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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!