In April 2018, 10 members of the Sony Alpha Imaging Collective spent a week traversing the desert terrain of Northern Arizona with a schedule that included some high profile spots that attract photographers and tourists alike. However, the Collective photographers had several unique opportunities to get a different, more intimate look at many of the Southwest’s finest features.
Yavapai Point, Grand Canyon National Park
Yavapai Point is a popular spot to survey the Grand Canyon along the South Rim. It can be found just beyond the Yavapai Geological Center and a modest 10-minute walk from the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. While Yavapai sees a steady stream of visitors throughout the day, surprisingly, sunset is a time where you can find less of a crowd as many of the most popular sunset stops, such as Hopi Point, are further west along the South Rim.
Mather Point, Grand Canyon National Park
Mather Point is a short walk from the Park’s visitor center, which serves as a main hub of the South Rim, and is also an enormously popular outlook that droves of tourists flock to 365 days a year. While its popular views at sunrise and sunset can be truly stunning, there’s an extra late showing of an equal, if not more sensational show when the sun goes down and tourists turn in. Grand Canyon National Park is a designated “Dark Sky” park, meaning it has extremely limited artificial light between sunset and sunrise so as to keep ambient light to a minimum for visitors to enjoy the vast night sky in all its glory. Mather Point and the surrounding area along the South Rim is a prime location to set up camp for astrophotography and score a clutch Milky Way shot. Be sure to bring a headlamp or flashlight since there are no other lights to illuminate your path and much of the canyon rim has no railing or barrier to keep your gear – or you – from going over the edge!
Navajo Point, Grand Canyon National Park
When entering Grand Canyon National Park from the east entrance on the South Rim, the first stop is the historic Desert View Watchtower. The view is spectacular and a fabulous way to greet the Grand Canyon upon arrival. However, as a photography perch, it can be challenging as it is constantly teeming with tourists on their way in and out of the park. If you want to catch a tremendous sunrise without competing for space or risking an errant, unattended child in the foreground of your composition, head west to the next overlook, Navajo Point. You'll be able to catch the Colorado River snaking through the infinite red rock layers of the Grand Canyon and have the breathing room you crave.
Lake Powell is a reservoir on the Colorado River that stretches 186 miles long and 25 miles wide and sits on the border between Arizona and Utah. The Arizona side has long stretches of fabulous views of the lake which shimmers with a deep blue against the varying shades of red rocks. With a varied landscape and over 90 side canyons, it is a massive and mesmerizing sight to behold from any angle. If you don’t mind a 90-minute drive, a third of which is rather lively off-roading, you can get to Alstrom Point which lies on the Utah side of Lake Powell. This remote spot offers 360 degrees of uninterrupted views of the lake, buttes, canyons and sky forever. It offers a premium post for sunrise and sunset as well as an epic playground for night and astrophotography. Remember, you cannot conquer the rough terrain of the drive with your average car. Hire a local operator with appropriately equipped vehicles to drive you out and back safely.
Perhaps the most photographed feature in Arizona beside the Grand Canyon is Antelope Canyon. A subterranean slot canyon on Navajo land near Page, Arizona, Antelope Canyon sees thousands of tourists a day (as the canyon is only accessible through certified tour operators). The overwhelming popularity has made Antelope Canyon a bit of a mob scene. So much so, that Lower Antelope Canyon no longer allows photo tours. There are several tours and tour operators in the canyon at any given time so while the canyon truly is something awesome to behold, there is a river of people flowing through with you from end to end. This can make it challenging to get photographs that have thoughtful composition and no interruptions. Yet, if you explore similar canyons with those same operators that are nearby, for instance, Rattlesnake Canyon, you can get away from the crowd and get the time and space you’d be craving in Antelope Canyon with the same wavy rock with warm hues of red and orange that glow with the sun beaming through the cracks overhead.
Horseshoe Bend is a truly wild natural wonder to behold. Seeing the Colorado River make such an impressive hairpin turn through the aptly named meander is obviously a sight worth photographing as millions do each year. While the public viewing area provides a considerable amount of terrain along the edge, it can be difficult to get a photo that looks all that different from the shot everyone else is capturing. About 100 yards left of the public viewing area is a privately-owned one that provides fresh vantage points and plenty of high and low points to scramble up and down to get a view of the edges of Horseshoe Bend. It still allows you to get the iconic shot as the areas border runs close enough to the public viewing area to walk over and easily snap the massive subject head-on. Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon Tours owns this little-known spot and can give you access to this VIP view.
Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon
The Collective got an especially cool canyon experience when they were given exclusive access to the private Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon at night. Having the run of a canyon under the stars created the perfect paradise for light painting, night and astrophotography. Using different colored lights to illuminate the landscape of the canyon and torch lights for models to hold to the sky, the photographers were able to compose a wide variety of incredible images that capture the canyons in new light – literally. If you want to check it out and have some night photography fun of your own, there is only one company, Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon Tours, that has access to this canyon and heads up, like the trek to Alstrom Point, the drive there and back does include some gnarly off-roading.