3 Tips On Photographing Lower Antelope Canyon

By | 2016-02-29T14:15:06+00:00 May 12th, 2015|

The last time I visited Lower Antelope Canyon, near Page, AZ, was in February 2014. I had arrived with about an hour before the local Navajo operators were closing for the evening, so my time exploring the area was brief. As I was ushered out of the canyon by the diligent canyon keepers, I knew I would have to return and ensure ample time to properly survey the area with my camera. Fortunately, that opportunity presented itself a little over a year later, when I returned to the undulating and confined spaces of this marvelous slot canyon in early April 2015

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There are several ways you can explore Lower Antelope Canyon but all now require that you be a part of a tour group. There are two companies that operate tours, both located right near the canyon entrance: Ken’s and Dixie Ellis. Both companies offer two basic types of tours: the standard guided tour and the photography tour. The latter requires that each tourist brings a tripod—something that I strongly recommend anyway. I strongly recommend going with Dixie Ellis mostly because they seem to do a better job of limited how many people can sign up for the photography tours. I signed up for two tours with them on back-to-back days. On the first tour, there were four of us and on the second, there were five—totally manageable. Ken’s, on the other hand, constantly looked like a cattle herd barreling through the canyon. If you do go with Dixie Ellis, be sure to ask for Armando. He was a fantastic guide who, once he ascertained that I didn’t need photo guidance, left me to my own devices so that he could focus his efforts on the other group members.

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As you make your way down to the base of this slot canyon, it will become very clear that a two hour guided tour will not be nearly enough to truly appreciate the intricacy and complexity found within these undulating walls. Stone bends, curves, and meanders in ways that I never really thought possible. It is as perfect of a display of nature’s ballet as anything that I’d ever seen. Whether you use a wide-angle or telephoto lens, there is something truly magical to capture. And seeing the colors of these walls erupt and change as the minutes go by is breathtaking. That’s why I took two tours—one in the late afternoon and one just after sunrise. There isn’t one perfect time to see these canyons, it’s a necessity to explore them several times during different hours of the day to truly appreciate how much character these walls have.

 

If you do find yourself fortunate enough to visit this magical place, keep some of this advice in mind to maximize your photo-taking experience:

[custom_headline type=”left” level=”h3″ looks_like=”h3″ accent=”true”]Go with an open mind.[/custom_headline]

Nothing sabotages creativity quite like a busy mind. Trust me, this is something that I battle with constantly and it will do you no good down here. Don’t force or compel yourself to have to find those shots. Hell, don’t even turn on your camera until you feel comfortable and acclimated to the dizzying flow of these narrow walls. Once you feel calm and lucid, start looking around for your compositions

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[custom_headline type=”left” level=”h3″ looks_like=”h3″ accent=”true”]Keep your head on a swivel.[/custom_headline]

While the tour you’re on may be moving in one direction, be sure to constantly look everywhere. I mean it. Everywhere. Look in every direction and at every angle. There are nearly an infinite number of ways to capture these flowing walls and what’s great is that maintaining a level horizon line isn’t a necessity here. In this canyon, abstraction can be a huge reward!

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[custom_headline type=”left” level=”h3″ looks_like=”h3″ accent=”true”]Break rules of composition often.[/custom_headline]

Sure, the rules of composition, exposure, and stylization have merit within the universe of photography and knowing them is critical… if only so that you can break them more effectively. Lower Antelope Canyon is not a manmade structure, so why would you restrict yourself to manmade rules of photography? There are no blueprints or diagrams. It’s a perfect testament to nature doing what it does best on its own terms. Embrace the fluid chaos of this are and let it define how you compose your photo. Experiment with your camera and I promise you’ll find a photo that makes your jaw drop.

 

 

 

15 Comments

  1. Miles Pilling May 13, 2015 at 12:05 am - Reply

    Nice. I’m jealous. If I ever get around to touring the USA, I plan to do this. All lovely shots but I particularly like the last 3 images – beautiful textures and an abstract feel. Is the white balance out of camera and colour differences because they were shot at different times of day or have you altered it in post? (I l also like the advice about allowing your mind to calm – always hard to do when faced with great beauty and the adrenaline is pumping because you don’t want to miss a shot. Isn’t it great how much more enjoyable the experience is when we do!)

    P.S. I became disabled and had to move to mirrorless from my Canon full frame kit. I use an Olympus EM1 and EM5 for travel – with 2 pro spec zooms, I rarely have to change lens and they are so light! We are lucky to live in this age of modern technology!

