πŸ“Έ Grand Canyon Photography Guide: Best Spots & Tips (2024)

Grand Canyon Photography: Best Locations for Sunrise, Sunset & Night Sky Photos blog post cover.  Text overlaying an image of the Grand Canyon at sunset.

As beautiful as the Grand Canyon is, trying to capture such a grand vista in a photograph is a grandiose challenge.

Personally, I came away from my first two trips mostly disappointed with my still-frame memories. It was not until my third visit as the Chief Exploration Officer for the National Park Foundation that I finally had it figured out!

I have created this photography guide to Grand Canyon National Park for first-time visitors to share what I learned over multiple trips.

This includes the best locations for photographing sunrise, sunset, and night skies, as well as my favorite viewpoints on both the North and South Rims.

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πŸŒ„ Best Locations for Grand Canyon Sunrise Photography

Grandview Point on the South Rim is perhaps the best location for sunrise in the Grand Canyon.
Grandview Point on the South Rim is perhaps the best location for sunrise in the Grand Canyon.

The following viewpoints and trails provide clear views to the east with interesting foregrounds, making them the best locations to photograph sunrise in the Grand Canyon.

Generally, sunrise is better from the Grand Canyon North Rim as most viewpoints are easterly facing. This means you will have more options for including the canyon in your foreground for sunrise, which is important in capturing the essence of the national park.


πŸŒ… Grand Canyon North Rim Sunrise Locations

Most viewpoints dotting the North Rim scenic drive provide fantastic views of sunrise over the Grand Canyon. None are bad options, but these below provide the best compositions for sunrise photography.

Point Imperial

Point Imperial on the Grand Canyon North Rim is an incredible location to photograph sunrise.
Point Imperial on the Grand Canyon North Rim is an incredible location to photograph sunrise.

This is among the most iconic viewpoints of the Grand Canyon. It is my favorite foreground for sunrise photography in the North Rim section of the park.

While the sun will not rise directly in line with the scenery, it casts beautiful directional light on the intriguing rock layers.

Quite often, the clouds will be coming from the Southeast, which means you are likely to get a lot of color in the sky from Point Imperial and can avoid the challenge of shooting directly into the sun.


Vista Encantada

Vista Encantada has the most direct view of sunrise on the North Rim.
Vista Encantada has the most direct view of sunrise on the North Rim.

This popular picnic area has the most direct view of the eastern horizon to capture the sun rising over the Grand Canyon.

There is also an isolated rock formation to provide a subject for your photos.

While this is the best option for capturing the sun crossing the horizon directly aligned with the scenery, the unfortunate thing about photographing sunrise at Vista Encantada is that you have a very narrow viewpoint. This means that if the interesting clouds are to any direction besides due-East, you will not be able to put them in a usable frame.


Cape Royal

Cape Royal is the best viewpoint for sunset photography on the North Rim, but is great for sunrise photography as well.
Cape Royal is the best viewpoint for sunset photography on the North Rim, but is great for sunrise photography as well.

Most landscape photographers would agree that Cape Royal is the best viewpoint in all of Grand Canyon National Park!

Cape Royal is the only location that provides sweeping views to the east, south, and west. The south-facing and west-facing foregrounds are the most interesting, but there are plenty of strong compositions for framing a sunrise photo to the east as well.

The most compelling reason to choose Cape Royal for your Grand Canyon sunrise location is that you have the most compositions available for chasing the light and clouds in whichever direction gets the best light and color.

The biggest drawback is that the view to the east where the sun will be rising is probably the least impressive foreground for this particular viewpoint.


Bright Angel

Bright Angel Point is popular, but not where I recommend photographing sunrise or sunset.
Bright Angel Point is popular, but not where I recommend photographing sunrise or sunset.

I wanted to make sure this was included on the list only so readers didn’t think I forgot about it. It is scratched out because while it has a reputation for being a premium spot for sunrise and sunset, I would only recommend it for those who are staying in the North Rim campground and don’t feel like making a lot drive up the scenic road.

For everyone else, the locations mentioned are far superior for sunrise pictures.

πŸ”Ž READ MORE:
Complete Guide to Grand Canyon North Rim


πŸ“Έ Grand Canyon South Rim Sunrise Locations

The South Rim viewpoints are mostly favorable for sunset. However, there is one that offers incredible views for sunrise photography as well.

In fact, my personal favorite place in the entire Grand Canyon National Park for sunrise is, surprisingly, on the South Rim…


Grandview Point

Sunrise photography from Grandview Point on the Grand Canyon South Rim.
Sunrise from Grandview Point on the Grand Canyon South Rim.

I consider Grandview Point the best location for sunrise photography in Grand Canyon National Park, North Rim or South Rim!

