Shooting the Grand Canyon
I have a Nikon D80 with the 18-135 kits lens. My wife and I are going to the Grand Canyon in June. I'm a beginner, of course, so I would like some suggestions what would be the best technique to use while taking something like the Grand Canyon, such as ampeture, shutter speed, ISO setting, etc. I do understand what these settings do. I also know there's "stitching" software to create a panoramic view..

Any way, suggestions? Do you have any sample pics with your settings?.


Comments (12)

If you are going to the grand casnyon n p in even june be aware of the heat. it is hot. and the floor is 30 degrees hotter than the rim temps..

You can take you pics any time of day. the views to interior of the canyon are limited from the rim. and the interior is dimly light except at midday when the sun can shine down into the canyon. otherwise the early or mid morning time or afternnoon time are best for the shadows. you should find that the 18mm end of your zoom should work, BUT BARELY. think about buying a 12-24mm or like size before you go.

And changed to a telephoto zoom only when needed..

There is a BLUE HOUR of lighting conditions during the day; it it just the hr before sunset when the sun is shining sideways. all light shifts in the spectrum towards the blue end. it is quite amazing, try to get some shots then..

If you want to try to get a panorama, my next reply is a pano how to. a pano might be the only way to get the full splendor and size of the canyon in one image. I know that I wever went back I would definately try for a pano. try not to go over 120 degrees in the pano, it causes straight line distorsion problems..

You are looking at a static scene so high shutter speeds are not needed. 1/125 or 1/250 is all you need. your fstop should be in the f8.0-f11.0 range for max sharpness. beyond f11 you start to see the beginning of diffraction distorsion. so if needed up the shutter but max out the fstop at f11.0 for max IQ and sharpness..

If you intend to shoot some panos be sure to bring a tripod and cable release. currently when my wife and I travel and I bring my camera gear and ALWAYS have the tripod..

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Comment #1

To do panoramas-.

For panoramas- -use tripod. you must keep it level with the horizon. if your tripod does not have a level builtin then buy one that slides into your flash hotshoe. again make a max effort to get the camera level..

-for exposure. set the exposure by pressing halfway and noteing the fstop and shutter speed. you are trying to find the brightest part of you panorama scene to be. once you have found the brightest check the fstop and shutter speed. put camera into manual metering mode and use those settings. do not change them for any part of the panorama..

-lens selection. I shoot mine with a 20mm. the angle of view wasn't wide enough. note: SHOOT THE LENS VERTICALLY. this is the only way to get some vertical scene, otherwise the panorama will be shaped like a hotdog. this is why I went to a 20mm.

My tripod has degrees engraved in the mount, I was shooting at only a 15 degree spread and in looking at the shots before stiching there wasn't that much overlap. I later shot panoramas with 35mm 50mm; the hot dog effect was more pronounced. the panorama itself did work..

-determine in advance the center point of the scene and try to go X number of shots on each side of it. for me with my setup a 120 degree scene is 7 shots; the center and 3 on each side. if I go with a 35mm lens then a 120degree scene will take 13 shots. no matter what lens you use realize that you are adding only 33% new scene with every shot, the rest is overlap for the right and left adjoining shots. the only exceptions are the end shots in the whole scene. it is possible to add another row above and/or below the first one.

You must make sure that there are no gaps..

- I stick my hand in front of the lens and shoot, then shoot the panorama, the 7 shots, then put hand in front of lens and shoot. later I know that everything between hands is the panorama..

-i have used cs2 or the panorama factory software to make the panorama. for either couldn't be simpler simply select the shots and it does the work. this is where using a level pays off. the software is leveling the scene to make the long rectangcal, but if the scene was not as level as possible in the first place the vertical becomes less and less(you end up with hotdog shape). so having the tripod and camera level is very important. also when mount and shooting vertically make sure the camera really is vertical, carefully check by looking threw the viewfinder.

-on focusing- what I do is to simply preset the 20mm lems at infinity, because of depth of field everything from 5.64ft to infinity is in focus at f11.0 distance 200ft. you can also use a hyperfocal focus setup. but thanks to the DOF table, just setting the lens at infinity is simpler. -i left WB alone, that is set at AWB; or you can use a preset setting like sunny or cloudy, but once set donot change it till panorama shots are done..

-online depth of field calculator available here-

-parallax error. It is usually not so much a problem outdoor shooting. This is because the distances are greater than inside. In any event if you shoot panorams outside and at short distrances OR any inside any building, you should be thinking of getting a panorama tripod head. This is to eliminate parallax error. inside pano need to be shot with a pano head.

-for panoramas, the software I use is either panorama factory orPTGui or cs2. the one that works best for me is PTGui. I have since gotton PTGuiPRO, expensive but worth it. has many features and abilities that the other software does not have, including the ability to process 360 and 720degree spherical panoramas, plus many projection types..

