy to set manual focus for night work. While it can be done with live view (on the camera) using live view (via the EOS Utility app) on a laptop is much easier. Plus, you can manage the camera via the same software.
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580EX II, MT-24EX Macro Flash
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TAF

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Re: Landscape tips needed on shooting the Grand Canyon
« Reply #4 on: November 14, 2012, 12:08:53 AM »
1. Check to see if the South Rim is still open.  It is getting late in the year; it could already be snowed in.

2. Sedona is beautiful and the people are really friendly.  I love going there.  The main street can be very photogenic.  There is a nifty camera store in town, nearby is Oaxaca, is a nice mexican restaurant.  Note that the economy is not great in the area, so you can get excellent deals on lodging.  Pull up Google maps; you'll find a turnout south of town at 34.82335 N/-111.77610 W.  Look due east from there and you'll see a pair of spires (locally called the sisters).  If you get lucky, you can catch the moon rising between them.  It's a spectacular shot.

3. It is well worth the drive up Highway 89A to the top of Oak Creek Canyon (straight out of town heading north, can't miss it).  There are numerous places to stop and take interesting photos at this time of year, and when you get to the top there is a parking area/scenic lookout where the local Indians set up tables and sell beautiful hand made jewelry and other things.

4. Pack a jacket, hat, and sunglasses.  While it may be shirtsleeve down in Sedona, it may well be below freezing at the top of the canyon.  And the higher in elevation you go, the stronger the UV and the greater the risk of sunburn (especially in winter).

5. If you are driving your own car (as opposed to a rental), make certain the cooling system and brakes are in top notch condition.  Even at this time of year your can can overheat driving up the canyon, and the brakes take a beating driving down.

6. I hear that the glass horseshoe out over the Grand Canyon is spectacular, but I haven't been there yet.

7. If they are still operating (there were some issues a number of years ago), there are scenic flights over the GC.  Worth the price if the weather is really clear (it should be this time of year).

8. At the GC you will find plenty of flat horizons for the grad filter (I wish I had had one of those years ago).

9. I would forget the flash; seek maximum fulfillment with the high ISO capability of the 5D3.

10. If you feel the need for some additional weight, bring water bottles.  Gallon jugs are a good idea (9 pounds each, and you can drink them if the car breaks down and use them if you need water for the radiator).

I'll leave lens recommendations to others.

JPAZ

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Re: Landscape tips needed on shooting the Grand Canyon
« Reply #5 on: November 14, 2012, 01:08:02 AM »
OK.  I need to add my thoughts.  I live here!

If you are going form Phoenix, it is only about 4 to 4.5 hour drive to the canyon.  Take I17 to Flagstaff then I40 to Williams and then a well-paved road about 60 miles (with a few gas stations along the way) to the South Rim (which is open year round).  There will be plenty of vehicles and getting stranded is very unlikely.  There are a gazillion cheesy hotels just outside the park but I always stay in the park (if you can get a reservation).  There can be snow at the top but it does not last long on the South Rim.  The North Rim is closed now until May or so. 

IF you are up to it, a short hike on the South Kaibab trail has some spectacular scenery.  Go early for the best light but the character of the lighting in the canyon changes constantly.  Even setting up in one position for a while can be very rewarding as the colors of the rock change in the shifting sun.

If you decide to do any hiking (and I cannot emphasis this enough), be prepared.  Make sure you always have water and snacks and dress in layers.  I am not trying to scare you, we hike there often and I do see a lot of very stupid people, some of whom can have a very bad day when they get injured.  Respect the edge!

Another thing you might want to look for are some Petroglyphs maybe a mile or so down Bright Angel Trail for the Rim.  Ask.  They are kind of hard to see unless you know where they are.

I concur, Sedona is wonderful.  While it is kind of goofy, you might want to take a "Pink Jeep Tour."  They get you out to some great photo sites and the guides are a trip as well.

If you've never been to this part of the world, be prepared for very clear skies, multiple climate zones and big vistas.  You will enjoy.
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TAF

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Re: Landscape tips needed on shooting the Grand Canyon
« Reply #6 on: November 14, 2012, 01:18:14 AM »
A couple of random shots from last year's trip to Sedona:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/34970367@N03/sets/72157632005390936/

(the sum total of shots from that trip convinced me of the need to replace the 50D with a 5D3; looking forward to returning soon)


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Re: Landscape tips needed on shooting the Grand Canyon
« Reply #6 on: November 14, 2012, 01:18:14 AM »

Cali_PH

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Re: Landscape tips needed on shooting the Grand Canyon
« Reply #7 on: November 14, 2012, 01:33:54 AM »
I'll link to an earlier response I made to someone else asking about the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon areas.  If you want me to email you the mini-Antelope Canyon guide I mention there, feel free to PM me.  I may even be able to fit it into a PM, but it was a bit long.

Yes, you should have some nice flat horizons from the rim to use your ND grads on.  Keep that CPL handy, it'll help with the haze commonly found there.