What makes this spot so special is that there are sweeping views with multiple foregrounds, allowing the photographer to choose their favorite frame depending on where the light is best as the sun rises.

This overlook requires no hike and is located only 20 minutes from Mather Campground where most overnight visitors will be camping.

A photo showing angular light kissing the distant "temples" from Grandview Point at sunrise.
Angular light kisses the distant “temples” from Grandview Point at sunrise.

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πŸŒ… Best Locations for Grand Canyon Sunset Photography

Most people find the South Rim better for photographing sunset as more of the views over the canyon are west-facing from the South Rim.

However, while there may be more options on the South Rim, my favorite location for sunset photography in Grand Canyon NP is once again located in the North Rim section.


πŸ₯Ύ Grand Canyon North Rim Sunset Locations

Known more for sunrise than sunset, the Grand Canyon North Rim still has some magical vistas to watch the sun go down.

Below are what I consider the best destinations for photographing sunset in Grand Canyon National Park.


Cape Royal

A panoramic photograph of the Grand Canyon at sunset from Cape Royal on the North Rim. Cape Royal is the best composition for sunset photography in Grand Canyon National Park.
Cape Royal on the North Rim is my favorite composition for sunset photography in Grand Canyon National Park.

In my opinion, Cape Royal is the absolute best place for Grand Canyon sunset photography in the entire national park.

From Cape Royal, there is a thrilling view to the west with a beautiful foreground that aligns precisely with where the sun will be setting.

Additionally, there’s an incredible landscape to the south that catches all the light and shadow play from the setting sun.

As the angular sunset light spills in, the layers and colors of the canyon start to reveal themselves and become accentuated.

Photographing the changing color palette of the Grand Canyon at sunset from Cape Royal.
Photographing the changing color palette of the Grand Canyon at sunset from Cape Royal.

The other benefit to shooting at Cape Royal is that if you get an incoming rain cloud, it will likely be from the southeast. These rain clouds tend to get the best color at sunset.

From Cape Royal, you have three cardinal directions to shoot toward meaning you are sure to get something for the trophy-wall no matter where the light is best!


Bright Angel Viewpoint

Daytime photography from Bright Angel viewpoint on the Grand Canyon north rim.

While it is not my favorite, the westerly views from Bright Angel are strong enough and are the most accessible, making it the most popular spot for sunset on the North Rim.

It is this popularity and ease of access, however, that steers me away. The place can become an absolute zoo at sunset which steals from the magic.


Walhalla Overlook

Walhalla Overlook is a good option for capturing the reverse-sunset colors that often occur in the Grand Canyon.
Walhalla Overlook is a good option for capturing the reverse-sunset colors that often occur in the Grand Canyon.

The views from Walhalla Overlook are among my favorite in all of Grand Canyon NP. The reason it is low on this list is that it is primarily southeast facing, meaning you cannot see the sunset directly.

That said, you often get the best cloud color in this direction meaning you can capture a beautiful foreground with a colorful sky if conditions are right.

You will be able to tell a couple of hours before sunset whether or not there are incoming rain clouds.

If you see blue skies to the west with whispy clouds to the east and have already photographed at Cape Royal, consider taking in a sunset from Walhalla Overlook instead. If you have not yet shot at Cape Royal, however, that should definitely be Plan A!


πŸ“Έ Grand Canyon South Rim Sunset Locations

Hopi Point on the South Rim is the best place to enjoy Grand Canyon sunset photography.
Hopi Point on the South Rim is the best place to enjoy Grand Canyon sunset photography.

I don’t think there is a single viewpoint along the Grand Canyon South Rim that does not provide clear views to the west for sunset photography. In that regard, the possibilities are endless for where you want to set up your tripod.

However, many of the vistas provide limited views or uninspired foregrounds. Below are the most popular and best locations for Grand Canyon sunset photography on the South Rim.


Desert View Watchtower

The Desert View Watchtower is a popular destination for sunset photography in Grand Canyon NP.
The Desert View Watchtower is a popular destination for sunset photography in Grand Canyon NP.

Expect a crowd at this iconic South Rim sunset destination! The Watchtower provides an interesting subject for photos, but can only be framed facing away from the sun. This makes it somewhat challenging to include in photos.

There are really two main compositions at Desert View. The first is facing away from the sun and featuring the Watchtower and/or the winding Colorado River, as seen above.

The other option is to face directly into the sun and focus on the canyon layers and golden horizon instead. Depending on how much sky interest presents itself, there may be opportunities to shoot wider or even pano your shot to include more scenery.

If there is not a lot of sky interest, consider zooming in tight to focus on the natural contrast of the light and shadow play on the canyon as the sun sets.
If there is not a lot of sky interest, consider zooming in tight to focus on the natural contrast of the light and shadow play on the canyon as the sun sets.