Below were shot with the above instructions..

Mackinaw straights and bridge. michigan usa. made from 28 shots, 14 shots in ach of 2 rows. this is on my wall as 12x45inch pano. 70mm lens..

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The pond across from my mother's condo. 20mm lens. it is currently on her wall as a 12x36inch pano..

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Comment #2


Thank you very much for the detailed explanation. I will look into getting another lens, but I just bought this camera so it might it might be difficult to spend more money, but probably worth it.  .

How much was your lens if you dont mind me asking? Or a lens similar? Lens suggestion..

Thanks again Gary..

Comment #3

Just got back from the Canyon a few weeks ago..

Already TONS of good info here, just wanted to add that with all the natural beauty there, I found it tough to capture! Took hundreds of shots, sunset, sunrise, pano, etc. and I've only seen a few 'keepers' from the lot of them. Posted one here a few days ago-

Perhaps a Circular Polarizer would have helped me, since I had to do some PP to get the skies back to being really blue there.Had a great time there, saw most of what the South Rim had to offer....

Stay hydrated! You'll be at 7,000 feet also, so be aware of the altitude if you're not used to it.More later if I can think of anything,Jon.

Give me something to shoot..

Comment #4

Besides the good advice already given, there are a number of sites dedicated to panorama shooting so some time Googling would be well spent..

Although it's usually less apparent with landscapes, most lenses have varying degrees of distortion from one end of the zoom range to the other. Doing some checking with architectural subjects - lots of lines that should be straight - will help you see what happens with the lens you have. Also tilt up or down or not shooting at 90 degrees to the surfaces will increase the convergence effects..

Time of day makes a difference. Besides the change of colors as the sun is near the horizon, the lower the angle of the sun to the horizon, the more pronounced the shadows that will be cast by terrain features. At or close to "high noon," besides being hot, the sun coming straight down on the landscape won't cast the shadows and the terrain definition is not nearly so apparent or dramatic..

At any of the parks you'd be visiting, the rangers will typically be very familiar with good spots for photogrpahy. Of course, that does mean that you may not be "alone" at these good but not so secret spots. I seem to recall some ranger led "photography" type walks at Grand Canyon. Checking the offerings at any of the visitor centers is a good idea..

If a member of AAA, try to get the "Indian Country" map. It's a handy guide and lists the major nationa and state parks and monuments, etc., in the greater area...

Comment #5

Hey Guys,.

Thanks for all your feedback, very valuable information. I will definitely take all your tips and try them out..

Thanks again..

Comment #6

We did the Grand Canyon and drove to the edge, took a helicopter ride and drove around the South side as we were traveling east. What camera? Any will do, a wide angle is useful but with digital and stitching you can get around that..

Here's a picture I took, I think it was with D70 but it was some years ago now and could have been with an Olympus p&s and stitched..

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Pigxel wrote:.

I have a Nikon D80 with the 18-135 kits lens. My wife and I aregoing to the Grand Canyon in June. I'm a beginner, of course, so iwould like some suggestions what would be the best technique to usewhile taking something like the Grand Canyon, such as ampeture,shutter speed, ISO setting, etc. I do understand what these settingsdo. I also know there's "stitching" software to create a panoramicview..

Any way, suggestions? Do you have any sample pics with your settings?.


Why can't you blow bubbles with chewing gum?..

Comment #7




The last one is my wide angle zoom. it works. it gives good pics, and I have no complaints. it also is a lens that is made for FF and Csensor. it will work on both...

Comment #8

Either Autostitch or PTGui. I only use PTGui now as it the better of the two.Jules.

Why can't you blow bubbles with chewing gum?..

Comment #9

1. Use a tripod.2. Use the lowest ISO your cam has, for max detail, min. noise..

3. Ignore shutter speed (The Canyon hardly moves; and clouds move too slowly to matter. Nearby bushes in the wind, and critters are another story.).

4. Use the aperture for creative control. There must be a "sweet spot" for your lens regarding f-stop..

5. For Panos, do your best to shoot "level" horizontallly. Preferably near the "telephoto" end of your zoom, to avoid any edge distortions, while you're trying to match adjacent photos into a pano later.Good luck! You'll need clouds, to make the Grand Canyon grand indeed.Sorry, been there 5 times but all BD (before digital) so no pics are posted.RUcrAZ..

Comment #10

I have the standard lens that came with the camera 18-135. I don't know what the sweet spot is for the F stop..


Comment #11

The sweet spot for max IQ and sharpness for any lens, unless you have access to a lens test, is 2-3 fstops closed down from wide open OR rpt OR f8.0 if you do not know..

Personally, I just use f8.0 and not worry about it...

Comment #12

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