TWILIGHT NEAR MATHER POINT
South Rim - Grand Canyon, AZ
The Grand Canyon is one of the most iconic locations in the US and has been a favorite destination for both adventurers and photographers for years. The incredible canyons carved by millions of years of erosion along with the amazing colors provide endless photographic opportunities. But sometimes the grandeur can be overwhelming to find a great location to capture the essence of the canyon.
Many articles and several books have been written to try to address the very best place(s) to visit and photograph the Canyon. Mather Point is likely the most visited and photographed location on the South Rim - and for good reason. Its proximity to the visitors center, natural viewing area and stunning view of the Bright Angel Canyon will draw a large crowd for both sunrise and sunset every day of the year.
I am not a fan of big crowds, but love the view from around Mather Point. This shot was taken about 50 yards east of the Mather Point Overlook on the Rim Trail tucked away from the sea of tourists. From this location, you can capture the grandeur of the Bright Angel Canyon and include just a bit of the overlook to give it some dimension. There are many, many other equally impressive angles and view of this part of the canyon within 50-200 yards east of Mather Point. Just walk along the Rim Trail and pick your favorite composition.
Trail Difficulty (1 out of 5)
I would rate the difficulty of this trail as a 1 on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being most difficult). This location is on the Rim Trail, just 350 yards from the visitors center (100 yards from the parking lot) and is set behind a secure safety railing.
GPS Coordinates & Elevation
7,000 Ft. Elevation
Google Maps Birds-Eye-View
Click link above to view location in Google Earth
CLICK HERE to get driving directions to Grand Canyon, South Rim - Visitors Center
The closest community to this location is the Grand Canyon Village. From the Grand Canyon Village, drive on the South Entrance Rd for .9 miles and take a right on Yavapai Lodge Rd for .7 miles and take a right into the Visitors Center Parking area.
From the Visitors Center, follow the paved walking path toward the Rim Trail toward the Mather Point Overlook. The location is approx. 50 yds east of the overlook.
Best Time of Day to Shoot
This location can be photographed either at sunset (twilight), sunrise (dawn) or during dramatic weather. The sunset/sunrise preference might change depending on the time of year. In the winter, the sun sets to the southwest around 240° and in the summer it will set northwest at around 300°. Conversely, the sunrise will be in the southeast in the winter and northeast in the summer.
I personally prefer sunset (twilight) as I like the glowing sun on the canyon rocks vs. the rising sun on the horizon, but both will work.
Don’t discount this location during dramatic weather! Late afternoon storms during the monsoon season (in late summer) can make for GREAT images.
Best Time of Year to Shoot
The location can be photographed any time of year. As mentioned above, the time of year will dictate the angle of the sun at sunrise and sunset.
During the winter the sun sets behind you and will illuminate the north canyon walls - and you may get snow on the edges of the canyon after a storm.
During the summer, the sun sets at almost 90° from your shot which provides some great glows and deep shadows in the canyon. During late summer, you will also have a good chance of experiencing some dramatic weather in the late afternoon.
The above shot was taken on February 12th
What Lens(es) Do You Need
You can shoot anything from a super wide to a telephoto lens when photographing the Grand Canyon. The shot above was taken with a 24mm lens.
Mather Point is on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park. As of the writing of the summary (May 2019) the entry fee was $35 per vehicle. Once in the park there are no other permits required.
Direction of the Shot
There are many compositions to shoot at this location - most of them are going to be pointing north between 290° and 10°.
Special Nuances of Shot
Timing is everything for capturing a great image at this location. For me, on days without dramatic weather, the canyon is best photographed just before and/or just after the sun sets.
In the last few minutes before the sun goes below the horizon, the fading sun provides a soft warm glow that illuminates the canyon walls - and significantly reduces the extreme dynamic range. This is a good time to photograph.
I personally prefer the first few minutes just after sunset (twilight) to photograph this location. Even after the sun sets, the back walls still retain the warm glow of the sun (the camera will pick this up more than your eye) and the pastel colors of the canyon really start to pop.
Take pictures at both times and determine which you prefer.
Special Equipment Needed
Other than a tripod, no special photography equipment is needed unless you plan on doing a panoramic shot. You may consider using a polarizing filter to help reduce the glare and dust that usually hangs over the canyon.
Number of Other Photographers to Expect
The Mather View Overlook will always have visitors! And in the summer, at sunset (and sunrise) the crowds can be large to extreme. However, the location of this shot is taken about 50 yards EAST of the Mather Point Overlook along the Rim Trail and is not as crowded. With that being said, at sunset there will be many tourist walking along the Rim Trail - so I would suggest you arrive 30 min or so before sunset to make sure you can secure a good spot.
This part of the south rim of the Grand Canyon is at 7,000 ft elevation. In the winter, it can be very cold and receive lots of snow. In the summer, it can easily reach the high 90’s°. As with other high desert locations, the Grand Canyon has fairly large swings in temperature from mid-day to evening. In the summer, the days can be very hot, and the evening can be mild to cool.
I have Verizon and you will normally have good to moderate cell service around the visitors center.
The closest communities are the Grand Canyon Village and the little town of Tusayan (12 miles south of the Canyon Village). There are only two campsites in the Grand Canyon. The campground at Mather Village is very busy in the summer and is almost always full. The other campground in the park is all the way down at Desert View (25 mile away). Both take reservations on the NPS website.
Camping - click on the campground below for directions
Trailer Village and Mather campground – in Canyon village (5 miles away)
Desert View campground – next to Desert view parking lot (25 mile away)
Lodging - click on the lodging below for a TripAdvisor review
Currently, there are six hotel/lodges in the Grand Canyon park. All are in or near the Canyon village. The hotels are owned/managed by Xanterra Parks and Resorts and Delaware North Companies.
In the Canyon Village, there are an abundance of food choices. Most are located in the hotels and lodges. I tend to eat at the El Tovar Dining Room or at the Lounge in the El Tavar Hotel. There are also several restaurants in Tusayan (12 miles south of the Canyon Village).
Nearby Restaurants - click on the restaurant below for yelp review
El Tovar Dining Room
El Tovar Hotel
El Tovar Lounge
El Tovar Hotel
The only laundry mat I know of on the South Rim is at the Trailer Village and Mather campground.
Other Photography Opportunities Around
The closest major airports to the Grand Canyon are Phoenix Sky Harbor and McCarran airport in Las Vegas. Both are major airports and service all of the major airlines. There are regional airports in Flagstaff and Prescott, AZ.
Area Guides and Workshops
The Photographer's Ephemeris is a very valuable tool for landscape photographers to determine the direction of the sunrise/sunset & moonrise/moonset from any place on earth on any day (past and future). Click here to take you to The Photographer's Ephemeris for this location.