Nankoweap Ledge | Mark Lindsay

I have never been without my camera at Grand Canyon. Photography is simply the natural thing for me to practice there. I've made so many images of the canyon that I thought it might be appropriate to share some of the photo lessons that I've learned.

While this has never been a blog about photographic technique, we will be adding a few new blogs to in the near future. At least one of those blogs will focus on photographic recipes for success. Having been a cooking teacher for many years, I like recipes for their succinct ability to make things work. I'm hoping to bring that sensibility to my teachings on photography. So, please consider this a teaser for things to come. Today's blog isn't really a recipe but it does have some tips for photo success. Now back to the canyon.

The Grand Canyon has taught me two essential things; how to photograph a famous place that has been photographed to death, and how to photograph a place that exhibits extremes in dynamic tonal range. Today we'll focus on the former, tomorrow the latter.

All of us who travel will sooner or later encounter a famous place. Invariably, the first inclination is get a photo ourselves in front of that landmark. We all want to prove that we were there. I encourage such photos, partly because they are so much fun and partly because they record significant moments in life. But, getting those photos captured also frees us up to approach these places with a fresh perspective. We often need to get the cliché shots out of our system before the real photographic work can begin.

Famous places have been explored from many, many angles and perspectives. But, the motivation to make these images is usually rather simple—to show the place as being dramatic, interesting, and enticing. These overly familiar images are designed to make us want to come to the place or to learn more about it. Maybe they make us want to buy a book, postcard, magazine, or newspaper.

Getting these images in the camera are natural impulses. We want to remember these places as they seared their way into our retinas. But, drama and theater can tire us. And we've seen the familiar shots of these places so many times that we will soon cause our audience to glaze over and nod off. We must get beyond the familiar noise to a more quiet place.

That quiet place is found within and without. First retreat to spots beyond the crowds, noise, and souvenir stands. Let the place speak to you. Find unique perspectives, move in, move out, look up, look down. Come back at different times of the day. Or stay in one place and let the light change before your eyes. How is this affecting you?

Here are some tips, in list form, that might help this work for you:

  • Stay with the crowds and get all the cliché shots out of your system. Have fun doing this.
  • Turn the camera around and Photograph everyone reacting to the famous place. Sometimes the crowd is the real spectacle.
  • Invest in the place. Places like Grand Canyon need some work. If you are able and fully prepared to do so, go down into the canyon.
  • Slow yourself down and just sit and observe. Watch the light as it changes. What's most important about the place and its light?
  • Go to the spots that others aren't visiting. What do you feel? What do you see?
  • Move in to find little details that interest you.
  • Move back to find the grandness and drama of the place. Frame this in a unique way.
  • Get up high or down low. What do you see?
  • Be patient and let the light change. What does this teach you? What does it reveal?
  • Make lots and lots and lots of images. Don't be afraid to experiment.
  • Now break some stuffy old photo rules. Make the horizon crooked. Blur some photos. Shoot at shutter speeds that are too slow. Play!

Photographing the famous place teaches us universal things about photography. The above tips can be used when dealing with most any photographic subject. Famous places simply force us to be more creative and unique in our perspective.

Most people come to Grand Canyon and stay for only a few hours. If you observe the tourists at the South Rim you can see them be exhilarated and then quickly tire of the spectacle. They came, they saw, they photographed, they left. Only a small fraction of canyon visitors go down into its vastness. Most probably don't even stay for sunset. Hardly any at all are at the rim for sunrise. While you can get a glimpse of the canyon and prove you were there, really seeing it requires something more. This is true with any landmark or really any place on this fascinating planet.

Tomorrow we'll discuss some the technical challenges of photographing Grand Canyon.