The entrance to Upper Antelope Canyon.

The entrance to Upper Antelope Canyon.

Located about ten minutes outside Page, Ariz., Upper Antelope Canyon is one of those magnificent natural wonders that should be on every photographer's must shoot list.

An authorized Navajo tour guide is required to gain access and while there are a number of tour operations available in the Page area, I choose Roger Ekis' Antelope Canyon Tours and specifically signed up for the photographer's tour. Most of the tour operations offer some sort of a photography option which will cost you a little more money, but does give you more time on location, ensures that you can use a tripod, and most importantly, means you are with other photographers whose sole purpose is the same as yours.

This was my first and only visit to Upper Antelope Canyon and I spent a total of two hours taking photographs. I mention this because I don't want to give the impression that I know everything there is to know about photographing here. However, I think you will find these five tips useful if you ever get the opportunity.

Photographed with a 10.5mm lens and corrected in Adobe Lightroom 4.

Photographed with a 10.5mm lens and corrected in Adobe Lightroom 4.

1. Take your time. You've anticipated this shoot, have seen incredible images taken by others and know that you have limited time, so you can't wait to drop the tripod legs and begin shooting. In our case, we walked immediately to the back of the canyon where it is much shallower and more cave-like with less light reaching the canyon floor. We then proceeded to shot while working our way back to the entrance. Two hours doesn't seem like a long time, but you don't have to make all your images in the first ten minutes either. Also in this case, I think the better shots are closer to the entrance of the canyon where it is wider, brighter and the sunlight filtering down from 120' above brings out the most colors and patterns in the sandstone walls. So use your first half hour of time to get used to shooting in this environment and don't rush.

My guide tosses a handful of sand onto a ledge creating a nice visual effect as it then "flows" over the edge.

My guide tosses a handful of sand onto a ledge creating a nice visual effect as it then "flows" over the edge.

2. Cooperation and communication are key. You will be shooting alongside other photographers in addition to sharing the canyon with other tours so you need to be cognizant of that. Your guide can help by warning when other groups are approaching or maybe even assist with moving lingerers along, but mostly it will be up to you to plan, frame and execute your shot, then get out of the way for others. Again, don't rush and with four photographers in my group it never was a problem getting the shots that I wanted. Rely on your guides advice, they have been visiting this location for years, observing it in different light and at different times of the year and can quickly point out the best shots or locations. I know you want to discover a shot that has never been made before, but with the limited time, a little assistance goes a long way. It is still your photograph the moment you release the shutter. 

Detail pointed out by the guide is only seen by looking straight up. 

Detail pointed out by the guide is only seen by looking straight up. 

3. Environmental awareness. When looking at the photographs, they look bright and colorful as if there was a lot of available light. Don't be fooled, the average exposure time for all of these shots was 1/2 a second. It's not so dark that you can't see, but it is dark enough that focus can be an issue. In fact, it was the one thing I had the hardest time with. Other than a tripod, I highly recommend that you bring a flashlight to not only assist with setting up your camera but to shine on the walls in order to assist with focus. Again be aware and courteous to other photographers. I started off at ISO 200, but found that my exposure times were too long, especially when shooting two stops under while bracketing, so I ended up shooting mostly at ISO 400 and in some cases ISO 640. It does get brighter nearer the entrance and I was back at 400. 

Having the right equipment, including a tripod and remote shutter release, are essential.

Having the right equipment, including a tripod and remote shutter release, are essential.

4. Equipment. I went with a Nikon D3S attached to a Gitzo tripod and three lenses, the Nikon 10.5mm, Nikon 14-24mm and the Nikon 24-70mm. Most of the photos were shot using the 14-24mm and the 24-70mm. In my backpack, I also had a Nikon D700, Nikon 70-200mm VR, and an SB900 flash, but really should have left those in the car. My advice, bring the widest, fastest lens you own. The canyons are narrow and as mentioned before, there are other people moving by and you really want to concentrate on taking photos and not worrying about gear or lens selection. The floors of the canyon are covered in sand which gets stirred up as people and you move about, so be cautious if you change lenses and be sure to have a lens cloth handy. Lastly, I was using a pocket wizard plus to trigger my camera, but only because I didn't have a cable release. If you don't have a way to release the shutter remotely, use the self-timer. 

Three shot bracket inside Upper Antelope Canyon.

Three shot bracket taken at -1.0, 0.0 and +1.0. 

5. Take plenty of photographs at various focal lengths and multiple f-stops. Almost everything I shot during my two hours was bracketed by either three or five stops. Originally I thought I would process these photos using the high dynamic range or HDR technique, however, in the end none were. The bracketing was critical though when it came to selecting the best exposure to process. I would shoot the multiple exposures, check focus, then shoot another sequence.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, this was my first visit to the canyon so I only have this one brief experience photographing in the mid-December light. The look in this canyon will change depending on the time of year, so if you want to photograph shafts of light then you will need to visit during the summer months. Of course during the summer you will also contend with large crowds which would certainly add to the anxiety of getting the photographs you want.

