Antelope Canyon, Arizona - some tips on photographing
Updated: Feb 7, 2021
We had left Monument Valley early, as we needed to be at Antelope Canyon by 9.30am for a private tour of Upper Antelope Canyon at 10.00am. Driving time from Monument Valley to Antelope Canyon is approximately 2 1/2 hours.
I had been so excited to photograph Antelope Canyon - with the lines, the light, the tone and vibrancy of such a natural phenomenon. I couldn't wait to see how the gushing water over centuries had carved out the lines and textures of Antelope Canyon, and wanted to capture these amazing formations. I could just imagine the beautiful colours of the sandstone being lit from the steaks of light passing through the slots above. Aside from the many tourists viewing this beautify canyon, I could picture it being one of the most serene places in the world.
I had researched photographing the canyon and thought I had it all sorted out. I was wrong and was very disappointed with my final results. You need to be totally organized and au fait with your settings and equipment (which I am, but this was a different experience). We had chosen a private tour which meant two guides would stop the other people (and there were hundreds) in the Canyon from moving past us for 60 seconds, and at that precise time the people would barge past you, meaning you needed to have your tripod and camera tightly secured and any shot you missed was gone. I wasn't aware that it would work this way, and when we entered the canyon, the guide would shout "GO, your 60 seconds starts now" and before you knew it, the next shout was "10 seconds left, start packing up". It was dark inside, it was cramped, there were 10 other photographers in our group (so a total of 12 eager shooters). As the Canyon is so cramped, we had to have two lines, one group kneeling on the ground (which was my group) and the others standing behind us (so standing over the top of us). Being positioned on the floor was a disadvantage and an advantage. My tripod was too big to maneuver quickly having to kneel on the floor with 5 other people scrunched up shoulder to shoulder next to you and the other shooters behind you on your heels, but I managed awkwardly. It did give me the benefit of being able to photograph low to the ground, whereas the group standing above us, could only shoot over the top of us.
I would strongly recommend a small compact, sturdy tripod, easy to maneuver. When there are 12 other people also trying to set up 12 other tripods, there really isn't any room. I had taken two cameras, one attached to my tripod for the horizontal straight shots and one for the vertical (looking up) shots. I had the second camera attached to my shoulder and chest vest - I did use this camera once, but it was too awkward trying to kneel on the ground and adjust the settings for the light (especially as I had to hand hold this camera). I had chosen my Nikon 24-70mm F/2.8E ED VR lens for looking up, (just to have the zoom if required) and had chosen my wide angle Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG HSM Art lens for the tripod.
If I get a chance to photograph the canyon again, I would purchase a good lightweight tripod, use a wide angel lens with a large f_stop. I had read so many articles, with people saying you need a zoom to shoot upwards. I have included my "looking up" shots, taken with my wide angel lens, which performed perfectly. My problem with shooting was the shake from not being able to position my tripod stably on the ground, as such having to kind of hand hold it, and with having to use slow shutter speeds I didn't get the crisp, clear shots I had hoped for. Being positioned and shooting from the ground using a DSLR, I had used live view (highly recommended) but I could not see my screen (due to my cramped position), or have time to review the photos I was taking to check if I had the correct settings. The first round of 60 second shooting photos were way too dark and I had to make a very quick adjustment for the next round of shooting, which worked much better. As I became accustomed to the quick shooting regime and the lighting in the canyon, I managed to adjust my settings a lot quicker to accommodate for the light and surroundings.
Just to experience this magnificent place, I would also choose to just visit and not photograph and take in the amazing scenery. Probably Lower Antelope Canyon next time for some more photography.
I hope you enjoy the photos below.
I wanted to capture the guide at the front of our group - very risky shot as I should have finished shooting at this time.
Be careful with your settings when aiming at the bright sky - can always be slightly fixed in post processing.
The lighting is just amazing and the rock formations stunning.
It's always difficult to capture the remarkable textures in the sandstone, especially when looking up with the bright sun.
I managed to capture the start of the other people in the canyon about to rush past us.
Some of the photographers in my group trying to capture the canyon. This was the standing group.
Look for the streaks of light coming from different angles in the Canyon.
The lighting can change so quickly. Play with your settings to get different effects.
Make sure you look up, even if it's not to photograph, but just to see some of the magical formations made from the gushing water over the centuries.
Our other guide advising to move on.