Grand Canyon

The North Rim

Last month I visited the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The play of light and shadow in the canyon at sunset can be a beautiful sight, and as the last rays of sunlight illuminated parts of the canyon, I made the photograph below.

Last rays of sunlight on the North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

I was seconds away from losing the light completely, but I caught what I wanted. When photographing sunsets I usually stay out at least 30 minutes after the sun has set because the sky can light up with color when the sun is below the horizon. At the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, however, I headed back after finishing this photograph. My primary interest was on the play of sunlight and shadows on the canyon walls. Once the sun was below the horizon, the entire canyon was in shadow and not as interesting to me.

So I got an early start back to the lodge. But on the way back, the sky began to light up. The clouds illuminated with the beautiful colors of sunset, and I decided I wanted to capture the moment. I was in a position where I could include the lodge in my photograph. I was impressed by the architecture of the lodge on the North Rim. Originally built in 1928, the lodge looked like just another part of the canyon or an extension of it. A goal of many architects of the national park lodges was to make the lodges conform to the landscape, and they succeeded in this case.

So, just as I normally do at sunset, I stayed out until it was dark and made my photograph, which I'm happy to share with you here.

Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim

While I was making this photograph, I had an idea that it might be nice to make a composition similar to this one later in the night when the stars were out and the Milky Way would stretch above the canyon. After my late dinner, I returned to this location, but the clouds were obscuring large portions of the sky. So I decided to experiment instead. I made a very long exposure to capture the clouds streaking across the sky. I also thought it was interesting to capture the light coming from the lodge as the primary source of light in the scene. That light and its reflections lit much of the landscape you can see. The rest was lit by the post-twilight ambient light. This is not a high-quality photograph--it has a lot of noise--but I like it because it was a fun experiment to see what kind of photograph I could make in this location with these weather and light conditions.

Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim on a cloudy night

The next morning I was back to my regular routine, and I made this photograph shortly after sunrise. Once again, the contrast between the shadows and light in the canyon is one of my primary subjects here.

Sunrise at the North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

I had a nice stay at the North Rim, and I’m looking forward to my next adventure and experiment in photography.

Photography at Art Festivals

This year I have participated in several art festivals, and I’ve noticed there are always multiple photographers selling their work at these events. Some photographers lament the competition, but I have no problem with it.

Every photographer is different. We all have different styles and different chosen subjects. Even when the general subject is the same, for example landscape photography, there can be vast differences between artists.

A typical art festival booth setup I use

At the Big Bear Lake Artwalk Festival in July, my booth was directly opposite another photographer’s booth. We are both landscape photographers, but we are very different artists. The color pallets we choose are different. He composes his photographs in completely different ways from the way I compose mine. Our subject matter is different. Not only is the style of our work different, but how we present it is also different. I mat and frame my work. Most of his work was printed on canvas and presented in a gallery wrap format.

This is the wonderful thing about fine art photography. Everybody makes something unique and different from everybody else. Think about this: if you put ten photographers at the edge of the Grand Canyon, give them each a camera, and tell them to make a photograph, you’re going to get ten very different photographs. Most will be of the Grand Canyon, but not necessarily all of them. The photographs of the canyon will all be different. This simple example demonstrates that photography is as much about the person taking the photograph as about the subject, perhaps even more so in artistic photography. It’s about the choices we make and the vision we communicate, not just the subject of the photograph.

Pima Point Panorama, Grand Canyon National Park

My vision is different from everyone else’s vision, and my photographs uniquely reflect and communicate my vision. So when you buy one of my photographs, you’re buying into me, my ideas, and my way of experiencing the world. If my vision and experience resonate with you, you will enjoy my photography that much more.

If I were the only photographer at an art festival, would I sell more pieces? Probably. But despite all the competition at these art festivals--or really because of it--there is a benefit to me. I know that when someone buys a piece from me, they buy it because they truly love it and/or my work in general. I’m not the only game in town, but they chose to buy from me. In other words, my customers are more valuable and meaningful to me because they value my work and me above other artists and their work.

Thanks for taking an interest in my photography. I hope you identify with the unique perspective and vision I bring to my work, and I hope to see you at future art festivals!

Creating Art: The Grand Canyon Desert View Watchtower

On my last trip to Grand Canyon National Park, I visited Desert View in the eastern part of the park on the south rim. At Desert View you will find the Watchtower, which is a stone tower that appears to be much older than it is. It looks like it could be from Medieval times, or at least from a couple of centuries ago, but in reality it was built in 1932.

The Watchtower at Desert View,  Grand Canyon
The Watchtower at Desert View, Grand Canyon

I visited Desert View with the intention of shooting the sunset. Unfortunately, it was perfectly clear, so I wasn’t going to be able to make the kind of sunset photograph I like most. I tried to make the best of it, though. I made the image below that evening. Once I had this image, I did not wait for the sun to drop below the horizon. I was ready to move on.

