I have to admit, I am always a little nervous when I get a request from someone who already obtained a permit for their wedding. The reason that makes me nervous is because most people don’t know Grand Canyon like I do, and most photographers know it even less. I really like to have a little control for guiding the lighting. Guiding the experience as a steward, and local person to Grand Canyon. This place is one of the most challenging places to take portraits but not only portrait taking, but for creating an experience.
Sunset Grand Canyon Photoshoots
Most of my clients assume that if they book a sunset session, that they will literally witness the sun setting over the rim of the canyon itself. Well, that’s a nice idea but if you’re planning to go to any location, site-unseen, you probably won’t see the sun set over the canyon. For most visitors that’s ok, how the light changes the rock and the colors is amazing anywhere for any landscape photographer. Those same conditions just don’t look as good on people’s faces or in portraits that blend the landscape and also portraits.
What makes this tip even harder to use is that it’s never really the same month to month even. For instance, where the sun hits the horizon on the east side of the canyon, is less and less now. In fact, when you look out to the rim of the canyon it will be coming out of the very far left almost a touch behind your left shoulder while looking at the canyon. Unfortunately, this means there is less expensive grand canyon view at sunset while looking into the sunset but that also, while the sun is making it’s way toward the horizon, the sunlight will also be harshly shedding light into your subjects faces and also creating squinty eyes.
Permitted Wedding Locations at Grand Canyon
So what does this mean for people looking to choose a wedding location? It really means that unless you need a big area with a lot of infrastructure for guests, you should ask your photographer what the best location would be for your wedding given the time of day and season.
So Why a Shoshone Point wedding?
Well as a local-to-grand-canyon-person, this makes sense to me. It’s a special spot. This secret little unmarked viewpoint with an unmarked dirt parking, used to be a local secret. Until TripAdvisor and Instagram blew things up.
Food and Toilet at Shoshone Point
When rented for a wedding, there is a large shade structure, picnic tables and grills available for DIY meals. Because there is so much infrastructure and a pit toilet (I actually don’t think that ANY of the other locations have a toilet on site, except for Grandeur Point, but it’s still a 7 min walk), people choose this location.
There are several catering companies that will also service this location at Grand Canyon for a Shoshone Point wedding. Some you should inquire about are:
Josephine’s – a personal fav, at least in Flagstaff. I’m not positive about their catering.
3’s in the Trees – this is a personal foodtruck favorite. I’ve heard they had a little difficulty driving to Shoshone but they did it!
Why say NO to a Shoshone Point Wedding
The increasing popularity of Shoshone Point as a wedding location is insane to me. If you are truly having a wedding with more than 20 guests, this might be your best option for hosting but it will NOT be the best for photography. When you have a big wedding, as compared to an elopement, you need to take other people into account. This means, we are taking care of people and making them feel comfortable. Of course you will need a place for a reception, ceremony and somewhere to use the bathroom.
Well by now, I know you really attached yourself to this place. You probably like the idea of a bathroom (!haha!) tables, ect or maybe you are reading this blog to plan an elopement. Let’s face it, if you are looking for someplace remote and intimate to host your elopement or wedding, and are discovering Shoshone Point. You feel like you just won the wedding planning game butttttt this is when we go back to the first thoughts of this blog entry, sunset.
Sunset at Shoshone Point
Most weddings and elopements, at Grand Canyon, take place at sunset. Year-round, sunset at Shoshone Point is actually pretty terrible. The sun sets in a side canyon over your left shoulder and through the juniper, pinyon and ponderosa pine trees. This means that as the sun is starting to set it is filtering through this little forest and casting dark blue shadows over the foreground and as you look out the canyon is brightly lit. Unfortunately, the best portrait light leading up to blue hour (a photographer’s term for the time after the sun sets) is in the trees themselves with no canyon view at all.
So when there is a Shoshone Point wedding, most ceremony do not happen at the point, but at the pavilion and picnic table area. While this is great for grandma, or any mobility-impaired guest, this area is not far enough away or in enough of a clearing to avoid shadows from the nearby trees. The sun is setting behind your left shoulder but diffused from the trees. You’re probably not squinting while getting married but you might have streaks from the shadows of tree branches across your face, to be honest.
