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Antelope Canyon is probably one of the most sought after photography spots in the western United States. With pictures of the stunning slot canyon popping up left and right, the place is no longer a well kept secret among landscape photographers and today, just like the other national parks and natural wonders in the area, the canyon attracts its fair share of visitors. And they all bring their cameras, trying to figure out how to photograph Antelope Canyon.
I’m not lying when I say that it is hard to take a bad photo of Antelope Canyon. The narrow sand stone paths, the twisting and turning lines and the light beams shining through to the bottom naturally photograph very well. But there are a couple challenges to watch out for as well.
Here’s a guide on how to photograph Antelope Canyon:
How to Photograph Antelope Canyon: Planning Ahead is Important
Planning ahead and knowing that there are actually two parts to Antelope Canyon is half the work.
Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon?
Both Upper as well as Lower Antelope Canyon are located in Page, Northern Arizona. Upper Antelope Canyon is wider than Lower Antelope Canyon and let’s in more of the famous light beams. For that reason, Upper Antelope Canyon is a whole lot more popular and therefore also way more crowded. More tours and groups go there and I’ve heard of photographers leaving in frustration because they couldn’t get the photos they wanted. For my taste, there are just way too many people there.
I decided to skip the upper canyon and headed straight to the lower one. Contrary to popular belief, you can see the light beams in Lower Antelope Canyon as well, there just aren’t as many of them. This part of the canyon is more narrow and you have to climb down some steep ladders and navigate tricky twists and turns. I for one had a pretty relaxed experience in Lower Antelope Canyon and having heard the horror stories from the upper canyon, can nothing but recommend it. Lower Antelope Canyon is absolutely stunning, but I’ll let the photos in this article speak for themselves.
What Time of Year is Best for a Visit to Antelope Canyon?
The ideal time of year for a visit to Antelope Canyon is March through October. During that time of year, the sun is higher and thus, more light beams shine through the canyon. Be aware though that those are also the most crowded months and if you want a slightly more relaxed experience, winter isn’t a bad time to visit either. As long as the sun is out and shining, there will always be some light beams, they are just more prevalent in the summer months.
What Time of Day is Best for a Visit to Antelope Canyon?
Antelope Canyon is the exception in landscape photography as you can skip the golden hour and shoot in the middle of the day. Like I mentioned before, the light beams appear when the sun is high in the sky. This means that you will be able to catch them roughly between 10am and 2pm. It’s also the time of day when it get’s most crowded in the canyon, so if you’re not keen on seeing the beams, consider going earlier or later in the day.
Join an Antelope Canyon Photography Tour
Ladies and gentlemen, believe me when I say that this canyon gets CROWDED. Luckily, people aren’t allowed in without a tour anymore and there are only a certain number of tours per day. So although the tours do limit the number of people that are allowed in somewhat, it can get very busy.
There’s two different tours you can join: the regular tour and the more expensive photography tour. The regular tours have big group sizes of 20 to 30+ people that are all herded around in one giant crowd. A new tour leaves every 30 minutes or so.
The photography tours on the other hand require you to bring a tripod if you want in on the tour. This helps separate the people who are serious about photography from the rest of the tourists who might also be tempted to join these much smaller groups. No tripod, no photography tour for you.
The guides really watch out for you on the photography tours. They start the “tour” on the opposite end of the canyon and help keep people from the regular tours out of your shots. They won’t do much guiding, but instead really make sure everyone gets the photos they want and are happy to point out some of the best angles.
Photography Gear to Bring to Antelope Canyon
As mentioned before, a tripod is a must. Not only to be allowed to join the photography tour, but also because of the longer shutter speeds in the dark-ish canyon. Of course, a remote shutter release for sharper images is always a good idea as well.
Remember, whatever gear you already have will probably do just fine. Telephoto lenses and longer focal lengths don’t really work well in Antelope Canyon, therefore make sure you bring your favourite wide angle lens. I personally was very happy with my 10-22mm super wide lens and never felt like I needed more zoom – even for more detail oriented shots.
As it is very dusty inside the canyon, bring a rocket blaster or a cloth so you can clean your lens occasionally.
Stay at the Back of the Group
Although photography groups are generally a lot more considerate than regular tour groups, it’s not a bad idea to play it safe and stay at the back of the group. That way you can take your time shooting, hopefully have no other photographers stepping in your shot and don’t feel rushed by people waiting for their turn behind you. However, this changes as soon as the light beams appear. Then everyone scrambles to get the best spots
If it momentarily gets crowded in the canyon because a big group is passing through, keep moving and try to come up with different compositions. While you wait for the canyon to clear again, shoot the details or compose a shot that is straight up. And remember, having people in your shot is not always a bad thing. A person dressed in a contrasting colour can add some nice interest and scale to a photo.
Don’t Change Lenses
This one is very important: decide on your lens in advance! It is very dusty inside Antelope Canyon and there are sand particles flying and lying around everywhere. Choose a wide angle lens you like and leave it on your camera at all times. If you feel like you need a second lens to get a different perspective, consider bringing a second camera.
Shoot Multiple Exposures
Antelope Canyon is a very narrow slot canyon and just like every tight space, it has some bright and some dark areas. Sometimes it can be hard to get an even exposure that has no underexposed and overexposed parts. I went a bit crazy and shot five different exposures and later used luminosity masks to blend them together in photoshop. The results are really nice, but you should be fine with three exposures if you want to give exposure blending a try.
Shooting multiple exposures is by no means a must though and many photographers get stunning results with just one exposure. But, if you are up for something new or already know how to exposure blend, it’s a great solution.
And this guys, is how you photograph Antelope Canyon.
– All the photos were taken in Lower Antelope Canyon in February –