In addition to Upper Antelope, there are other slot canyons in the area including, Lower Antelope, Canyon X or Cardiac Canyon. These locations are less frequented, meaning they are also less photographed, so would offer additional opportunities to produce never before seen images. Apparently some of these canyons do require hiking and more time, so they are not as accessible as Upper Antelope.

And don't forget to just stop, take the camera away from your eye and absorb the surroundings. As photographers we often get caught up in the scene and forget to just take a moment and enjoy what is around us. While we tell ourselves that we will have the photographs to remember it by, nothing compares to being there. More on this in a future post.

Additional tour companies to consider:

For more information on Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation visit


Stars fill the night sky at Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona.

When I was planning this trip I had an idea of the types of photographs I wanted to make. As the trip neared, I started to feel some pressure, similar to when I'm about to leave on a work assignment. It's the kind of pressure you put on yourself to ensure that you make the photographs that will tell the story and please the client. Pressure to produce better images than the last assignment. And this is the pressure that drives you to get to the location early and stay late, making sure you don't miss anything.

I kept telling myself that this trip was for pleasure. It was about seeing something new and making some photographs that pleased me. Why the pressure? Also since I was traveling solo, what would motivate me to get up early and stay late.

Today I passed the first test, rising at 4:45 a.m. and returning to Horseshoe Bend by 5:30 a.m. It was dark and guided by only my headlamp it felt really good to be out there. In fact it was a little too early to see much, but I did notice that the stars were still out and what better time to see if all the reading I did about shooting the night sky would pay off. I think the first effort came out pretty good and it did give me some starting points for next time.

Returned to hotel and had breakfast, checked out and headed to downtown Page to meet my guide at Antelope Canyon Tours who would take me to Upper Antelope Canyon for two hours of shooting.

Upper Antelope Canyon outside Page, Arizona.

What an amazing place with amazing light. In fact it doesn't seem to matter which direction you aim your camera, there is a shot. I rushed a bit at first, just wanting to get something usable, but once I calmed down and realized that there would be enough time, I began to actually get some photos that I am very happy with. As with star photography, I plan a separate blog post with all the details and lessons learned.
Sand spills down into Upper Antelope Canyon outside Page, Arizona.

After some lunch and a stop at Walmart for canned air (there is lots of sand in the canyon), I made the 137 mile drive to Monument Valley. The scenery in this part of Arizona is just beautiful and the temptation is to pull over and make photos every couple of miles. I only made one quick photo stop, but wanted to reach my destination early and start processing the images from the morning. 

I'm staying at the Monument Valley View hotel where every room has a balcony that overlooks the valley. There is also a 17 mile loop road which takes you around the Navajo Tribal Park. Road is being kind and I wouldn't try this without an SUV. In winter it closes at 5 p.m. and I set out around 4 p.m. The sky was overcast and the light was flat, but I wanted to take the loop and at least check out vantage points for tomorrow, especially if we get the snow they are calling for.

The overcast sky breaks just enough during this sunset in Monument Valley, Arizona.

It took a little longer to make the loop than I anticipated and it was starting to get dark, however just as I neared the end I was rewarded by a very nice sunset. Goodnight from Monument Valley and if the sky is clear it will be a night spent shooting the stars.


Photograph of Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona.

Day one is over. Technically it was day two, but yesterday was spent traveling from Washington, D.C., and visiting with friends in Phoenix.

Today I traveled 350 miles making my first stop at the North Rim at Glen Canyon, but only made a few images. It was a chance to break out the gear though and also start wrapping my mind around what I wanted to capture on this trip. Everywhere you look around here the colors are spectacular, very warm, yet also subtle. For me the tendacy was to keep the 14-24mm on and just take everything in. I think I will struggle on this trip and have to force myself to use other lenes.

About a mile after you reach the Page city limits there is a turn off for Horseshoe Bend. The parking lot is right there and then after a three quarter mile hike, you arrive and are greeted with a really nice view. I grabbed the wide angle and inched as close to the edge as I dared. Even though it was just after noon, the sun was low enough to provide contrast in the scene, yet high enough to light all the way down to the Colorado River.

Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona.

I spent about 2 hours shooting and came away with a few images that I liked, even shooting a few verticals. My plan is to return tomorrow for sunrise before I have to meet my tour guide for Antelope Canyon mid morning.

The Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell in Arizona.

Next I continued north on route 89 and passed through Page to the Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell. Spent a little bit of time playing with shadows created by the bridge and transformer towers. I also realized that the sun would cast some nice light on Lake Powell during sunset. The park ranger gave me some advice on a good scenic overlook and that is where I spent the final hours of the day as the sun went down.

Lake Powell at sunset.

The light was very nice, but not much of a sky. And from that vantage point there are some marinas that stick out in the lake making shooting around them tricky. Normally I wouldn't mind included the boats as an element, but in this case I thought it really was a distraction.

Lake Powell in Page, Arizona, at sunset.

It was a decent first day. Shook out all the gear and managed to get a few images that I like and as I suspected I did meet other photographers and even received some good tips on what to look for tomorrow. Time to finish posting, get to bed early, and prepare for tomorrow.