The location: Antelope Canyon
Antelope Canyon is one of many stunning slot canyons on the Navajo Nation near Page, Arizona. The canyon is at ground level, meaning you don’t have to hike uphill or downhill to access it. Despite being less than 1,000 feet long, Upper Antelope Canyon is one of the most visited tourist destinations of the Southwest. Lower Antelope Canyon and Canyon X are growing in popularity as well. Access to all three canyons is limited to paid guided tours.
The story: a photographer’s dream
While planning a month-long trip to the Grand Circle, an area of northern Arizona and southern Utah including multiple national parks, we debated putting Antelope Canyon on the itinerary. During high season, the “photography” tours of Upper Antelope will set you back $80-120 for just 2-3 hours, and we weren’t sure if it would be worth the cost. Encouraged by family members who’d recently toured the slot canyon, we determined this bucket list photography site was worth the investment.
Is the photography tour worth it?
Yes. If your goal is to take great photos of Antelope Canyon, you should pay for one of the longer photography tours. You’re allowed to bring any camera on the basic hour-long sightseeing tours, but you can’t bring a tripod and you won’t have nearly enough time. The guides for the photography tours are often more experienced and have good suggestions for making the most of your time. All in all, these are some of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken.
Taking the best possible photos
Limited time in the canyon
With about two hours in the slot canyon, time goes by too fast. You only have a few minutes at each point of interest. You’ll have to make compositions quickly and then not worry about them. There isn’t time here to get familiar with new equipment, so make sure you feel comfortable with your gear. Have everything clean, charged, and ready to roll.
Bags are not allowed in the slot canyon, including photo gear bags. You’ll have to fit everything in your pockets. Because you spend so much time crouching or kneeling in the dust, long pants are best. Snacks aren’t really necessary in the amount of time and you only need a small water bottle.
Camera gear and settings
Due to the time and dust, you don’t want to mess with changing lenses while in Antelope Canyon. Use the widest angle option you can. Bring a tripod that’s easy to adjust quickly even if it isn’t very tall. (The photography tour required me to bring a tripod and it was essential for quality shots.) About 90% of my shots were taken from very low to the ground looking up, so a flip screen is a helpful bonus. Don’t forget your lens cloth.
I chose to use auto-white balance and neutral color settings. I don’t like making color decisions based on my little LCD view screen. The more neutral settings allow me to take my time on those choices in my digital dark room. I took my polarizing filter off part way through the tour to save a couple F stops. A U/V filter will help protect your lens from dust and is all you need. Definitely use bracketing—multiple exposures of the same shot—to capture detail in both shadow and light. Use a remote so your hands don’t shake the camera.
The gear: Canon
These photos of Upper Antelope Canyon near Page, AZ were taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, with a Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L wide lens.
All images are copyright of Josh Schaulis and may not be reproduced or used in any way without written permission.