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Chris Burkard Travel #4
Canyoneering from the Inside Out
I was intrigued by the vertical world and the opportunities it could provide to shoot different areas in new perspectives. That’s what initially got me into climbing. I had no idea how many opportunities it would eventually open up for me. It’s been an incredible way to experience some amazing places in a new light.
Being comfortable with heights has helped out alot, and not just for shooting climbing. Growing up in California the steep vertical walls of yosemite and sharp granite rocks in Joshua Tree were my go to locations, but since I was traveling for work all over the place it allowed me to experience it on a much larger and broader scale. Greece, Iceland, New Zealand, and many more. I fell in love with the communities and the lifestyle.

Climbing was a natural progression toward canyoneering. Allowing me to feel comfortable on a rope and rappelling was a crucial skill, and beyond that I had was fascinated with the canyons in Utah. Remote, almost mystical environments, where few people had really explored. I explored these canyons every fall and over time I learned the best ways of getting in and out safely. Photographing them on the other hand was a challenge. Using your gear really has to be second nature. Small, lightweight, and most importantly durable. It took me a while to dial in my ideal set ups since each scenario varied slightly. In this post I share a couple tips to ensure you can capture the beauty of canyon landscapes.
Possible Scenarios
- The types of shots you’re going to take while canyoneering is largely based on the canyons themselves. For instance Utah’s canyons generally have less running water and are more prone to rappelling then jumping and swimming. In many of these canyons I don’t even bring water housings. Instead opting for dry bags. Here are some possible scenarios you could encounter while canyoneering.
- Cliff Jumping
- Rappelling
- Swimming (depending on the canyon)
- Scenic (waterfalls, moving/flowing water, etc)
Being “safe” while canyoneering is much more complex than simply watching your step. You need to be diligent in your research when scouting a location, utilizing reliable sources, and investing real time into prepping your gear. The more time spent on planning and preparing for a canyoneering trip ties directly into how smooth the overall experience will be. I’ve fallen in love with the intricate process of packing gear and can honestly say that I learn something new on every trip.
Appropriate Gear
- A6300 (small lightweight mirrorless camera) - GoPro -- some canyons may be too dark but since this camera is small and lightweight it’s worth bringing along.
- Wide angle lens to capture the depth of the location (as fast as possible)
- Small prime lens to capture the intricacies of climbing
- Bag housing (depending on if the canyon is going to have a water element). You could also bring a full on water housing, but I prefer bag housing for this scenario since they aren’t as bulky and heavy.
- Tripod (again depending on the canyon)
- Appropriate clothing? This depends on two things. Temperature of the water and the amount of swimming you plan to do. Canyons are always colder than they appear. Utah can be 120 degrees up above outside, and 60 degrees down in the canyon.
  - SWISS: Full Suits with canyoneering shoes
  - UTAH: Keep in mind this would depend on the time of year as well, but generally speaking I’d go with board shorts and lightweight breathable footwear/water shoes.
Important Lessons for shooting.
- Be comfortable with the activity, it’s hard enough to rappel down a 100ft waterfall. Shooting while doing so is an entirely different ball game.
- Equipment. Try to preset your camera settings as much as you can before hand.
Make sure you know the route you are taking and always have as much info on it as possible. Bringing a guide is a good idea sometimes!
- Self-arresting is an important part of canyoneering. Make sure you’re comfortable removing yourself from a keeper pothole or any type of obstacle you might face.
- Stay ahead of the pack, sometimes a rappel, jump, or slide will shoot better from below. Get there first to assess the scene and decide where to shoot from.
- When shooting from a bag or water housing, watch the water droplets! If you don’t keep an eye on these it could totally blow the shot.
- Canyoneering can be a fun fast pace activity, but don't be afraid to slow it down a bit if you see something truly worth shooting. (ex image: Utah long exposure images)
- I’d just talk about camera settings. Shooting shallow when you can get away with it and balancing your shutter speed and ISO. I feel like the general take away should be not to be afraid to use ISO when you need to. Most of the time you are shooting in pretty difficult lighting situations.
Bucket List Locations
- Suze Valley, Italy
- Agawa Canyon, Canada
- Additional Utah trips. It really does have some amazing canyons and for those who haven’t been canyoneering it’s easily accessible and truly epic!
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