As far as other locations in the GC area, you may want to consider Havasupai for the falls, although I'm unsure of the water flow at this time of the year (assuming you'll be going sometime soon?).  And if you did go, I'd also suggest paying for the helicopter ride, instead of the 8 mile hike to the village, and then more to the various falls.   ;)

I'd also really encourage you to include Monument Valley if you can fit it into your schedule; it's a special place.  The View hotel is a bit expensive but it's worth it to me. All the rooms face one direction, towards the classic Monument Valley view, and it's an easy stroll to the viewing points for sunset/sunrise shots.  It's also supposed to be a pretty good star trail location.  You can shoot right from your balcony if you wanted.

DianeK

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Re: Landscape tips needed on shooting the Grand Canyon
« Reply #8 on: November 14, 2012, 01:54:33 AM »
First image is Lipan Point, second is Navajo Point

RichardTHF

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Re: Landscape tips needed on shooting the Grand Canyon
« Reply #9 on: November 14, 2012, 02:31:47 AM »
DianeK, those pictures so beautiful, what camera and lens did you use for each?


I drove Vegas to Denver when I was in the states earlier this year, went so close to the Grand Canyon and didn't even get to go see it. was very very gutted!

yablonsky

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Re: Landscape tips needed on shooting the Grand Canyon
« Reply #10 on: November 14, 2012, 04:55:23 AM »
Hi,

we travelled to the southrim of the Grand Canyon in May this year. It was amazing!

We stayed 2 nights at Mather Campground. We also hiked the South Kaibab trail until Skeleton Point and back.

My favorites beside the hike was the sunset from Hopi Point and the sunrise from Yaki Point. Also the view from the Desert Watchtower is great. You can do the Watchtower when you leave the park to the East.

Camerawise I brought the 5D2 along with the 17-40L and the 70-200 4L IS.

You definitely need the 17mm on FF for the Canyon!!!
Also the 70-200 @ 200 was great in the evening hours, just before sunset.

On more recommendation for the Antelope Canyon:
Go there during noon if you can. We did the lower Antelope Canyon at 10 a.m. which was great and the upper Antelope Canyon unfortunately at 1 p.m. It was dark as night down there!
5D2, 17-40 4L, 24-70 2.8L II, 70-200 4L IS,  300 4L IS

DianeK

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Re: Landscape tips needed on shooting the Grand Canyon
« Reply #11 on: November 14, 2012, 10:20:29 AM »
DianeK, those pictures so beautiful, what camera and lens did you use for each

Richard, thank you for the compliment.  60D with the EFS 10-22 for both.  Lipan at 22mm, Navajo at 16mm.  Both f/11, 1/40, no filters, handheld.  We were losing the light quite quickly at the end of the day.  There's only 13 minutes between the two shots and they are at different places (no...we didn't break any speed limits  ;) )

ahsanford

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Re: Landscape tips needed on shooting the Grand Canyon
« Reply #12 on: November 14, 2012, 12:59:44 PM »

First and foremost, you folks are wonderful for the quick, detailed and thoughtful feedback.  I love this forum.

Let me buzz through this stuff and follow up.

- A

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Re: Landscape tips needed on shooting the Grand Canyon
« Reply #12 on: November 14, 2012, 12:59:44 PM »

ahsanford

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Re: Landscape tips needed on shooting the Grand Canyon
« Reply #13 on: November 14, 2012, 01:07:13 PM »
I think you've got a wide range of photography covered with the assortment of lenses you're bringing. If you're strictly doing landscapes and looking to rent a wide angle I would go with a 17-40 f/4 or a 14mm prime over a 16-35 f/2.8, from what I remember during my research the 16-35 f/2.8 is a great event photography wide angle because of its fast optics but overall it was not as sharp as the 17-40 f/4.

1.) Between the 17-40 f/4 and the 14 prime. I'd still go with the 17-40 because it'll give you range and versatility over the 14 prime. and I don't think losing 3mm of wide angle on a full frame is much. Primes are sharper but both lenses are L lenses so I don't think sharpness will be a concern.

2.) I don't think you'll need a flash. A flash is not powerful enough to illuminate a grand expanse like the grand canyon. It won't even come close. A better and cheaper investment for landscapes would be a trigger release. You can set your camera to Bulb and capture the stars traveling across the night sky in the background with the grand canyon in the foreground. How beautiful would that be right?

3.) Oh whoops star trails...I mentioned that in #2. :) But you'll need a trigger/cable release and a tripod. I would invest in at least a Giottos or Enduro tripod if not better. Something that can handle a lot of weight. I've got a Giottos and a Gitzo Traveler myself.

4.) I've been to the Grand Canyon but this question is too difficult for me to answer. I'm not an expert on that area. I did see tours by mule/horse and I think that might be more creative and give you a more unique look than just the top down view most people do.

