Lens Guides

Photographing a Family Adventure in the Grand Canyon with SIGMA DG DN Lenses

An eleven-day whitewater rafting trip through the heart of Grand Canyon National Park checks all the boxes of a classic wilderness photography adventure. The inner reaches of the canyon are remote, wild, beautiful, unpredictable and often dangerous. It is loaded with both frothing whitewater rapids and the most extraordinary views imaginable.

Yes the color is accurate. This is the Little Colorado River upstream from its bigger brother. It gets its color from the heavy load of calcium carbonate it carries.
SIGMA 24-70mm F2.8 DG DN Art | 1/320, F9, ISO 250, polarizing filter

Wildlife abounds with 447 species of birds (including the rare California Condor), 91 species of mammals, 48 species of reptiles and 10 amphibious species. While we only glimpsed a small variety of this menagerie, our encounters with bighorn sheep, toads, rattlesnakes and waterfowl was wonderfully memorable.

Desert bighorn sheep roam the cliffs and beaches all around the Colorado River. They are far less skittish if you approach by boat, making it easier to get some great wildlife portraits.
SIGMA 100-400mm DG DN OS Contemporary | 1/320, F6.3, ISO 1000 at 400mm

The Grand Canyon has been explored and photographed by some of our country’s most storied adventurers and picture makers, and the opportunity to follow in those footsteps (or paddle strokes) is not to be missed. But planning a trip down the river is not easy. It took our crew of friends and family five years of entering a lottery just to get the permit to run a private trip. Hiring a commercial outfitter is the most common way to get down the river, but it is vastly more expensive. So for us it was going to be private. Kind of.

For most of us, this was our first or second time down the river, but for three of our crew — well, let’s put it this way — they had a combined trip count of close to 600. That’s trips, not days.

There are around 80 named rapids in the Grand Canyon. Many are famously huge but there are plenty of fun small rapids perfect for a small craft like an inflatable kayak.
SIGMA 100-400mm DG DN OS Contemporary | 1/800, F9, ISO 800 at 243mm

Our trip leader was longtime friend and guide Billie Prosser. Driving the 37-foot motor rig was the incomparable Ann-Marie Bringhurst (also a canyon guide), her two sons, and her father O’Connor Dale, known colloquially as OC. The adventures of OC are well known, and some have even been documented in Kevin Fedarko’s book The Emerald Mile.

Legendary boatman O’Connor “OC” Dale.
Environmental portrait with the SIGMA 24-70mm F2.8 DG DN Art | 1/320, F4, ISO 250 at 70mm

Rounding out the crew were numerous family friends, including my two daughters (age 7 and 9) and my mother-in law. All in all, we consisted of two families with three generations of adventurers!

Photographing a family adventure like this comes with a host of opportunities and challenges alike. Kids on the boat and in the water, side-canyon hikes, wildlife, lifestyle and landscapes from camp all make for fantastic photo memories.

Signs of the ancestral Pueblo are all around the park. You are welcome, as my daughter Elsa did, to pick up a piece to examine it, just be sure to put it back in the exact spot you found it. And have your camera handy to pick up quick memories like this.
SIGMA 24-70mm F2.8 DG DN Art | 1/1000, F5, ISO 800
Exploring the side canyons is one of the highlights of the Grand. My daughter Bergen loving her first cliff jump!
SIGMA 24-70mm F2.8 DG DN Art | 1/1000, F5, ISO 1000

To make the most of these moments I brought along a few of my favorite mirrorless lenses: the SIGMA 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art, SIGMA 24-70mm F2.8 DG DN Art, and SIGMA 100-400mm DG DN OS Contemporary.

This trio of SIGMA DG DN lenses allowed me to capture everything from whitewater action to wide-angle landscapes and on-the-fly portraits. Conditions in the canyon were very tough on gear with sand everywhere and heat reaching up and over 113 degrees! The lenses didn’t flinch in this extreme environment and withstood every challenge I threw their way.

The Grand Canyon can be a dangerous place even for the hardiest of souls. If you do not have experience rowing a boat in very big rapids or are not used to taking care of yourself and others in desert environments, then be sure to go with one of the many excellent outfitters.
SIGMA 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art | 1/320, F9, ISO 400 at 14mm
Cloudless sunrise at camp. Using a Haida rear mount six stop ND filter allowed me to slow the shutter speed and “soften” the water.
SIGMA 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art | 5 sec, F14, ISO 100 at 19mm

Other gear included some rear mount ND filters from Haida (made specifically for the 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art), polarizing filters, extra batteries and memory cards, an Induro carbon fiber tripod, and of course lots of lens cleaning supplies.

The iconic Deer Creek Falls
SIGMA 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art
2.5 sec., F10, ISO 50 at 14mm
Wet sand reflects the afternoon light
SIGMA 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art
4 sec. f/14 ISO 50 at 24mm

All of this was carried in the Think Tank Trailscape 18L pack, and that in turn was placed into a large NRS waterproof drybag when we were on the water. And for the first time ever, I brought an Outex waterproof housing with me so I could shoot the rapids while keeping my camera dry.

The view from the front of the boat was often cold and wet!
SIGMA 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN on Sony a9 II in Outex waterproof housing | 1/640, F8, ISO 200
If you have the skills to manage class V (or 10 on the GC scale) rapids, then by all means bring your kayak. Here, Seth Ricker runs Lava Falls Rapid.
SIGMA 100-400mm DG DN OS Contemporary | 1/2500, F8, ISO 640 at 344mm
Telling a Grand Canyon story is not complete with some food shots. And pork chops on the grill on the river just taste better.
SIGMA 24-70mm F2.8 DG DN Art | 1/80, F5, ISO 1250 at 35mm

Whether it’s the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Acadia or Arches, the National Parks are a great place to capture family adventures. So if you are headed out to hike, bike, sail or camp in these amazing outdoor places, be sure to pack your favorite SIGMA lenses and capture your adventure!

While you are surrounded by beauty, compositions can be tough to come by especially when a lot of your time is spent doing camp work and parenting. Luckily my crew let me out for some creative time once in a while.
SIGMA 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art with Haida 6-stop ND filter | 5 sec., F10, ISO 50 at 15mm
Beach party Grand Canyon style!
SIGMA 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art | 20 sec., F3.5, ISO 1250
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