The Nature, Wildlife and Pet Photography Forum - Fine Art Landscape Photography

Photographing The Grand Canyon, North Rim

Posted By: James Morrissey

Photographing The Grand Canyon, North Rim - 11/11/16 10:24 PM

James Morrissey joins Steve Kossack and his Work Group on a stunning visit to the Grand Canyon's North Rim for Fall Color.

Posted By: James Morrissey

Re: The Grand Canyon, North Rim - 11/11/16 10:29 PM

This was to be my second trip to the Grand Canyon. I had gone with my wife on our honeymoon, back in 1999, but I sadly did not fall in love. This was mostly because of poor planning on my part. I don't like the heat much and as we were not getting up early, we wound up spending a lot of our time indoors. When we did go out to the Canyon, our views of the spectacular canyon were done it poor light. In short, I did everything wrong. frown Having said that, and in my defense, I have some good company in this as even Francisco Vázquez de Coronado did not think much of the Grand Canyon when explored the area in the 1540s. smile It bothered me though. The Grand Canyon is well known for being one of the natural wonders of the world. I knew that I was supposed to have that sense of microcosm. How could something so amazing fail to leave an impact on me? While we had a great time on our trip, the Grand Canyon really only served as a backdrop for our first adventure of our married life.

When Steven asked if I would help him with his work group, I jumped at it as I knew that it would be a reparative experience, and that I would get a view of the Grand Canyon that I would never see otherwise. Also, I have been reading Cadillac Desert by Mark Reisner recently, and the Grand Canyon is mentioned throughout. I did feel a crush of guilt as I normally reserve that last week of September/beginning of October for Grand Teton National Park. However, I got over it as knew this was going to be something special.

The long and short is that if you have never gone before - go. It is called the Grand Canyon for a reason. Well, mainly because John Wesley Powell said so. If you have the scratch and can afford to go with a work group, I strongly suggest that you consider it. You will see so much more than you can ever dream if you have a competent guide. Even if you are really good and do your research in advance, I will bet that even if you know of places to go that things will get in the way to prevent you from actually getting there. I am very convinced that we drove around all 1900 square miles of the park in the five days we were there. LOL, OK, maybe that is an exaggeration, but traveling with Steve certainly gave me an introduction that I probably would not have gotten otherwise.

This year's work group was special for a couple of different reasons. First, Steve invited everyone to come in the night before for dinner and to share photographs. We also spent a portion of the evening watching an amazing video on the Grand Canyon. The juices were flowing, and we headed out the next morning off for our adventure!

The first night out of Las Vegas, we visited a location overlooking Marble Canyon. Marble Canyon (at least according to Wikipedia) is the section of the Colorado River canyon in northern Arizona from Lee's Ferry to the confluence with the Little Colorado River, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon. As the Canyon was incredibly hazy, and I could not figure a way to make a composition with it, I moved towards photographing this gnarled old tree. I felt that buy giving it prominence in the foreground that I could include parts of the Canyon in the background. Honestly, it does not tell me much about Marble Canyon, but I really like the composition over-all and I just love the colors that were flowing for about 10 minutes.

Marble Canyon at Sunset

The next morning, we were up early, heading out to Point Imperial. Point Imperial is the highest and Northernmost overlook in the Grand Canyon. The monument in the front is called Mount Hayden, named after Charles Trumbull Hayden. Charles Hayden (again, according to Wikipedia) was "an American businessman and probate judge. His influence was felt in the development of Arizona Territory where he helped found both the city of Tempe and Arizona State University." It is a singularly lovely point, and I would love to try to climb up Mount Hayden if time permitted...Fortunately, my fear of heights prevents me from attempting things that may seem like fun but are probably not too wise.

Point Imperial at Sunrise

Point Imperial at Sunrise - Horizontal

It was not until the next morning though that something rare happened. When we got out for sunrise, up at Roosevelt Point, we noticed that the clouds had completely filled the valley. We essentially had two different layers of clouds, one below 8,000 feet and another high above. This phenomenon is called "Total Cloud Inversion." Total Cloud Inversion occurs when warm air aloft traps clouds closer to the surface of the ground. This time around the inversion trapped colder clouds lower in the atmosphere, just below the rim of the canyon, creating billowy white views for miles in all directions in the expanse below. You can thank the Weather Channel for that definition. smile

For those who follow me on Facebook, you have already seen a couple of these Total Cloud Inversion photos. I have shared three in this article that I really like - the first is the actual sunrise photograph, followed by two I took while hiking back to the truck. When I look at this first photo from Roosevelt Point, it almost looks fake to me. While I used a 3 Stop Hard ND card to help keep my highlights, there is surprisingly little post processing that was performed to this photo. A slight levels change and pulling out some dust off the background because I never clean my sensor. I suppose that there is room to kick the exposure a stop or so in post processing, but I like it as is.