5.) HDR all the way. This seems like a trip where you'll have a lot of time to set up for your shot in which case you have time to do a proper HDR. Forget bracket shooting. Do a proper HDR. I'm talking 5-8 photos depending on the time of day and range you want to capture.

ND and Grad ND shooting is for run and gun shooting where you don't have time to set up. I did that in Spain and New Zealand...mixed feelings about it. HDR will always give you a better look. But please please don't over do the contrast. I HATE it when people make their skys look like some sort of electrical storm or apocalyptic explosion is happening. I think the best HDRs are the ones that have slightly more range than the human eye captures at that moment. Just my opinion though.

Here are a few of my own HDRs
http://www.flickr.com/photos/halogenlab/8184226516/#sizes/l/in/photostream/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/halogenlab/3703942284/#sizes/o/in/set-72157621035695209/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/halogenlab/3703934582/#sizes/o/in/set-72157621035695209/

- Minh Nguyen

Great stuff.  A few thoughts / responses:

  • I have a cable release already.  Check.
  • I have a Gitzo traveler -- small/thin, but stiff from carbon fiber and takes a hook for weight.  I should be all set.  Check.
  • Laptop for star trail focusing.  Did not think of that.  What kind of cable do I need to link up?
  • Follow up question -- what did you mean by 'do proper HDR' / 'do not bracket'?  Don't you have to bracket to get all the detail in the foreground, sky, etc. for HDR? (i.e. isn't HDR predicated on having multiple shots at different exposures?)
  • Water bottles are a great idea.  Will do for sure.
  • Great HDR shots -- agree that most people blow them out (and I hate how that looks!)  Yours are terrific.

ahsanford

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Re: Landscape tips needed on shooting the Grand Canyon
« Reply #14 on: November 14, 2012, 01:19:00 PM »
1. Check to see if the South Rim is still open.  It is getting late in the year; it could already be snowed in.

2. Sedona is beautiful and the people are really friendly.  I love going there.  The main street can be very photogenic.  There is a nifty camera store in town, nearby is Oaxaca, is a nice mexican restaurant.  Note that the economy is not great in the area, so you can get excellent deals on lodging.  Pull up Google maps; you'll find a turnout south of town at 34.82335 N/-111.77610 W.  Look due east from there and you'll see a pair of spires (locally called the sisters).  If you get lucky, you can catch the moon rising between them.  It's a spectacular shot.

3. It is well worth the drive up Highway 89A to the top of Oak Creek Canyon (straight out of town heading north, can't miss it).  There are numerous places to stop and take interesting photos at this time of year, and when you get to the top there is a parking area/scenic lookout where the local Indians set up tables and sell beautiful hand made jewelry and other things.

4. Pack a jacket, hat, and sunglasses.  While it may be shirtsleeve down in Sedona, it may well be below freezing at the top of the canyon.  And the higher in elevation you go, the stronger the UV and the greater the risk of sunburn (especially in winter).

5. If you are driving your own car (as opposed to a rental), make certain the cooling system and brakes are in top notch condition.  Even at this time of year your can can overheat driving up the canyon, and the brakes take a beating driving down.

6. I hear that the glass horseshoe out over the Grand Canyon is spectacular, but I haven't been there yet.

7. If they are still operating (there were some issues a number of years ago), there are scenic flights over the GC.  Worth the price if the weather is really clear (it should be this time of year).

8. At the GC you will find plenty of flat horizons for the grad filter (I wish I had had one of those years ago).

9. I would forget the flash; seek maximum fulfillment with the high ISO capability of the 5D3.

10. If you feel the need for some additional weight, bring water bottles.  Gallon jugs are a good idea (9 pounds each, and you can drink them if the car breaks down and use them if you need water for the radiator).

I'll leave lens recommendations to others.

Thanks for the heads up.  Checked into the South Rim on the national parks website -- it's a 365 day a year open sort of place, though I may not get to all of the rim's little trails.  It's the north rim that closes down in October. 

Just had a brake job on the car.  Should be fine.  Great tip.

Since I'm taking my own car, I will pack for nuclear winter as far as clothes go.  It's 60s in Sedona (one of those great regions where the weather rarely changes, I'm told), but yes, it will be somewhat cold but very windy at the rim.  I will bring the appropriate layers, hats, sunscreen, etc.  Again, great tip.

Wow.  Sedona is 15 degrees warmer than Flagstaff, which is only 30 miles away.  GC Village will be in the 50s by day but teens by night.  Will plan accordingly.

Any thoughts on cold weather shooting?  I know 15 F / -10 C is not terribly cold, but should I take any precautions regarding condensation in the lens?  I will be bringing far too much glass to ziplock bag everything prior to coming to room temp.  The padded camera bag must insulate the non-used lens to some degree, right?  What are your thoughts?

Great ideas for Sedona, thanks!  I also must hit the Frank Lloyd Wright church, it looks outrageously interesting to shoot.

- A

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Re: Landscape tips needed on shooting the Grand Canyon
« Reply #14 on: November 14, 2012, 01:19:00 PM »