Get The Picture

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Kerry Vernon and JA Johnson: Grand Canyon

Kerry Vernon and Jasmine Ann (JA) Johnson met while taking classes at Palomar College in San Diego in the 1970s – she was studying photography and he was studying fine art – and they began visiting Grand Canyon National Park “in every spare moment,” Jasmine recalls. Finally, in 1995, they moved to the South Rim, converting their cabin into a photo studio. They’ve since moved into a bigger house (with their 12 cameras); Kerry is a full-time photographer and painter; Jas­mine works as a display coordinator for Xanterra Parks and Resorts and photographs the canyon in her free time. Their work is sold at galleries and gift shops at the Grand Canyon and other national parks in the Southwest. See more at

Sedona Monthly: Do you have any favorite spots to photograph the Grand Canyon?
We like them all! But Mather Point is good for sun­rises. Hopi Point is nice at sunset, but it can get crowded. At Desert View you have a nice shot of the Colorado River. Toroweap, on the North Rim, is amazing. But it’s not always about a specific point – sometimes you can walk along the rim east or west of any of the major points for nice views.

What’s the best time of the year to shoot at the canyon?
Kerry prefers fall because the light is lower, which makes for warmer tones and highlights the oranges and magentas. I like summer for the afternoon storms. When they clear up you have beautiful clouds, the air is clear, and the soaked rocks have vibrant, dark colors. Winter, after a snow, is beautiful, but you have to be quick before it melts.

Best time of day?
The traditional answer is early morning or late in the day so you have some shadows, but you don’t want too many. Really, the key is the clouds. You can have clouds at midday and get great shots – it’s the play of the shadows in the canyon that’s interesting. Photo­graphing down, which is what you do at the rim, is very different. It’s the hardest place to photograph. It took us years before we could figure it out.

Looking back, what advice do you wish someone had given you when you first moved here?
Watch the shadows and bracket your shots. Too much light flattens photos.

What’s the key piece of equipment you need?

Jasmine: A tripod. In order to shoot objects in the foreground, such as trees or rock outcroppings, you need depth of field and you can achieve that with a tripod. A wide angle lens also helps capture the immensity of the canyon.

You have 12 cameras. Which ones do you shoot with most often?
 My favorite is my Pentax 6×7 while Kerry likes his Hasselblad 2-1/4. We also shoot with a Hasselblad panoramic camera and we have a digital, a Canon EOS 5D. We aren’t totally into digital. We always carry both.

How many shots do you take before you have one for the galleries?
If we have 20 keepers a year out of the thousands of shots we take, I’m happy.

Can you offer advice to tourists photographing the Grand Canyon?
Hike down Bright Angel Trail five, ten or 15 minutes – your photos will get a whole different look. Beware of controlled burns that put a lot of smoke in the air. There are fewer in rainy season.
Jasmine: Don’t schedule dinner at sunset – you might miss a really great photo. And be ready all the time. The weather changes here every half hour.

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