A Starry Evening at the Grand Canyon

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G | 5 sec, f/1.4, ISO 5000

After a grueling 16 hour drive from San Francisco, we stopped about half an hour from Grand Canyon National Park and stayed the night. The sun had already set before we could get to the Canyon, but we headed out there anyway to check out a star party by the park’s visitor center. There were tons of astronomers there with their large telescopes pointed skyward, and people lined up to take a close look at different celestial bodies. The most memorable view was seeing Saturn with its rings and moons. You can see high-resolution images of Saturn from NASA’s image archives of course, but there’s something so amazing about being able to see the planet with your own eyes.

One thing we city folk never see is a sky full of stars, since their feint glow is drowned out by light pollution. For the first time in years we looked skyward during the night and were in complete awe. Can’t remember the last time I could see an arm of the milky way in the sky! Taking a break from the star party, I set my D700 up on a tripod out in an area away from any ambient light. I could barely even see my hand in front of my face it was so dark! The large aperture of the 24mm f/1.4 together with a really high ISO brought out more stars than you could see with the naked eye.

After the star shots were done, I benched the D700 for the rest of the trip. It’s too big and heavy to carry around all day, so everything from here forward is all X100. Oh, and because I’m lazy, on vacation, and want to keep up with these blog posts throughout the week, I’ll be in JPEG for the entire trip:

Fuji X100 | 1/300 sec, f/11, ISO 200

The next morning we headed back to the Canyon. Conveniently, we had to drive through it to get to our next destination, so we stopped at different vista points along the way to take some snaps. Would have loved to get there at sunrise or sunset to get some dramatic light in my images, but when you’re traveling (and not necessarily for the purpose of photography), your schedule doesn’t always allow it. So we found ourselves viewing the canyon in  great light for human eyes, “meh” light for a camera.

Fuji X100 | 1/640 sec, f/8, ISO 200

It was still incredibly awe-inspiring. A picture can do no justice to how massive the canyon is. The image above has no point of reference for scale, so it’s hard to get a sense of the canyon’s size.

Fuji X100 | 1/220 sec, f/4.5, ISO 200 (flash fired)

Fuji X100 | 1/300 sec, f/4.5, ISO 200 (flash fired)

No diving! Taking a peak over the edge of this cliff can give you some serious vertigo if you fear heights. Including these foreground elements (leaves, the cliff’s edge) gives you a little more scale, but watch what happens when you stick a person in the frame:

Fuji X100 | 1/550 sec, f/9, ISO 400

Fuji X100 | 1/340 sec, f/5, ISO 400

Fuji X100 | 1/320 sec, f/5, ISO 400

Fuji X100 | 1/640 sec, f/8, ISO 200

I really wish I could have had Suki with me on the trip. Can you imagine the epic-ness of a shot of her with a backdrop like this!? Oh well, I had to settle for my goofy friend here =P

On one of the stops there was a watchtower. Climbing to the top gives you sweeping views of the canyon:

When we were done there, it was time to get back into the car and continue our trek, but not before I grabbed one more pano:

Fuji X100 | 1/240 sec, f/11, ISO 200 | Motion Panorama Mode (click image to view large)

This is a 180 degree motion panorama straight from the X100. I’ve been really interested in trying this feature, and what more perfect place to test it than the Grand Canyon? You simply set the camera to the motion pano drive mode, choose an angle  (either 120 or 180 degrees), choose one of four directions you wish to sweep the camera, fire the shutter, and sweep over the scene. The camera automatically stitches the series of images it captures into one high-resolution pano. The X100 is not the only camera out there that can do this, but I’m impressed with Fuji’s implementation. Click here for a larger version of the above on my website, or just click the image above.

16 thoughts on “A Starry Evening at the Grand Canyon

  1. Fantastic shot of the Milky Way! I tried to shoot it recently on a trip to the Georgia country side, but it still wasn’t dark enough. We wondered where it would be dark enough to see it, and remembered the absolute darkness of the Grand Canyon. It is truly a remarkable place, one where even the most amazing picture still can not capture the the enormity of it all.

  2. So much awesomeness in this post. Love the first starry night picture and I think it’s a wonderful idea to go at night anyways. Beautiful scenery. I was wondering for a moment why your friend had a cassette out on her face then I realized what she was doing. =)

    Fujifilm should endorse your trip. You are a few post away from helping them get another customer.

  3. Wow, Jonathan! This post is just eye candy! I especially LOVE LOVE LOVE the first photo of the stars at night. Wow! I would love to take a shot like that one day :). I agree with Howie, Fujifilm really should endorse your trip. Your photos are top notch! Keep up the great work!

  4. Great place to shoot, don’t forget this….HOPI POINT SUNRISE. Put you back to the sun and watch what it does to the canyon.

    1. I should have emailed you before I came here to get some tips on where to shoot! I’ll see if I can squeeze that shot in on the way back. Thanks Jim!

  5. That star capture is stunning! Definitely worth bringing the D700 to get that perfect shot. Great variation of scenes from the rest of the trip. The x100 seems like the perfect carry around cam; the f/8 shots really bring together the detail and scope of those sweeping views.

  6. aw that teddy bear melts my heart. hehe i think my own teddeh would enjoy a trip like this. love that full sized shot of looking down in the watchtower.

  7. I’m so impressed with how your fuji performed!

    My tummy felt a bit queasy looking at the canyon pictures (cuz I am afraid of heights!), but yes, the grand canyon sure is magnificent! The last time I was there, it was in the late 80s. Whoa, that was more than 20 years ago! Maybe it’s time to visit it again.

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