Adventures in Antelope Canyon

Upper Antelope Canyon
Ask a group of landscape photographers to name their top ten bucket list locations, and you will get a wide variety of answers. Photographers have strong individual preferences and excel in widely diverse environments. However, through these differences we often find common themes. I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t want to photograph the Northern Lights. How many times have you heard somebody say that Patagonia just isn’t my thing? I’m guessing never. Another location that is guaranteed to come up in these conversations is Antelope Canyon. From the year-round warm weather to the ease of access, this canyon is as about as close to heaven as you can get for a landscape photographer. If you have ever considered the trip and are looking for some tips and tricks, please read on as I share our experience through this one of a kind location. Getting There First off, you need to get to Page, Arizona. From Southern California, my wife and I had two options. Through Las Vegas and East into Arizona, or through Phoenix and due North to Page. If you are looking for something to do on the drive, the route through Phoenix takes you by Sedona and the Grand Canyon. It’s a beautiful drive and the traffic is nonexistent. Once you arrive in Page, just know this. It’s a tiny town made up of small hotels, fast food restaurants, and gas stations. In other words, there isn’t very much to do once the sun goes down.  Plan on catching the sunset at Horseshoe Bend, grabbing some beers and snacks at Walmart, and going to bed early.  
Sunset over Horseshoe Bend
Watching the last light fade over Horseshoe Bend – Page, Arizona
  The Setup We woke up Sunday morning, the day of our photography tour, and had no idea what to expect. Our tour company, Adventurous Antelope Canyon Photo Tours, had emailed us the previous day to meet them at the Highway 98 blue mile marker 302. Seems simple enough, and it was. No more than ten minutes down the highway we pulled into the lot and checked in for our tour. Thankfully I had done a little research and learned that there are several tours of the canyon. There is a walking tour, which is significantly cheaper, but only the photography tours allow you to bring a tripod. In fact, they require it. Obviously, if your plan is to take great photos you were already planning on taking your tripod, and this is their way of making sure the canyon isn’t overcrowded with photographers slowing down the production I will describe later. After checking in we learned a few things I hadn’t come across in my research. Unbeknownst to us, there are no bags allowed in the canyon. How do you change lenses you ask? Well, you don’t. You pick your favorite lens, attach your camera to your tripod, grab a bottle of water and your whole kit is complete. This was a bit of a surprise to say the least. Well it turned out to sound a lot worse than it really was. The canyon is extremely dusty so changing your lens would be a risk, and the lens choice is quite simple. Take your widest lens. That’s it. Put your bag back in the car and know if you have your widest lens you are going to be fine. I chose my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM with my 5D Mark iii and my wife went with her Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM with her 70D.  We hopped in the back of the van and off we went on the short drive to the canyons.   Rattlesnake Canyon There are a number of photography tour options available and we chose the two canyon tour. We started in Rattlesnake Canyon around 9:30 and this proved to be a huge blessing. It is a little shorter and a lot brighter than Antelope Canyon. It is also not full of people. This allowed us to warm up and get comfortable with our tripods in the tight canyons and it gave us an opportunity to learn how to shoot the light and curves of the canyons. Little did we know how important this was going to be when we got Upper Antelope Canyon.  
Rattlesnake Canyon
Looking up and out of Rattlesnake Canyon
  Upper Antelope Canyon Upon arrival at Upper Antelope Canyon, you will immediately notice that there are people everywhere. These are the walking tours I mentioned earlier. This is also where you meet up with a larger group of people on the photographer’s tour. At this point I was starting to get a little worried. How on Earth are we going to get any images with people literally everywhere in the canyon? It turns out that this is when you fully understand why you paid for the photographer’s tour. Now that we were a group of twelve, we had two guides. Our guides ran the canyon. They dictated when and where the walking tours could go. They stopped them when we were shooting and they hustled them by us in between locations. This is a much bigger job then it sounds.  Without their crowd control of the walking tours, it would be next to impossible to get an image without somebody’s foot or head poking around a bend in the canyon. Not only do the guides control the crowds, they also control our group. As you can imagine, twelve photographers make a large group in a small canyon.  If you have ever tried to shoot a crowded location with everyone fighting for angle, you know it can result in chaos. They efficiently line everyone up shoulder to shoulder, some low some high to make sure even the least aggressive photographer gets the shot. An important tip I have is to try and anticipate the location and pick a composition quickly. Remember, once you are all lined up, that is the only angle you are going to get!  
Upper Antelope Canyon
Angela nails it. A perfect beam and the Heart of the Antelope Canyon
  The subjects range from rock formations, to sand falls, to light beams. To get the pronounced beams with which we are all so familiar, the guides will throw sand into the light. Another important photo tip, wait for the sand to settle and the dust to remain. The sand reflects light and it will be blown out in your exposure. You will probably get six or seven specific locations in the canyon. Generally speaking, you have about ten minutes at each spot, but only about two minutes of people free shooting. Make the best of the opportunity and fire off enough exposures to get your exposure and focal bracketing nailed. I know I’ve only scraped the surface of shooting in the slot canyons, but hopefully some of these tips help. If you ever have the opportunity to visit this dream location, I wish you the best of luck in your photographic adventures.  
Upper Antelope Canyon
The mouth of the canyon and a sand fall as we waited for the light
  For more images, please visit our Canyons Gallery and feel free to email me with any questions at info@bc3.photograph Billy

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