Antelope Canyon Photo Tips – Part 1 Scenics

Antelope Canyon Photo Guide

Wow Factor
98%

Label here
95%

Accommodation
85%

Dining
75%

Page, Arizona is home to some of the most spectacular geological marvels you’ll ever see. Upper Antelope Canyon is possibly the most famous slot canyon on the planet, and with good reason. For photographers it’s as rewarding as it is challenging so here are my Antelope Canyon Photo Tips to ensure you get the best pictures you can. All of my pictures shown on this page were taken in a 45 minute window of opportunity. Here’s how to do it.

This article focuses on the scenic photography within Upper Antelope Canyon but there is so much scope for abstract photography within the canyon that it deserves it’s very own Part 2 article – coming soon. Subscribe to the Fototripper mailing list or hit this ‘Follow’ button below to get Facebook updates.

 

How to Photograph Antelope Canyon

Top Tips

First and foremost you’re going to need to make some vital adjustments to your camera settings before even entering the canyon. This will ensure your camera is optimized for the rushed and challenging conditions inside the canyon.

    • ISO Settings – Set the ISO slightly higher than usual. Landscape photographers rarely go above ISO 100 because we usually have the luxury of time and always use tripods. With Antelope Canyon you do not have that luxury. It’s dark and there are lots of people moving around so you’ll need to shoot fast. Set your ISO to between 200 and 400. Try 200 first to see if you can get away with it as 400 will start to introduce noise and degrade sharpness on most DSLR cameras.
    • Aperture Settings – Set your aperture to slightly wider settings like f/8 to allow for faster exposures but still retaining some depth of field. You could go as wide as your lens will allow (lets say f/2.8) but that means shallow depth-of-field with the foreground blurred as you’ll introduce bokeh which you probably won’t want for these shots.
    • Tripod Challenges – Pack a tripod that works well with a narrow footprint. Cheapo tripods need to go in the trash. If you think you’ll be able to spread those tripods legs like you usually do – think again. Get them as narrow as possible to avoid people kicking the legs and sabotaging your shot.
    • Focusing – Forget ‘Live View’ for focusing, you won’t have time. Practice focusing manually with the view finder or get to grips with your cameras ‘auto-focus’ controls and pick your focus point carefully. I focused manually with the Zeiss 21mm Distagon and it was a joy to use. Typically I would pick a contrasting rock line about a third of the way into the image and adjust focus until it was as sharp as I could determine.
    • Remove Filters – Ditch the polarizer or any other filter that slows down your shots. You do not need long exposures to capture the light rays.
    • You will only get the light rays on a clear, sunny day. Check the forecast before booking.

    Antelope Canyon Photography Tips

    Timing is Everything

    Here’s how it works. To get those stunning light rays, your Navajo guide will chuck a small shovel full of sand into the shaft of direct sunlight. The light hits the airborne sand and illuminates it beautifully. Here’s where the magic happens. The illuminated sand grains now bounce light off the canyon walls to create a momentary ‘light from within the canyon’, it’s quite astonishing the first time you see it. Here’s a shot of the process in action, see how the
    lower wall is lit up from the reflected light that hits the falling sand?

    Antelope Canyon Photography Guide

    The trick to capturing the right moment is timing. If, like me, you are obsessed with image quality you’ll no doubt have mirror lockup enabled and maybe a 2 second timer release. If so, you’ll need to watch your guide carefully and hit the shutter just as they throw the sand in the air. Time it too early and you’ll just have a shot of a sand cloud, time it too late and the effect has faded. You’ll get plenty of chances to get it right if nobody walks into your shot – which, I’m afraid, they will.

    Photography Guide to Antelope Canyon

    Stay Calm and Assertive

    As I’ve already mentioned, shooting in Antelope Canyon is a challenge. Photography is often a solitary pursuit and we aren’t used to sharing a tiny space with 200 other photographers but, that’s exactly what you’ll be dealing with in Antelope Canyon. Keep calm and mentally prepare for a scrum, stay cool and you’ll get your shot.

    At times it felt chaotic and rushed. Those shafts of direct sunlight only last for about 45 minutes so people are herded around in small groups in an attempt to make sure everyone gets a chance at the right shot. If you aren’t very practiced with your camera controls you might miss your opportunity, so get plenty of practice adjusting focus, exposure and aperture, as well as tripod adjustments.

    Falliong sand in Antelope Canyon Photography Guide

    Make Friends with Your Guide

    It pays to get on the good side of your Navajo Guide. If you act like a spoiled brat they won’t be inclined to help you get the shots you desire. You need them to get you in the right place at the right time and to put in some effort tossing up the shovels full of sand and pointing out the interesting formations you might miss.

    A lot of people complain about the profiteering of the Navajo by not allowing unguided tourists into sacred areas.

