As a little boy, I was gifted a kaleidoscope. I spent countless hours sitting in the sun, my eye glued to the eye piece twisting the triangular tube. The vivid montages created by colorful pieces of glass reflected in the mirrors fascinated me so much that I wished I could go inside the kaleidoscope. That wish got fulfilled with my visit to Antelope Canyon. The sunlight filtering in to the slot canyon and bouncing off the orange red sandstone, creates enthralling patterns. It is truly a magical place.
No landscape photographer’s portfolio can be complete without a images from Antelope Canyon. Here are a 6 tips for you to bring home great photos from your forthcoming trip to Antelope Canyon
#1: Choosing between Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon
Consider this. For a good 30 minutes, I had the Lower Antelope Canyon all to myself while a mile away people were tripping over each other in the Upper Antelope Canyon.
The two slots canyons are starkly different.
- The upper canyon is two way; once you reach the end, you have to turn back and walk back through the canyon. This is a significant nuisance when you are trying to frame a shot. Having got what they want, returning tourists tend to be unmindful of the waiting photographers. The lower canyon is one way allowing much respite to the photographers. But then you have two ladders ladders and a quarter of a mile hike when you exit to get back to the parking lot.
- The upper canyon has gentle turns, is wide at the bottom and narrow at the top. This means you have sunbeams on sunny days and have space to setup the tripod. The lower canyon twists and turns sharply, is narrow at the bottom, wide at the top. So no sunbeams and you have to be creative about using the available space.
- The upper canyon can be done as is an stroll by virtually anybody who can walk. The lower canyon can be tricky in places and has half a dozen ladders to clamber down (and two to climb up after exiting. You need to be fit, not necessarily Olympian shape, just fit.
My recommendation is
- If you have time + energy + money + inclination, do both canyons. They can easily be combined in a day.
- If you can only visit one canyon,
- If it is sunny and you want to shoot light beams, head to the upper canyon
- If it is cloudy or you do not care about the light beams, lower canyon is the best option.
- For hardcore photographers, who want to take time to setup and compose without being jostled, lower canyon easily usurps upper canyon.
#2: Choosing the Time of the Day
Mid-day (10am to 2pm, noon being the best) on a sunny summer day is the best time for Upper Antelope Canyon. Beware, every photographer knows this and it can get really cloudy and dusty.
Early morning or late afternoon, when the sunrays are at an angle, is the time to head to Lower Antelope Canyon. The most preferred sequence is to shoot in lower canyon from 8 to 10 in the morning and then upper canyon at noon. That way you would also have perfected your camera settings and tripod setup for a slot canyon in the relative peace of the lower canyon.
#3: Choosing your Gear
- If you own wide and telephoto lenses, make sure you carry both
- I shot about 80% of the times with a telephoto. I found my my Nikkor 18-200mm the most optimum lens at Antelope Canyon.
- I had my Tokina 11-18mm in my waist pouch. Certain frames will need you to go super wide.
- The second most important equipment is a good tripod. The light being low, you will shooting on an average at 1/10th of a second.
- Wear your hiking shoes or sneakers. The canyon floor is sandy. Flip flops or sandals means sand in your toes or under the arch of your foot, means distraction.
- I heavily recommend wearing cotton trousers. I wore shorts and my knees were sore kneeling on the sandy canyon floor.
- Take water, preferably in one of those backpacks that have a rubber bladder with a tube. The slot canyons are extremely warm.
- Lastly, carry your second lenss in a waist pouch for easy switching. Though beware, switch only when you must. The dust in the canyon can clog your equipment.
#4: Choosing your White Balance
If you are shooting RAW, leave the WB at Auto. You can play with WB later during post processing. If you have a point and shoot, change to “cloudy” or “Shade”
#5: Choosing What to Shoot
The vistas are so powerful and plentiful, it is difficult to overcome the urge to shoot everything. I had a Japanese tourist along side who must have shot 3000 photos in an hour. He virtually had his eye glued to the eyepiece, his finger continuously pressing does the shutter release. Not only do you reduce your chances of getting a good photo, there are those many more images at post processing.
- Look for reflected light. Whenever you see sunlight hitting on a wall, look at the opposite wall for hues
- Avoid direct sunlight in the frame, unless you are shooting a sun beam
- Most photographers come to Antelope Canyon for abstract pattern. Distill down a formation you like until you have isolated the smallest pattern to shoot. You will most probably need a telephoto lens
- Beautifully lit caverns or passages are in abundance. It will require patience to be able to shoot so wide with so much crowd around you. Lower Antelope Canyon is most recommended for this type of composition
- Try to avoid rock blemishes. In the photo above, see how the discoloration in the foreground is spoiling the photo.
#6: And Finally, Enjoy!
- Do not get over attached to a particular shot. If you are unable to capture for what ever reason, let go and move on. There are many more photos opportunities waiting for you. Be patient.
- Conversely, slow down. Wait until you have shot the frame to your heart’s content. Do not let all those photo opportunities overwhelm you.
- Always Imagine that people are really trying their best to get out of your frame. Smile, smile, smile. It makes them move quicker.
- Capture as much with your eye as you will with your camera.