Hopi Point / Powell Point

Golden light spills into the Grand Canyon at sunset from Hopi Point.
Golden light spills into the Grand Canyon at sunset from Hopi Point.

Hopi Point is the best location for photographing sunset along the Grand Canyon NP South Rim. This is one of the few viewpoints that offers open views spanning west, north, and east, with interesting foregrounds available in all directions.

Having such open views and a scene that features the Colorado River, numerous “temples”, horseshoe formations, and massive crevices is every Grand Canyon photographer’s dream.

As the light changes and different sections gain or lose interest, simply rotate the camera in the direction of the most interesting color and you will discover yet another fantastic frame.

Colorful sunset clouds over the Grand Canyon from the South Rim.
As the light and color changes, swivel the tripod to find other interesting sunset compositions.

Be aware that Hopi Point can only be reached by shuttle bus! Some will stop directly at the parking lot, while others will only stop at nearby Powell Point.

Powell Point is pretty as well, but I strongly recommend walking 5-10 minutes across to Hopi Point instead.

Shuttles typically run for up to an hour following sunset, so you will have no trouble getting back after dark.

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🌌 Best Locations for Grand Canyon Night Photography

The North Rim is the best place in Grand Canyon National Park for Night Photography.
The North Rim is the best place in Grand Canyon National Park for Night Photography.

If you are planning on photographing the Milky Way over the Grand Canyon, you will be needing southerly views. Depending on the exact time of year, this could be anywhere between Southeast (spring), due South (summer), or Southwest (fall).

Accordingly, the Grand Canyon North Rim is the best place in the park for Milky Way photography. Most overlooks and vistas provide clear views of the canyon to the south.

While you can still enjoy astrophotography from the South Rim, you cannot capture the Galactic Core over the canyon from anywhere in this section of the park.

I captured all of the pictures below at night using a technique called stacking.


Point Imperial

Grand Canyon Milky Way photography from Point Imperial on the North Rim.
Grand Canyon Milky Way photography from Point Imperial on the North Rim.

Point Imperial is a great spot for sunrise, but an even better spot for Milky Way photography in Grand Canyon!

The prevalent rock formation at Point Imperial is due Southeast from the lookout point. This means the Milky Way will be visible directly above your scene for most of the year, stretching horizontally across the horizon.

There is a bit of light pollution coming from the South Rim and Flagstaff, but it does not distract from the photo and can be easily corrected in post-processing.


Walhalla Overlook

Self-portrait of the Milky Way rising over the Grand Canyon from Walhalla Overlook.
Self-portrait of the Milky Way rising over the Grand Canyon from Walhalla Overlook.

There are actually 3 viewpoints at Walhalla Overlook; one from right in the parking lot, another from an elevated walkway, and one from a small, hidden trail.

All of the views look out toward the same section of the canyon, but still provide somewhat-unique compositions.

Of those available, my favorite views were from the elevated walkway and from the hidden trail located just to the left of the trail.


Cape Royal

Astrophotography from Cape Royal Point in the Grand Canyon National Park North Rim.
Astrophotography from Cape Royal Point.

It should be no surprise that my favorite location for sunrise and sunset is also one of the best locations for Grand Canyon night photography.

The Cape Royal viewpoint requires a short walk in the dark, but the whole path is clearly visible and easily traversable.

The best composition features a horseshoe-shaped rock wall facing south from the Cape Royal trail’s end. During the late spring and summer months, the Milky Way will stretch vertically behind the formation, featuring the galactic core prominently.

🐿 Wildlife Photography in Grand Canyon NP

An adorable squirrel in front of the Colorado River from the Grand Canyon South Rim.
An adorable squirrel in front of the Colorado River from the Grand Canyon South Rim.

While wildlife photography is not my speciality, nor do I have the proper equipment for it, there are some great opportunities to partake in Grand Canyon NP.

For the most part, you will be photographing small animals such as birds, deer, squirrels (including the rare Kaibab squirrel, if you’re lucky), and very rarely cougars and black bears can be seen as well.

In addition, there is a California Condor couple that nests near Hopi Point on the South Rim, giving you a chance to see these extremely endangered avine!

Have a telephoto lens ready and please do not feed or touch the wildlife!

🎞 Essential Photography Equipment for Photographing Grand Canyon

Disclosure: At no cost to you, we receive a small amount for any purchases made using the links below.


Camera / Tripod

Using the tripod for a self-portrait on the rim of the Grand Canyon.
Using the tripod for a self-portrait on the rim of the Grand Canyon.

It is possible to capture some great photos nowadays with smartphones. However, for the best possible photos you will want to consider a camera with manual settings.