    Personally I think it’s essential that they keep things tightly controlled. Think about it for a minute. If they allowed all and sundry into Antelope Canyon it would end up being destroyed. Another thing to consider is that for $80 each we had a guide who helped us take LOTS of beautiful pictures. Compare that to the cost of a tank of gas to visit some other location which, if you’re lucky, might give you just one good shot. $80 starts sounding like a Bargain!

    Photographing Antelope Canyon

    Thank GOD for ‘Content Aware Fill’

    I can guarantee that someone will walk into your perfect shot. Take multiple exposures so that you can blend in a version where the photo bomber isn’t there. You can also use Photoshops ‘Content Aware Fill’ to remove them.

      Recommended Equipment

      • Rain Cover – To protect your camera from dust if not weather sealed.
      • Fast Tripod – You’ll need a small footprint in these close quarters
      • Dust Blower to keep your lens clean
      • Wide Angle Lens
      • Zoom Lens
      • 2nd Camera for hand helds

      Photography Chaos at Antelope Canyon

      Getting There

      From Page

      You cannot enter the canyon without a Navajo guide. Go into the tourist information centre and book a guide through them. You meet the guide at their place of business and they will drive you to and from Antelope Canyon. We went with ‘Overland’ tours for $80 per person which means you don’t have to pay the additional park entry fee.

      Accommodation

      Page has lots of choice when it comes to accommodation. As usual we stayed at one of the cheaper places so the Travelodge fit the bill. It’s close to everything and the essential wifi was usable.

      Upper Antelope Canyon Photography Guide

      Dining

      There are plenty of dining choices in Page, Arizona. We frequented the ‘Asian Cuisine – Indian and Thai’ which was decent and close to our hotel. Stromboli’s also did decent salads that were good value for money.

      While You’re There

      When in Page you MUST go to Horseshoe Bend. There are also countless places on Lake Powell that will yield amazing photos but you’ll need to hire your own boat to get anywhere during good light. We paid top dollar to go on the round trip to Rainbow Bridge during mid day light which was not ideal. Next time we’ll rent a little speed boat and get there for early evening light.

      Also check out Lower Antelope Canyon and if you’re up for a drive, take a trip to Monument Valley.

      Please Post a Comment and Share

      Please feel free to ask questions, post your thoughts and experiences and by all means share this article with your friends.

      Abstract Photography Guide to Upper Antelope Canyon

      Part 2 Coming Soon

      Be sure to catch my second Antelope Canyon Photo Guide Part 2 – Abstracts. Subscribe to the Fototripper mailing list or hit this ‘Follow’ button below to get Facebook updates.

       

      Fading Light Rays in Antelope Canyon

      About Gavin Hardcastle

      Gavin is a professional landscape photographer from Vancouver Island, BC. He teaches photography workshops all over the world and writes extensively about his experiences on location. You can read his photo guides and tutorials here at Fototripper.com. His fine art prints can be purchased from www.gavinhardcastle.com.

      29 thoughts on “Antelope Canyon Photo Tips – Part 1 Scenics

      1. DONNA SONE

        JUST BREATHTAKING…. EACH PHOTO IS AMAZING…. THANK YOU FOR SHARING… ON MY “BUCKET LIST”… MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE ON EARTH TO ME….

        Reply
      2. marie

        Fantastic shots! Was here last year .had only gotten in to photography .Was lucky enough to be on a tour which finished abruptly because of flash flooding threat but our guide let us hang back until the crowds had gone/ Wish I had known a bit more about shooting in this place especially now as Ive seen your images. Its amazing there and I hope I can return there again/ I shall never forget it.

        Reply
      3. Lynne Boardman

        Amazingly articulate! I photographed
        the Qumran caves and the red sea from
        the peak of Mt. Masada at sunrise, with a
        galati on in the lens that when laserprinted
        gave shades of colors like a giant eye of
        God.
        Reflections and texture intrigue me.
        I live in the Shenandoah Valkey of Virginia,
        so I’m surrounded by waterfalls and mountains
        valleys and rivers. All light and shadow calm
        me. Deer, hawks, peregrine falcons…just
        heaven.

        Reply
      4. Pingback: Antelope Canyon Photo Guide - Part 2 Abstracts | Fototripper

      5. Pingback: Horseshoe Bend Photo Guide | Fototripper

      6. Amy

        We booked a tour with a company that said the sunlight doesn’t come into the canyon like in your shots when we will be there, which is mid-Oct. Do you know if that’s true or not? Our tour is for 1 pm which I know is late in the day, but I’m curious to know if the sun isn’t visible at all then.

        Reply
        • Gavin Hardcastle Post author

          I’ve heard that the winter months don’t get enough direct sunlight into the slots so this may well be true. I’d call the tourist information centre and ask them about it just to be sure.

          Reply
      7. Amy

        Even more that the sunlight coming through, I’m concerned about a throng of people getting in the way. I will definitely have to take my blood pressure medicine beforehand. But it is a photography tour so hopefully the guide will clear out an area for unobstructed shots.

