Let me just say that Antelope Canyon is hands-down one of the most beautiful places in the world. Slot canyons are unique and incredible occurrences in nature that you will find only in the American Southwest. As slot canyons are difficult-to-find hidden gems, and very dangerous, Antelope Canyon has a particular appeal for being much easier to get to, and much less dangerous. The general danger of slot canyons is flash floods, which can quickly fill the canyon with rushing water and sweep you to your death.
About Antelope Canyon
Antelope Canyon lies on Navajo land right outside of Page, Arizona, so you are required to pay for a Navajo park permit and a guide to take you through Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon if you want to see either. Photographers who can [somewhat] prove their legitimacy by showing professional photography equipment are granted a special photo pass that allows them to wander whichever part of the canyon they paid to see. This costs nothing extra, and will allow you to spend 2 hours in the canyon as of April 2012. Due to fairly recent deaths from flash floods, the Navajo have installed ladders and alarm systems to alert visitors of flash floods and allow them to get out more quickly.
The canyon is actually separated into two parts – Upper and Lower. Upper Antelope Canyon is more spacious and easy to enter, so it has had a reputation for being a tourist hot spot. For that reason, professional photographers tended to spend more time in the lesser-known Lower Antelope Canyon nearby, where there would be fewer tourists to contend with when trying to shoot. Sadly, word has spread and now Lower Antelope Canyon is also saturated with tourists at any given time. The professional’s only reprieve from loud and obnoxious tourists is that the Navajo guides space out tourist groups in 30 minute intervals and limit the number of people allowed in each group.
Getting the Perfect Shot in Antelope Canyon
I want to set the record straight on shooting photos in Antelope Canyon, as I can see from my own searches online that there is tons of misinformation floating around the internet. A good way to tell if a photographer’s advice for shooting in Antelope Canyon is bogus is really by just looking at their photos. Part of the appeal of shooting in Antelope Canyon is the possibility for amazing colors. If a photographer’s own photos from Antelope all feature uninteresting lighting and a uniform, dull peach color then they don’t know what they’re talking about.
There are two key components to getting beautiful, vibrant photos in Antelope Canyon:
- Know how to use your damn camera properly. That means a combined expert understanding of white balance, picture mode, and aperture that will yield the most-saturated colors and dynamic range as possible.
- Go ONLY when the sun is not directly overhead. Direct sunlight will yield washed-out lighting and the boring peach color of sandstone. Depending on the time of year, I recommend 8-10am and 2-4pm.
Patience is a virtue for the professional photographer in Antelope Canyon. Besides having to deal with a steady stream of tourists going past you, you must also wait for those perfect moments when the position of the sun yields a rainbow of colors in a certain spot in the canyon. When one area of the canyon is colorful, other areas might not be. When you find a particular rock formation and composition that you love, wait patiently for the colors. They will come. Be mindful, though, because the colors only last for a few moments. The canyon is also dusty, so protect your equipment.
That is everything you need to know for shooting in Antelope Canyon. I do not offer precise information on camera settings because it is the photographer’s responsibility to learn how to use their equipment and discover what accomplishes what. Be as prepared with photographic knowledge as possible, so that you don’t waste your trip.