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Photographing Havasupai - The Land of Turquoise Blue Waterfall

Deep inside the heart of Grand Canyon, Havasu Creek flow through the Supai Village where the American Indian has been living for more than 800 year.  The Havasu Creek  and Supai village together make it Havasupai, a land of many majestic waterfalls and natural beauty. There is not just one, or two but many waterfalls that you can touch, get soaked in, swim into or just sit on a rock with your feet immersed into the water.  That's what make the place spacial. We have waterfall at many places around the world, but there are not many where you can swim around it. The best part of it, the water temperature is just perfect, about 70 degree Fahrenheit year around.

The Havasu Fall at Full Moon Night

While the destination is wonderful, the journey itself offers an unique experience. If you take the short-cut helicopter ride (the only alternative), you would probably miss a lot. It's an unique experience to hike through the canyon where your footstep echoed back to you from the canyon wall. There are places where sunlight never reaches, and your GPS watch keeps searching for the satellite signal. Amid, you are worried about getting lost, but the chances are very slim unless you ignore all the signs and head towards somewhere with no visible trail. All the while, I thought the trail was actually a river that dried up centuries ago, but I could not find any such references.
Grand Canyon Caverns, we stayed here the night before the hike

The Beautiful Canyon Walls
The landmark to start the journey is Hualapai Hilltop. Once you reach here, you have 3 options to reach your destination.
  1. Hike Down the 10 miles trail with your full camping gears
  2. Give your hiking bags to pack mules (fees apply), then hike down with your day pack & photography gears.
  3. Take a helicopter ride to Supai and miss all the fun 
From a photographer's point of view, option 2 is favorable. It's not easy to photograph everything you want to, while a 40 lbs hiking bag is attached to your back. There are time when you would need to go low on the ground to frame your shot which you can't do with such a huge bag attached to your back. However, you could take your bag while hiking in, and give it to pack mules while hiking out.

Recommended Camera Gears:

In present days, anyone with a cellphone is a photographer. They obviously take some good pictures with the phone camera but sometime they would argue that the phone camera could do everything that those bulky DSLR can. If you are one of those, then this blog is not useful for you. My recommendation is for advanced photographers or hobbyist who see photography as an art that can be perfected with practice and an appropriate gears.

  1.  A Camera that allows bulb exposure: You will need bulb exposure / long time exposure to shoot milky way, waterfall at night.
  2. Extra batteries and memory cards: There is no electricity to charge your batteries and you don't wanna run out of memory card on day 2. So carry some extras. 
  3. Cable Release / Remote ( for bulb exposure ): Anytime your shutter speed drops below 1/30 sec, it's better to use a remote trigger. 
  4. A sturdy Tripod: Without a tripod, you can't shoot silky smooth waterfall, or the milky way. 
  5. Wide angle lens : Everything is so close to you that you can feel them. So if you wanna fit them in your frame, you need wide angle lens. I've used a 16-35mm f4, and a 16mm fisheye. That was enough for me.
  6. ND filters and UV filter: You need the UV filter to protect your lens's front element from the abrasive mineral residue from the mist. 
  7. Lens Cleaning Kit: It's dusty in the trail and mist near the water fall. You should have a lens pen to brush of the dust and a microfiber cleaning cloths to wipe the moisture.
  8. Flash Light: If you wanna hike near the waterfall at night and lit up the fall, you need a flash light. It also help to lit up some foreground object while you shoot milky way.
  9. Rain Cover: If you wanna get too close to the waterfall, you need to protect your lens and camera from getting soaked.

              Photographing Opportunities

              The Canyon Trail:

              The Trail 

              Whether you are hiking down to Supai or returning, you will see the majestic beauty of the canyon that invites you  to click the shutter release button in every few steps you take. The temptation would be enormous. Only, if you ferry your bag with the pack Mules, you would be able to shoot as much as you desire.
              The Pack Mules are used to transport the regular supply and hiker's backpack to Supai. This not only helps the tourist but also provides useful revenue source for the tribal. The Mule usually travels in a pack, but sometime they could be naughty and go off track like this one, only  to be chased down by the owner to put it back with the others.
              A Pack Mule Transporting Hiker's Bag

              This giant rock would come to your sight once you hiked down to the flat land inside the canyon. It is just beautiful. You can't probably guess the size, unless you are really under it
              The Giant Rock
              Mystic Trail  Under the Canyon Wall

              Another Beautiful Rock

              There are rocks everywhere but some would stop you to look back and appreciate their beauty. This one is huge and the erosion made the edge wavy.  

              The Waterfall:

              Then there are waterfalls. This is the land of waterfalls. If you love swimming, then this would be the toughest moment for you. You can't decide whether to jump into the water or stay dry to shoot the waterfall.  
              Mooney Fall

              The Mooney Fall is the most challenging one to photograph. There are mist everywhere. You take your camera out,  before you knew it, the lens would be covered with the mist, and if you are not careful enough, soon it would be soaked. So take all the precaution to protect your gears while photographing Mooney .
              Havasu Fall

              The Havasu Fall is the most admired and easiest to photograph. It is easily accessible, closest to camp (north side), does not require any ladder climbing. You will find lots of people swimming here. This is the place where you can photograph the fall from a distance without worrying about getting your camera wet. 
              When you enter the campground area for the first time, you see the Havasu Fall first.

              Novajo Fall

              The Novajo Fall is one of the most beautiful ones. It is the first one you see while hiking down to the campground. This fall is visible from the hiking trail, however little up there is the 50' fall, which you need a short hike to reach before it's beauty is reveled in front of you.

              The Beautiful Fifty Feet Fall

              The Creek and Rapids:

              There are rapids in every few hundred yards of the creek. And there are places where the creek is calm, but with the combination of vegetation and canyon walls, the beauty is enormous.
              Beaver Fall

              The Milky way:

              This is the kingdom of far far away, with no light pollution around it. There ain't a better place to shoot milky way. However, you need to check the lunar calendar and time your travel date accordingly to shoot milky way.  I was there during a full moon night, so there was no chance of shooting milky way.  But I did shoot my tent with the night sky while others were sleeping.
              The Campground at Full Moon Night

              The People: 

              Last but not the least, you get a lot of happy people to photograph. Just make sure you have their consent.
              The Group I hiked with to the Beaver Fall

              There are several friends who wanted to have their picture taken with a silky smooth waterfall in the background. That requires long exposure, but human can hardly hold still for that long. Result, I got blurred faces with silky smooth waterfall. My friends were obviously disappointed. But I did learn from this experiences.  Such shot could only be done in two steps.  The first frame you shoot the water fall with long exposure, and in the 2nd frame, you take the person's picture at regular shutter speed, faster than 1/60sec. Make sure your picture frame does not move between those exposures. You can post process those images to combine them as one.

              Useful Information:

              The land belongs to tribal and access to campground needs permit. All the useful information related to reservation and etiquette are well documented in this  Facebook page Havasupai and Havasu Falls
              Usually reservation for campground opens in February and sold out within 30 minutes. The online reservation site is Havasupai Campground Reservations  
              If you have any photography related questions, you could contact me for the same.

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