    Thanks, Miles of mindfulphotos.org

  2. Michael Stephens June 7, 2015 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    Great tips and great shots Brian. I was hoping to make the trip last summer but plans fell through. Perhaps I needed these tips prior to going.
    Mike

  3. Steve Duffey June 7, 2015 at 8:13 pm - Reply

    I’m just curious Brian, I know you shoot with a Sony mirrorless camera and from what I’ve heard they don’t allow mirrorless cameras down there (for what reason I don’t know). Did you encounter any such issues on your visit?

    • Brian Matiash June 7, 2015 at 8:32 pm - Reply

      Hmmm… that’s not something I experienced at all. I did sign up for the “photography tour,” which requires you to have a tripod but I don’t recall any of the guides expressing concerns about my a7. In fact, a few of the guides knew about it and asked a bunch of questions about its performance and functionality! :)

      • Steve Duffey June 7, 2015 at 8:58 pm - Reply

        I recall a post on PetaPixel regarding Gordon Lang of CameraLabs being denied entrance initially becasue he had a mirrorless camera. Keep in mind that post is from 2012. Apparently now if you have a mirrorless that has interchangeable lenses then it’s ok (that is to go on the photo tour and not just the general admission crowd).

        • Brian Matiash June 7, 2015 at 9:02 pm - Reply

          Hmmmm…. Gordon is a great guy and I have total faith in the accounts of his experience. I’d love to ask the tour guides what qualifies as a pro camera these days and hear their justification. :)

  4. Gary Smith June 8, 2015 at 1:04 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Brian. I’ve been fortunate to visit Antelope Canyon on a couple of occasions and I find your thoughts very helpful in engaging that remarkable place. Some photography friends and I had the good fortune to visit Canyon X, which is also on the Navajo Reservation and another wonderful place.

  5. Lauren Martin June 8, 2015 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    My neighbors just visited there last month and complained not so much about the number of people in their group, but the suffocating crowd in general that was moving through around them. He eventually put away his camera because he simply could not get a photo due to the crowds.

    It’s good to hear a positive report.

  6. Diane March 3, 2016 at 8:21 am - Reply

    I can’t wait to visit there some day…been on my list for years. Why is there a concern if your camera is mirror less or not? Also is the photography tour only for professionals?? I ride a motorcycle so would mirror less be a better option for traveling?
    Thanks for your feedback and great articles.

    Miiyah

    • Brian Matiash March 3, 2016 at 9:51 am - Reply

      I don’t think the mirrorless concern is a factor anymore. I do seem to recall one of the guides saying that it used to be a problem because they associated small cameras with a lack of skill or something odd like that. But fear not, it’s not an issue.

      The photography tours are for anyone but they do insist that you bring a tripod so that you get the best possible experience.

  7. Mike March 7, 2016 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    Brian,

    I visited both upper and lower antelope about one year ago. I was shooting multiple exposures with a D810, to +/-5 EV and I’m still having significant issues processing into a natural looking image. I see a similar issue with your photo showing the sky, the border between light and dark has a strong halo, which is difficult to control in post even with my exposures. Any tips on processing (including white balance). Thanks.
    Mike

    • Brian Matiash March 7, 2016 at 3:37 pm - Reply

      Yeah, this has always been a big challenge for me, too. Doubly so when the sun is high in the sky. In these situations where tone-mapping is needed, I usually err on letting the highlights blow out a bit more. The alternative results in grey, muddy highlight features and you increase the likelihood of having visible chromatic aberration. Unless the composition is exceptionally compelling, I usually opt to focus my attention closer to ground level, where I don’t have to compete as much with the crazy shift in dynamic range. I hope that helps!

      • Mike March 7, 2016 at 4:10 pm - Reply

        It does help Brian. Return trips may yield better results, I learned a lot from my first trip. Unfortunately, my most compelling shot shows the sky, so I’m really trying to make it work :)

  8. Ron March 16, 2016 at 5:23 pm - Reply

    I found that setting the white balance to “Cloudy” really brings out the reds.

  9. Jim Harding November 9, 2017 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    Wow….How times have changed. I visited Antelope Canyon way back in 2008. Because I had a tripod in my hand I was allowed to go down unaccompanied, no tour, no guide, just allowed to do my own thing (I did have to pay of course). Fabulous. I did however sign up for a private tour (can’t remember the contact details) to visit Canyon X – absolutely stunning and well worth it. In my opinion this was better than anything in Antelope Canyon.

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