If you are interested in night photography, storm photography, or capturing sunrise/sunset, you will need a tripod. Additionally, those of you traveling alone will need one if you want to be in your photos!

Photographing sunrise/sunset at the Grand Canyon often requires exposure blending as the sky will be brightly lit and colorful while the canyon is entirely in shadow. A tripod is essential for this.

Recommended Tripod

When traveling, we use the Manfrotto Be Free as it’s lightweight and easy to carry on longer hikes. For times when we require something more stable, we use the Artcise Carbon Fiber Tripod. If you’re just starting out and want something cheaper, then this Amazon basic tripod is a good starter tripod.

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Lenses

This 15mm F2 wide angle lens was used for a lot of night photography in Grand Canyon.
This 15mm F2 wide angle lens was used for a lot of night photography in Grand Canyon.

Many of you reading are wondering what are the best lenses for photographing the Grand Canyon.

Obviously, wildlife photographers will be bringing the usual telephoto lenses. However, landscape photographers will likely find themselves shooting mostly wide angle.

Personally, I was carrying a 24-105mm lens and found myself shooting in the 24-35mm range most frequently during the day, though I also took a lot of photos with my 15mm.

The wide-angle prime lens featured in the photo above was used a lot! Note that these focal distances are for full-frame cameras. For APS-C sensors, you should expect to use the standard 18-55mm lens that is included with most camera bodies.

Recommended Lenses

I recommend leaving the telephoto lenses at home unless you are not worried about hauling them around. Of the common full-frame lenses, I believe the 16-35mm to be the best choice for Grand Canyon photography, followed closely by the 24-70mm.

READ MORE: Best travel lenses for Sony a7iii and other Sony Alpha cameras


Filters

Side by side comparison of a photo of the Grand Canyon with and without a polarizing filter.
Unpolarized (left) vs Polarized (right).
Notice how the CPL filter cuts the haze and brings out the color and detail in the photo on the right.

You will absolutely want to bring a good Circular Polarizing Filter (CPL) to cut through the insane haze of the Grand Canyon and bring out the color in the canyon walls.

You will be blown away by the difference between a polarized and non-polarized photo, particularly during daylight hours.

The best CPL and ND filters we have found are the Quartzline from Polar Pro.

πŸ“· Personal Best Grand Canyon Pictures

Below are some of my favorite pictures from my time in the Grand Canyon.

Unfortunately, I was not gifted with any major lightning storms during my visits, which is the one thing I would like to see most!

Still, I have always walked away with some shots that I enjoy and wanted to share those for inspiration.

  • Grand Canyon NP Photo

*If you are not seeing a photo slideshow above, you will need to change your browser settings or skip this section

🏜 More Arizona & Southwest Travel Guides

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below πŸ™‚

If you are visiting Grand Canyon National Park as part of a larger Southwest road trip, you may be interested in some of these other related guides. They cover nearby gems, other national parks, and more.

Arizona Guides

Destinations near Grand Canyon NP

πŸ’¬ Final Thoughts on Grand Canyon Photography

The Grand Canyon is an inspiring place for landscape photographers.
The Grand Canyon is an inspiring place for landscape photographers.

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below πŸ™‚

It is no wonder that Grand Canyon National Park lures in photographers from around the world and is considered one of the premier destinations for landscape photography.

With opportunities to capture this incredible natural marvel long after the sun has set, there is never a bad time to visit or photograph.

Please understand that I photograph and process my photos according to my taste, as I recommend you should as well! Even if they do not speak to you, the information provided will hopefully allow you to plan a successful visit with camera in hand.

If, however, you find anything inaccurate or out-of-date, please let us know in the comments below… or, just say something nice to be nice!

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Written by
Adam Marland is a professional travel blogger and landscape photographer from Oregon. After over a decade of experience as a freelance travel photographer, Adam found national acclaim when he became the National Park Foundation's β€œChief Exploration Officer” in 2021.

6 thoughts on “πŸ“Έ Grand Canyon Photography Guide: Best Spots & Tips (2024)”

  1. Great read, thank you! I have been to the Grand many times but have never really organized my stay. I have never been to Hermit’s rest and now am very excited to do that shuttle bus route as well as the reverse on the Desert Tower.

    Reply
  2. Adam-

    Super thanks for a terrific summary. Fortunately, I have an upcoming trip to the Grand Canyon planned in a few months and really want to make the most of the photography opportunities on the south rim. Your guide really seems terrific. It echoes a lot of things I found on other sites, but goes into much greater detail. Super thanks for all the great insights. Love your photos!!!!
    Cheers!
    PWT

    β€œTaking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.’
    Marc Riboud

    Reply
    • Oh this is just so mice to read – thank you truly for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful reply. I hope you get good conditions and come home with some true visual treasures to remember your trip by πŸ™‚

      Reply

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