Bucket List: How To Photograph Antelope Canyon In 2020
Bucket List: How To Photograph Antelope Canyon In 2020
Last Updated on September 9, 2020
Antelope Canyon is one of those places that you just want to photograph, even if it’s been done a million times. The colors of the sandstone, as vibrant as they are in photographs is something that you also have to see for yourself to believe it. This place has been photographed so many times that there are dedicated photo tours for it, where the Navajo guides block other tourists from passing, so everyone can get their empty shot of the slot canyon. A photograph of the light shining down by landscape photographer, Peter Lik, at midday even sold for for a staggering $6.5 million dollars. Considering so many others have taken the same photograph BEFORE him, it’s a bit ridiculous.
Tangent rant aside, Antelope Canyon Tours recently announced that they are canceling all the photo tours to ease congestion for visitors to both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon. This is a move that I highly applaud, since it allows for all visitors to enjoy the beauty of the place without having to wait around for photographers on the “photo tour” to finish taking their shots. Yes, even as a photographer, I agree with this.
Updated September, 2020: Antelope Canyon is currently closed until further notice. You can check the opening status on their official website.
Other Slot Canyons To Explore In Arizona
- Canyon X
- Deer Creek Narrows
- Paria Canyon
- Pumphouse Wash
- Secret Canyon
- Water Holes Canyon
What’s So Special About Antelope Canyon?
While there are hundreds of slot canyons around the Utah/Arizona area, Antelope Canyon is made up of two particularly beautiful stretches of slot canyon renowned for its range of colors and easy to access pathways. To visit, you need to go on one of the tours operated by one of the authorized antelope canyon tour companies located in Page, Arizona. The prices of these tours have gone up in price over the years. I’m all for supporting the local community and helping them earn enough money to preserve the natural beauty of the place – if that’s what they are doing.
Unfortunately, the prices have gone up while more tours are offered, giving less time for people to visit. Instead of being able to walk around in a relaxed pace, you’re not shuffled along and stopped at intervals to allow for photographs to be taken. It’s exactly everything you don’t want in a tour.
Still, it’s gorgeous enough that people will and should still visit. I myself have gone twice visiting both the Upper and Lower Canyon. Both are worth visiting, but if you only have time for one, you can read on to decide which one you want to visit.
Should I Visit Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon?
When you see photographs of Antelope Canyon, it usually taken in Upper Antelope Canyon, the more “photogenic” of the two, according to people who know nothing. Just kidding. At the top of the slot canyon, it’s more narrow and then opens up to a wider base at the bottom. This allows for a more open walk. After you climb down the ladders to get into the canyon, you be able to walk through the winding path to admire the sandstone formations from below.
The best time to visit is around midday when there’s more light coming into the canyon. The early morning and late afternoon tours, especially in the winter time, while still beautiful, will be slightly dimmer, so the colors won’t pop as much.
Lower Antelope Canyon is the lesser visited of the two, and the prices to enter are cheaper at around $43 dollars versus $64 for Upper Antelope Canyon. It’s shaped in the opposite way from Upper Antelope Canyon. The base is more narrow and the top is wider, so more light will flood through.
When you think of a slot canyon, Lower Antelope Canyon better matches the description, since you’ll be making your way through more narrow openings, which in my opinion, is a lot more fun.
Both are beautiful, and you’ll get amazing photographs in both places, but there are some differences in how you will be able to shoot depending on the canyon you’re visiting.
The Best Settings To Photograph Antelope Canyon
It used to be that because of the low light in the canyon, you need a tripod at long exposure to capture the subtle details and colors of the sandstone. With all the low-light capabilities of today’s DSLR and mirrorless cameras, that’s no longer an issue. However, because there’s more light coming in throughout the day at Lower Antelope Canyon, it’s easier to shoot hand-held without at tripod, which I believe will no longer be allowed (along with selfie sticks).
For Upper Antelope Canyon, you’ll want to bump up the ISO on your camera and lower the shutter speed to the lowest it can reasonably go for you to shoot handheld. My go to camera in these type of shooting situation is the Sony A7III for its built in image stabilization and low noise at higher ISO. I can get clean shake-free hand-held shots down to 1/10th of a second pretty easily. Coupled with a big aperture at f/2.8 on my 24-70 GM, and the ability to push up the ISO to 4000 while getting a pretty clean image and it’s pretty easy to shoot hand-held.
I can leave the tripod in the car for this one and get so many more shots in, while annoying fewer of the other guests.
When I first visited in 2008, I did bring along a tripod and the only benefit I can see to having a tripod now is that you’re able to shoot at ISO 100 to get the cleanest possible image and to allow get motion blur if you can find some sand falling down. Other than that, it will be a much more relaxing experience to just shoot carefully hand-held. Most of my shots taken then were on a Nikon D70 at ISO 100, f/7 and 20 second exposures on a tripod.
For Lower Antelope Canyon, there’s more light, so it’ll be even easier to shoot handheld. The last time I came to shoot, my settings were generally around f/5 at 1/100th of a second and ISO 1250 on a Nikon D750 body. With my Sony system, I can probably increase the aperture to something like f/11 or f/16 and still be able to shoot a clean low-noise image at around 1/60th of a second.
In fact, I took a few photos with my iPhone 6s at the time and it was able to capture the colors cleanly from my phone.
Which Is MY Favorite Of The Two Canyons?
Lower Antelope Canyon is the clear winner for me. The narrow walkways are more fun and interesting to shoot. And it’s cheaper, which is an extra bonus. Most people will go to Upper Antelope Canyon, so it’s also less packed in the Lower Canyon. I love my photographs from Lower Antelope Canyon more than Upper Antelope Canyon, so there’s also that.
How And When To Visit Antelope Canyon
The best time generally to visit is between 10 am and 1 pm when you get the most light coming in. To get that famous sunbeam shot, you’ll want to go on the 9:30 or 10:30 am tour depending on the time of year. I would check with your tour operator before hand and book this in advance because everyone will want to be on the same tour.
Antelope Canyon tours are overseen by Navajo Parks and Recreation and only authorized tour operators are allowed in. You will have to take a tour and most of them will depart from Page, Arizona. You leave your car there and they’ll take you in a 4×4 truck to the entrance of the canyon where you’ll walk the rest of the way in. I think all the tour operators will generally offer the same experience. Most tours will last about 1.5 hours and you’ll spend about 40-50 minutes inside the canyon.
So there it is. Antelope Canyon is everywhere on Instagram, but still worth a visit. It’s definitely a Bucket List item and hopefully it will be nice again in 2020 when the photo tours are gone. In reality, you’ll still be able to get the same beautiful shots, but without having to pay more for it. Win win.