Preparing for you Grand Canyon Photography Trip
Remember the “6Ps”…Proper Prior Planning Promotes Peak Performance!
I’ve prepared this brief guide to assist you in planning & preparing for your photography trip to the Grand Canyon. Being photographers we tend to obsess over our gear. Equally as important as bringing the right camera gear, is bringing the right personal gear to best cope with the high-desert environment of northern Arizona.
Besides bringing your camera and a selection of lenses, your gear selection will revolve around when you are visiting. While we know that in most of Arizona the temperature gets pretty hot, and that it’s hot for most of the year, the reality is that northern Arizona and especially the Grand Canyon are not like the rest of the state.
Temperatures on the rim of the canyon can be range from summer highs in the low 90°s to winter lows well below freezing. This is due to the elevation on the canyon’s rim. The South Rim is ranges from 6,700′ 7,500′ feet, and the North Rim ranges from 8,000′ to 8,803′ at it’s highest point, Point Imperial. The high altitude keeps things relatively cool, and quite pleasant during most of the summer.
During the summer months, the high temperatures can be in the 80s (27-32°C), with early morning temperatures occasionally dipping into the 40s (4-9°C). June is the hottest month at the canyon, and temperatures can get into the 90°s. Due to the high altitude there is less atmosphere to block out the sun. Be sure to bring a sunhat and plenty of sunscreen. The sun is intense here and you can get a sunburn very quickly.
From mid-July through mid-September the Grand Canyon and most of the American Southwest sees a major shift in the weather patterns with the arrival of the Southwest Monsoon. This period typically has afternoon thunderstorms with brief periods of heavy rain. This is also the time of year when the storms tend to produce lightning and rainbows. If visiting during the monsoon, I recommend coming equipped with a lightning trigger for your camera and lots of batteries & memory cards!
The rim of the canyon can be very cold during the winter months, and I have seen temperatures go below freezing as early as September and as late as May. I’ve experienced temperatures as low as -20F in the morning just before sunrise. Winter also brings the chance of snow with the South Rim averaging about 60″ of snowfall annually.
It’s important to come prepared with the right clothing. This means dressing in layers, and to have a warm winter coat, hat, and gloves. Footwear is also important, and I recommend hiking boots and warm wool socks. REI has a wonderful page dedicated to learning How to Layer Clothes for a winter environment.
Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to reach the park. In good weather the drive is 4.5 hours from Las Vegas and about 4 hours from Phoenix. It could take much longer if it’s snowing around Flagstaff and the northern Arizona region. There is always the chance that if a major storm system impacts the region, the park may close certain roads such as the Hermit Road or the Desert View until they have been plowed and cleared of snow and ice, and are once again safe to travel on. Yes, we’re still talking about Arizona here.
So…what equipment should I have?
I’ve prepared the equipment checklist below. It covers most of the essentials that you should have so that you can have a great experience photographing the Grand Canyon!
✅ Camera body of your choice
✅ Lenses…16mm to 300mm (full frame cameras)
✅ Lenses…12mm to 200mm (APS-C crop cameras)
✅ Camera batteries – 1 per day
✅ Battery charger for your camera
✅ Extra memory cards
✅ Circular Polarizer filters to fit all of your lenses
✅ Sturdy Tripod & Ballhead
✅ Rain cover for the camera
✅ Rain cover for the camera pack
✅ Camp towel (or chamois cloth) to wipe rain and/or snow from the camera
✅ Lens cleaning supplies such as a LensPen and Rocket Blower
✅ A photo backpack to carry everything in!
Additional Accessories I use in making my own photos
✅ Lightning Trigger
✅ Singh-Ray 2-stop soft-edge Galen Rowell graduated neutral density filter*
✅ Singh-Ray 3-stop soft-edge Galen Rowell graduated neutral density filter*
* I am now using Lightroom CC to merge multiple bracketed images into one photo. I still use the graduated neutral density filters for my panoramas. My workshop participants can get 10% off your Singh-Ray order with the code Schallau10.
✅ Cell phone & car charger
✅ Reusable water bottle or CamelBak
✅ Snacks for the day
✅ ChapStick/Lip Balm
✅ Headlamp…with extra batteries
✅ Local Area Map
✅ Full tank of gas
Recommended clothing (year round)
✅ Good hiking shoes or boots (no sandals, please)
✅ Quick-dry hiking pants
✅ Full-brim hat to keep the sun off your face
✅ Mid-weight jacket such as a fleece jacket
✅ Rain Jacket
Recommended clothing (Winter)
✅ Warm jacket or coat
✅ Winter hat
✅ Warm gloves
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