Shadow and light

The Best Time to Enjoy Bryce Canyon National Park

As a landscape photographer, I find myself working mostly around sunrise and sunset. In general, these are the best times to make landscape photographs because of the beautiful and colorful light they provide. At Bryce Canyon National Park, however, I mostly prefer to work around sunrise.

Shadows and Light at Sunrise, Bryce Canyon National Park

The main reason I prefer sunrise is because more of the Bryce amphitheater gets the earliest light. At sunset, except in a few areas, the entire amphitheater is in shadow well before the sun has set. Under these conditions, the light is flat and dull. We really want that rich, golden light to fall on the rock formations to help bring out their deep orange and red colors.

Here’s an example, which I made very shortly after sunrise. The sun only shines on the right side of the highest formations. Another benefit of this time of day, which you can see here, is that a lot of the golden morning light reflects around and helps bring out the color of the surrounding hoodoos. It creates a glowing effect. This photograph has depth because of the play of light and shadow, and these kinds of scenes are more plentiful in the morning.

Morning light begins to illuminate the hoodoos, Bryce Canyon National Park

There are certainly good opportunities at sunset as well. Here’s one example from the first night of my trip last month. Here, the last bit of light on the landscape lights up the features in the distance, opposite of where the amphitheater is located. The sky, of course, is still getting light, which provides the benefit of having the sunset colors bouncing off the clouds in this photograph.

Evening Clouds Over Bryce, Bryce Canyon National Park

It is easier for me to find great photographs to make at Bryce during sunrise, however, so I prefer that time. This photograph, which I made from Bryce Point at sunrise during a previous visit, best illustrates my point. Look how much of the amphitheater on the left side of photograph is illuminated in the early morning light. To see the corresponding photograph at sunset, take a look at this blog article, and you will see exactly what I’m talking about.

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.