Photo Tips for Antelope Canyon Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona
Page, Arizona: Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons are very easy to visit, great for both children and adults. Expect crowds. Drive there with your private car (or pay more for a tour booked from Page). Different Navajo families operate Upper and Lower Canyons, which explains the separate admission fees:
The Upper Canyon is an easy flat walk in sand. To get there, drive east of Page, Arizona on Highway 98 for several miles, to just before milepost 299. You will see an entrance booth for Upper Antelope Canyon on the right (south). Pay at the booth, park your car, and wait for the next 4WD shuttle & guide to take you to the slot entrance. In 2005, Navaho lands entry fee was $6 (good for one day only), plus $15 for the guided tour & ride to Upper Canyon.
Lower Antelope Canyon: Across the highway, to the north of Upper Canyon’s entrance station, you will see a sign marking the short road to Lower Antelope Canyon parking lot (Antelope Point Road, Navaho Route N22B). Pay at the office and walk along the marked trail, which descends into Lower Antelope Canyon on easy ladders and slanted sandstone. The Lower Canyon has less dust, fewer tourists, the best formations, and requires no guide, which allows you much more freedom & time to photograph. Walking straight through without stopping would take only half an hour, but the amazing cathedrals in stone should slow you down, awestruck. In 2005, Navaho lands entry fee was $6 (paid only once if seeing both canyons on the same day), plus Lower Canyon tour fee was $13.
Entrance station open March-October 8:00am – 5:00pm (Mountain Standard Time year around, never Daylight Savings), charging fees.
Entrance Station is closed for the winter season (November – February) but Lower and Upper Antelope Canyon are both OPEN.
The canyons are subject to weather closures, especially in hot July-August which is dangerous flash flood season. In May-July (closer to summer solstice), the sun shines most directly into the slot canyons, for exciting light shafts.
Midweek is better than weekends, to avoid crowds.
Wait for a sunny day with the sun high overhead, best midday, during normal Canyon opening hours 9-5:00. Light quality will be very dull on a cloudy day, not as good for photography.
I shot my images on April 12-13, 2006.
I recommend 10am to 3pm, in April or October.
I recommend all day in each canyon (two days total) for serious photography. If you are sightseeing without a camera, you only need an hour or two in each canyon.
Your guide, required in the Upper Canyon, may let you linger for photography (which may cost a little more for extra hours). Large groups come through continuously in Upper Canyon. You must take shots quickly. Try to determine your shot settings at each spot before placing the tripod in the narrow path.
You have more freedom to photograph in the Lower Canyon, where no guide is required.
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The best lighting is bounced indirect sunlight.
Avoid including directly sunlit rocks in the image. An exception to this is capturing a column of sunlight in the dusty air. To get the best shots of shafts of sunlight, shoot when the sun is highest in the sky around noon. Throw sand up into the light column and quickly shoot the falling sunlit dust & sand. If others are present, get their permission before tossing sand. Crowds may also stir up enough dust to brighten the rays of sunlight.
If you use film, expose for the brightest rock (but avoid including directly sunlit rocks in the image as described above).
Have fun! This is a fantastic place, despite the crowds of people. Smile and be friendly to everyone, and patiently let people pass by in the narrow slots.
Photo Equipment to Bring:
Bring a tripod, flashlight, jacket, snacks, & water. The crowds of people in the Upper Canyon will make use of a tripod more challenging than in the longer and lesser traveled Lower Canyon.
I recommend a digital camera over a film camera since you can immediately determine the exposure and appearance of images. Check your LCD frequently to confirm image quality. Fill your bell-shaped histogram with good shadow detail, without cutting off highlights. I don’t recommend changing lenses in these dusty canyons (keep your digital sensor clean with a hand-squeezed blower).
Using a wide angle such as 17-35mm on a DSLR (~27 to 52mm on 35mm-film cameras) is good. But a 24mm lens (in terms of 35mm-film) will be even more useful in these tight slot canyons.
You can widen your lens angle by stitching together multiple shots using software (such as my image on the right).
For stitching, take each shot overlapped by a third, with exactly the same focus, exposure and white balance (such as using Manual), using the DSLR at about 24mm (36mm in terms of 35mm-film cameras). Use 17mm if you have to, but stitching may not line up as well on the edges.
Least distortion for stitching is usually within the range of 35 to 50mm (in terms of 35mm-film cameras).
On a typical DSLR (with an APS-sized sensor with ~1.5x lens multiplier), 24mm is equivalent to a 36mm lens on a 35mm-film camera. (But if you have an expensive full-framed sensor, the lenses are the same size as for film). A DSLR 24mm lens (or longer) usually stitches better than 17mm.
Canon supplies a good panorama stitch program in their Zoombrowser program provided free with many of their digital cameras.
Adobe Photoshop CS3 greatly improves the Photomerge feature versus previous Photoshop versions.
Upper Canyon is darker: I shot exposures of about 0.5 to 2 seconds.
Lower Canyon is shallower, a little brighter, and has the most interesting rock formations: I shot exposures of about 0.2 to 1 second.
This article is in response to an email question from Larry 5/23/07: “Any tips on photographing in antelope canyon. I have a Nikon D2x and wide angle lens 17-35mm.” In reply to my tips Larry said, “Thanks for the great information. I plan to be there on Saturday, but I will definitely go to the lower canyon. Not changing the lens with all the dust sounds like a good idea. I will let you know how it works out. Your photo enclosed is fantastic. – Larry”