        Reply
      8. Heather

        Thanks a ton for spending time to compose “Antelope
        Canyon Photo Tips – Part 1 Scenics | Fototripper”.
        Many thanks for a second time -Janeen

        Reply
      9. douglas leib AKA "wildlifeman"

        I went thru upper antelope canyon in early October. I did 2 trips on the same day. I did the tourist tour @ 7am first to get a feel for the later 2 hour photo tour from 11am to 1pm. Only took 300 shots.
        I was able to be better educated as to my photo essay which turned out to be 1100 wonderful frames, that were so graciously pointed out by my wonderful guide. I had 2 different guides. Both were very knowledgeable & photo savvy. I might try going back near June 21 for the best light shafts of the year, or, so I am told.

        Reply
      10. Louise

        Thanks very much for this informative post. I am visiting the USA from Darwin, Australia and am researching photographic locations/times etc. I come from a fairly remote location where there is never (ever) a problem of too many photographers/people in one location – this is definitely going to be a test of my patience/ability! I usually take all the time in the world ha ha. Appreciate the tips on taking multiple shots of the same composition for blending/layering later to eliminate people!

        Thanks again.

        Reply
        • Gavin Hardcastle Post author

          Hi Louise,

          Antelope Canyon will really test your patience. I almost had a full tantrum after just 15 minutes, but if you keep calm and stay the course, you’ll get some immense shots. What time of year are you visiting?

          Reply
      11. Harsharn Gill

        Brilliant article. Thanks for sharing your wealth of information.

        Particularly like the ‘Photo bomber’..haha.

        Was you able to get the dynamic range all within 1 one shot or did you take a sequence to auto bracketed shots to ensure you covered the brightness of the scene?

        Thankyou.

        Reply
      12. Chris

        Amazing photos! Cannot stop looking at these… I have had to go to Antelope more than once to really get it and I need to go again — now that I have a another new camera …. summer with the 12 or 1 pm tour was best — the sun streams right in. I found the Navajo guides were really great — and you are so right about being good to your guide. They know the canyon inside out and have good tips. I found taking a quick adjust monopod with a good head on it was way better than when I used a tripod — steadied me well (but I also shoot sports — basketball indoors– so I have had to learn to use it.) Gave me way more flexibility to get the shots I wanted without people hitting my equipment plus I could get out and move out of others way and get other shots while people were messing with tripods. I thought our last guide (whose name escapes me right now) cleared people out well to allow everyone to get the shots you want. True true about PATIENCE!

        Reply
      13. Stephanie

        Thanks for all the tips! I’m heading there in a few weeks, and I was wondering what tripod you’d recommend? Would a monopod be better due to the crowds?

        Reply
      14. Jorge Moran

        Gracias for taking the time to post this beautiful,description, Im going next August and ecxited to have all this imformation ahead of time, Thanks a millon. looking forward to picture the horse shoe bend. any tips for this place?

        Reply
      15. JC

        Greetings Gavin. THANK YOU so very much for sharing your wonderful photos and tips. I am getting ready and doing my home work before my upcoming trip next week :o). I feel so much prepared what to expect and time to brush up my forgotten camera skill due to laziness and reliance on smartphone photography. Will keep your tips notes handy as reference materials.

        Reply
      16. ann

        Great tips Gavin, and very nice photos! I will be heading there in a couple weeks, hope I can get at least 1 good photo. Question for wide angle lens, how wide do you suggest? I have the Tokina 11-16mm. Will this be too wide? I also have a 17-55mm, which I think would be more versatile in terms of zoom etc. Which would you recommend if I don’t want to change lens during the tour?

        Thanks!

        Reply
      17. PhotoDude

        Wow, what fantastic shots!!! Thanks for sharing the photos and the tips.

        I’ll be heading there in a week and I have booked with Overland Canyon Tours. I will be using a Nikon D600 with a Gitzo tripod. I have a Nikon 28-300 mm f/3.5-5.6, Nikon 24 mm f/2.8, Nikon 50 mm f/1.8 and a cheap Rokinon 8 mm f/3.5 lens. Which lens would you recommend I use?

        I can visit the Lower AC before or after the Upper AC tour (10am – 1pm). Would you recommend going before or after? I have seems photos with purple/orange color? Do you know how to get those photos.

        Once again, thank you very much for your tips!!!

        Reply
        • Gavin Hardcastle Post author

          I reckon you’ll get the best results with the 50mm f/1.8 due to it’s speed and sharpness, however if it gets really cramped you’ll need something wider like the 24mm. Consider taking two cams because I wouldn’t advise changing lenses in that dusty canyon.

          As for lower, go any time. If you want purple/orange shots just tint them in photoshop or play with your white balance to decide which tint you prefer. The canyon in reality is a more creamy/sand colour and you’ll get more contrast on a brighter day. so may need to bracket.

          Reply
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