This is a follow-up to a two posts on photography under smoky skies, one from Crater Lake and one from the North Cascades. On my recent trip through the American West, I was as close as I’ve ever been to Grand Canyon’s North Rim. Having never been there, I just had to make the side-trip up there. I had heard that they were doing some prescribed burning in this part of the park. Prescribed fires are very common in the West these days, as land managers try to reduce the amount of fuel in forests in order to discourage large damaging wildfires in future.
Because of the fires, I almost skipped the North Rim (again). I was hoping to do some star photography, and very clear air is necessary for that. I’m very happy I swallowed my misgivings and headed up there. By the way, for some detailed travel-related tips on the North Rim, check my previous post.
The image above was one of my first views of the canyon. When you approach on the longish highway that traverses a flat, forested plateau, your first view of the canyon is always a stunner. You know it is there, but the majesty and scale is always surprising. In the late afternoon the skies were quite smoky, but this view towards the west is actually pretty clear. The fires were to the west of my location here, which meant the light was ruddy red, yet I was not enveloped in smoke (where good photos are extremely difficult to get).
The sunset was pretty darn incredible. I pointed my camera towards the west, where smoke was thicker. Because of this, I did not even need to use a graduated neutral density filter to darken the sky. This is quite remarkable; pretty much any other sunset photo like this would require this filter. And no need to add saturation during post-processing, though you do need to add some clarity and contrast to cut through the haze.
After sunset, the air cooled appreciably and the smoke steadily decreased. You can see this in the starry image of the rising full moon below. There is some haze around the moon, but the sky above is bright with stars. It looked like I might get the best of both worlds! As it turned out, photographing towards the west was still impacted negatively by the haze, but only for the stars. The landscape part, the lower part of the image at bottom, turned out fine. I processed the sky separately, and then merged the two in Photoshop.
Photographing during smoky conditions allows you to do at least two things: (A) While staying away from the worst of the smoke, try pointing the camera away from the sun, with your subject bathed in light filtered through the smoke. (B) As the sun gets very low, and depending on how hazy your foreground and mid-ground is, try photos towards the setting sun with a sky fully or partially shrouded in orange smoke.
I had a fine time up on the North Rim, despite (or maybe because of) the smoky conditions. Thanks for reading.