Less sky, more canyon

Gary Hart Photography: Forked Lightning, North Rim, Grand Canyon

Forked Lightning, North Rim, Grand Canyon
Sony a7R II
Sony/Zeiss 24-70 f4
1/6 second
F/14
ISO 50
Lightning Trigger LT-IV

Don Smith and I just wrapped up 13 days and two workshops at Grand Canyon. Bookending the trip with 12+ hour drives, each day we had 4:30 a.m. wake-ups, lots of waiting for something to happen punctuated by bursts of extremely intense activity, and very late dinners. Both groups enjoyed the full complement of monsoon thrills, including thunder and lightning, rainbows, dramatic clouds, and vivid sunrises and sunsets that made the difficult schedule more than tolerable.

Most workshops have a theme that develops organically and takes on a life of its own throughout the workshop. At some point I realized that second workshop’s theme had somehow become me peering at an LCD, or projecting an image onto the screen during image review, and advising (with emphasis), “Less sky, more canyon.”

I won’t belabor a point I’ve made many times (most recently here) that the most frame space should go to the part of the scene with the most visual interest, except to say that few locations illustrate this better than Grand Canyon. It’s a rare sky that compete with the canyon’s majesty, but what I saw frequently in this workshop was photographers giving half or more of their frame to a sky that didn’t match the canyon below.

I suspect this was happening for a few reasons. Sometimes people just reflexively split their frame with the horizon, or automatically break their scene with the horizon 1/3 of the way down from the top, or up from the bottom, because a misguided judge at their camera club enforces the rule of thirds with Biblical conviction. Other times they simply were composing for lightning firing across the canyon and just weren’t sure how high the lightning originated. But for the distant lightning we usually shoot, that’s invariably fairly near the horizon, and it only takes one strike to get a pretty good idea of where that will be.

This doesn’t mean Grand Canyon images should never include lots of sky, it means that the sky you give your Grand Canyon image should be earned. A towering rainbow? Horizon-to-horizon sunrise or sunset color? By all means, widen your lens and tilt the camera up. But don’t forget that even when the sky is spectacular, it’s the canyon that makes your image special.

No sky, minimal sky, lots of sky—I came away from this workshop with lots of new images I’ll be sharing over the next few weeks. The image here was from the first of two spectacular lightning shows, one for each workshop, our groups enjoyed. We were about halfway into the image review at Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim when the lightning started up across the canyon. We instantly jumped into an unrehearsed Keystone Cops scene, scrambling for our gear, racing for the door, and setting up on the viewing deck outside.

Don and I had prepped the group on Lightning Trigger setup on the first evening, and made sure everyone’s Trigger was functioning, so we didn’t have too many problems that afternoon.

The show lasted over two hours, and by the time it was over, everyone in the group had multiple lightning images.

Join next year’s Grand Canyon Monsoon photo workshop


Less sky, more canyon

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9 Comments on “Less sky, more canyon

  1. Great post, Gary, with superb images to illustrate your points. Monsoons in the Grand Canyon must be a thrill to experience and capture like this.

    • Thank you, Jane. Yeah, I love it. Lots of standing around, but even that isn’t too bad when the view is Grand Canyon. And when a bolt happens and you hear the shutter click, it’s a huge rush.

  2. Gary, this is Jan . This capture is just gorgeous. Clearly you have a different lightening trigger than we do XO Jan

    On Aug 26, 2016 4:48 PM, “Eloquent Nature by Gary Hart” wrote:

    > Eloquent Nature by Gary Hart posted: ” You’re reading the first edition of > this post. Click here to read the most current version. Don Smith and I > just wrapped up 13 days and two workshops at Grand Canyon. Bookending the > trip with 12+ hour drives, we had daily 4:30 a.m. wake-ups, lots of stan” >

    • Thanks, Jan. While I tried to impart as much of my experience on the group as possible, once you get the equipment squared away (the right lightning sensor and all the settings just right), capturing lightning is more about intuition and luck. Since I have so many lightning images from my many years of doing this (at least five now), I can afford to take chances. If this had been my first time, I’d always be point in the direction of the best chance for lightning with less thought for composition; but given the number of lightning images I already have, I now tend to choose the best composition in an area where lightning could strike, rather than where it’s most likely to strike. But I know Donald (and others) got some great lightning too, and probably some I didn’t get. For example, the final night of the second workshop, we were out at Hopi Point in a rainstorm, with the lightning firing about 10 miles away. I got one marginally usable image, but I know at least one person got one with multiple strikes.

  3. I really like your lessons here! Of course, I would probably one who would have to be reminded because I am such a sky addict. But hopefully not. All I know is, it would be no ones fault but my own if I did not come away from one of your workshops with at least a decent number of wonderful and memorable images.
    This three strike image is incredible. I also read your post describing the fortunes and yes, some not so fortunate things that you have experienced through your career.
    It is the sharing of these things that exemplify your generous nature and style! Your students cand readers become the beneficiaries, Thank You, Gary..

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