Roosevelt Point at Sunrise

While I did not realize quite how rare the Total Cloud Inversion was as an event, I knew that I was witnessing something spectacular. The next two photos are ones that I really think worked, and I am not sure how they would do without the clouds as the flooring. The first photo is probably the most complicated of the compositions I put together during the week. I am really proud of this shot, and if I ever go back, I may try to take it again as the main subject.

Roosevelt Point Shortly after Sunrise

This second photo from Roosevelt Point is something I also rather enjoy. It reminds me of ship sailing on the waters, or perhaps a starship flying through space. The clouds washing off the sides of the bow really look quite lovely to me. Post processing this photo was a bit difficult as the shadows were deep, and the highlights were getting pierced by the sun. I had to do some Shadow/Highlights in order to keep everything the way I wanted to. I hope it does not look artificial.

Roosevelt Point Shortly after Sunrise

Another great thing about workshops is that you spend a lot of time shooting at times when you might be tempted to take time off. Come on - admit it - you take the late morning and early afternoon off. Well, maybe you don't, but I do. I look forward to that nap time. Having said that, I probably would not have taken many of these beautiful lush fall photos had I been closeted in my tent. I had never expected the Grand Canyon to have such an abundance of greenery and foliage. It was just beautiful.

Mid Day Shooting, Trees on the way to Fence Point

Mid Day Shooting, Fall Foliage

The last of this series is my favorite of the foliage photos. I realize that the long, thin aspens photo has been photographed ad nauseum by virtually everyone, but I really liked how the sidelight was hitting into the aspens. I would be happy if it were on my wall.

Mid Day Shooting, Fall Follage

Viewing the beautiful light and dramatic scenery from the Grand Canyon, it is hard not to think of larger metaphysical questions. I know that some of my fundamentalist friends (really, I do have them) want me to believe that the earth is about 7017 years old....but looking into the depths of the Grand Canyon, and seeing what is obviously the erosion of layers of earth that must have taken thousands and millions of years, it is hard to believe that such explanations are satisfying. It all seems so inadequate to me. A recent article in the Smithsonian indicates that the Grand Canyon started as a series of smaller ones about 70,000,000 years ago. It is just mind blowing to think about time in that kind of way and really how insignificant each of us really is in the grand spectrum of the earth. It spun before us, and it surely will spin after we are all gone.

Fence Point, Mid Day Shooting

Another nice thing about photographing on a workshop (at least one of Kossack's) is that you get to spend time going places that you might not consider going to. To say that he has an intimate knowledge of the parks is an understatement. I have experienced this time and time again - whether it was in Canyon Lands, Death Valley, Glacier or Yosemite... The Grand Canyon was no different. During the short time that we were in the Grand Canyon, we hit many of the off road sites. We went to a variety of places including (but not limited to): Marble Canyon, Fence Point, Swamp and Point Sublime. Without having a competent guide, I might not have tried to navigate these trails on my own. This is particularly true given the weather we were having during the late morning and afternoons. It was raining cats and dogs...and while that might be fun as a concept, you cannot get the shutter fast enough to catch them.

If we had chosen to bag the afternoon, as I would have been sorely tempted if I were hanging out with Chanthee alone, I would not have gotten one of the most lovely photographs of the trip from Point Sublime. It was raining so hard that some of the members of the group were concerned because the roads were muddy (but hardly impassable) and the rain was intense. We sat for at least an hour and a half or two staring into an intense wall of deep fog...until it broke, about 10 minutes before sunset. At first it was some dramatic breaks in the fog until it cleared and we had a spectacular view of what really is a Grand Canyon.

Point Sublime at Sunset

The last evening was spent at Cape Royal, one of the premier park locations. I honestly had a difficult time getting my bearings for some reason, even though we had some good light. I just could not figure out what I wanted to do. I know that I should not be admitting this, but it is true. This is ultimately what I came up with - though I wish I had followed the light here 10 minutes earlier. Over-all, I believe that it was a very successful week for what turned out to be my first real visit.

Cape Royal

Thanks again to my friend, Steve Kossack, for trusting me with assisting him on his workshop. Want to learn more about Steve? Check out his website at:

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Posted By: James Morrissey

Re: The Grand Canyon, North Rim - 11/17/16 06:25 PM

If you like the article, please share it where you believe it is appropriate to do so. We appreciate the traffic. smile However, I want to add a friendly reminder that the article and images are (c) 2016. If you like any of the images and want to use them, please reach out to me directly and we can discuss it.

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