The sun is setting but the canyon is brightly lit behind you, the subject, in dark shadows. So in this kind of situation, in photography, it’s really hard to have it all. If you want you can get more of the canyon from being washed out but your faces might exhibit grain and noise from attempting to lift light out of the darkness. Or you will be clearly visible and the canyon might look a bit like a washed out polaroid.
It’s really hard to have it all in such high contrast. Clouds will always help all light from being too one directional or harsh but unfortunately that isn’t something we can rely on so Shoshone Point is a bit harder.
What is the best way to have my wedding at Shoshone at Sunset?
If you get married at the point itself, it’s okay! It’s not the dramatic lighting you may see in some of the other photos I’ve taken. The pink sun rays and lens flare can only happen looking into the sun, which is again – in the trees. So no sunset and canyon behind you at the same time. The sun should be low enough in the sky, if you plan it right, to be blocked by your partner. With the canyon behind you the light will be setting on you instead of behind or to the side and you may see some more contrast and harsher tones in the photos that I deliver.
The photos that you see in the gallery above were mostly taken at the point around sunset, one a little earlier but with the one exception to my rule. Those were taken with clouds in the sky, like I said clouds change everything and they helped to keep the colors bright and saturated whereas in this case, it occasionally is quite bright and washed out.
Timing is everything
So Shoshone Point weddings that take place in the later afternoon (pretty much allllll of them) are hard. To get the most out of your Shoshone Point wedding permit, I recommend a mid-day wedding. For any weddings with visitors/guests in attendance, I really recommend doing the wedding earlier in the day. I almost NEVER will make this recommendation butttt weddings with people are hard at Shoshone Point.
Family photos – if you are looking to gather your family and extended family for some portraits on your wedding day, I highly recommend doing the wedding mid-day and taking photos in another location for sunset. OR you can do the wedding photos for friends and family at the point itself before the wedding, have the wedding and then take just bridal photos where you can actually see the sun set over the rim of the canyon.
Sunrise at Shoshone Point
Sunrise at Shoshone Point is almost always perfect. Most of the year except the darker winter months, the sun rises directly across from you. It’s super thrilling. I set a lot of engagement proposals up like this. I think it would be cool to start a wedding with the stars, do a breakfast, a boutonniere pinning, and vow reading followed by portraits. It would be nice to have a ceremony that speaks to the darkness and light and the brilliance of new days.
Astrophotography into sunrise for an elopement at Shoshone Point would be perfect for me. The Grand Canyon National Park boasts an International Dark Sky Accreditation. Thanks to Grand Canyon Conservancy, all of the lights in the Grand Canyon Village are retrofitted to be hooded, goosenecked or barndoored. This helps to preserve the night sky and keep lights in place that only emit light to where you need to see, like your feet. This leaves the night sky unimpaired. Grand Canyon’s neighboring Flagstaff is credited with having the first dark sky accreditation. (Flagstaff is where Pluto was discovered)
Food – Just because you’re eloping at sunrise doesn’t mean that there should be any less of a celebration to your wedding day. You can still use the grills early in the morning to cook up some breakfast. We can easily transport a couple of backpacking stoves and make hot chocolate and oatmeal or anything at all. Grand Canyon river guides and hiking guides are some of the best in the world. You can easily hire a backpacking company to provide a simple and delicious breakfast meal. For things like outdoor meals at a place like Grand Canyon, these are my recommendations:
Canyons and Chefs – these guys can prepare a meal to impress almost anywhere. Though I haven’t yet worked with Billy, we were super close to it for a wedding and I’ve learned a lot about what his business can do and he seems like good people.
Arizona Luxury Tours – I’ve personally eaten food from Don’s business AZ Luxury Tours. At the time, everything I ate was made by a guy named Mike. Mike used to work for National Geographic and just talking to him was incredible but eating his food was even better.
Shoshone Point wedding location – Conclusion
So as you can see, if you need an event space with tables and chairs and shade and a bathroom built in, in an epic location, then Shoshone Point has it all for sure. If you are the type to care more about the event as it meets everyone’s needs and less about having a wedding in an epically beautiful place for photographic reasons, your answer is also Shoshone.
If you are interested in an intimate elopement with edge of the world views and waking up and starting your day with a sunrise wedding, there is no better place than Shoshone Point. As long as you go there when the sun is rising you can’t go wrong for an amazing moment with magic and beauty that will look as good as it feels in the photos you take there.