Sunset from Desert View at the Grand Canyon
Sunset from Desert View at the Grand Canyon

I turned my attention to the Watchtower. The tower is an interesting structure, and I think it offers many opportunities for photography. I am planning a sunset shot that includes both the canyon and the tower, but that will require a more dramatic sky. This night I had only clear skies, so I decided to do something a little different.

I shot the tower with the idea that I might be able to give it a more dramatic look later on in my post-processing. I did a few things to this image to give it this look. First, I selected a picture of gray, stormy clouds from my catalog that I had taken in the past. I blended that image into the tower photo. I then removed almost all the color from the photograph. Next, I used a split toning technique, which involves adding a warm color like yellow or orange to the highlights (the brightest parts of the image), and a cool color like green, blue, or purple to the shadows (the darker parts of the image). That’s a common photographic technique that can create an interesting look in an image. Finally, I made some exposure and contrast adjustments to finish off the photograph.

I like the result. It’s funny because this is not what it was like that night at all. To me this image is dark, gloomy, a little mysterious, and maybe even foreboding. In reality, it was a beautiful, warm, clear evening. My effort was an artistic endeavor in which I reshaped reality to conform to something I imagined, to create something completely different.

It’s amazing what you can do with a little post-processing! In fact, I could have shot the canyon/tower image I mentioned above and then later substituted an appropriate sky from my catalog to create the final image I have in mind. I don’t like doing that, however. In landscape photography I almost never do it. It’s one of the challenges and rewards of landscape photography. You have to be patient, and sometimes it takes multiple trips to get the image you want, but the end result is worth it.

I am not opposed to making dramatic changes to a photograph for artistic purposes, however, and that’s what I did here. It’s a lot of fun to do! When I make the canyon/tower sunset image, though, it will be much closer to reality than this image is.

A Blind Sunrise at Grand Canyon National Park

Sunrise from the south rim of the Grand Canyon
Sunrise from the south rim of the Grand Canyon

On a recent trip to Grand Canyon National Park I shot what I’m calling a blind sunrise, and it was an interesting experience. I wasn’t actually “blind,” but what I mean is that I had not visited the location during the day and had no idea what the landscape was going to be like from that location and therefore no plan for what compositions I would be shooting. Also, since it was a sunrise, I arrived while it was still completely dark, so I had to wait until the start of the sunrise before I could even begin planning. Here’s the full story.

The Grand Canyon is huge. I don’t know what else to say. I arrived in the afternoon and took the shuttle bus out to the first viewpoint on Hermit Road. I walked most of the rim trail toward Hermits Rest, which is the last, western-most viewpoint on the shuttle bus line. There are several viewpoints along that part of the rim trail, and I spent time at each one. It was essentially a scouting expedition. I was looking for the location where I wanted to be for the sunset that night.

Normally I like to scout both sunrise and sunset locations, and frequently I decide to photograph both the sunrise and sunset from the same location. The Grand Canyon is so large, however, that it’s difficult to evaluate all the potential locations in one afternoon. At a place like Bryce Canyon, it’s much easier to do that. When I was at Bryce Canyon, I knew that afternoon the three locations where I wanted to position myself for sunrise and/or sunset. I’m not saying those are the only good locations or that I visited every possible viewpoint in the park, but I had a pretty good idea of what I was interested in shooting over the next couple of days based on the kind of images I had in mind. At Grand Canyon, I couldn’t possibly make that kind of plan in one afternoon.

I could have returned to the same location at sunrise that I had visited at sunset, but I wanted to experience some of the other viewpoints during my trip. Looking at the map, I found three locations on one of the other shuttle bus routes that I had not yet visited which looked like they might provide a good angle for sunrise. I selected one and decided I would go in blind.

The next morning, I took the first shuttle bus to the viewpoint. I stepped out of the bus and walked into the night. It was completely dark. I found the rim trail and headed down to the actual viewpoint. There was no light at all, except for the stars. I knew the Grand Canyon was right in front of me, but it was complete blackness except for the stars. They were extremely bright, and when I looked up I could immediately see the Milky Way. It was plain as day. I sat and waited for some light.

Sunrise from the south rim of the Grand Canyon
Sunrise from the south rim of the Grand Canyon

As the twilight began to develop, I started to see some vague shapes forming in the canyon. As the light increased, more of the landscape of the canyon was revealed. I was now able to plan what compositions I wanted to make once the sun started to rise. As the increasing light slowly illuminated the canyon, it was like a surprise being uncovered before my eyes, and the anticipation made it a fun experience.

In the end, the sunrise was not that great because it was completely clear that morning. But it was still worth it, and I made both of the photographs above. After I finished I went to one of the other potential sunrise locations I had considered. Based on the kind of composition I ended up making, I might have preferred that location. That’s why I like to scout the area first. If I have a certain kind of image in mind, then I can find the best location from which to make that image. I did enjoy this “blind” sunrise experience, however!