September 29, 2011

Southwestern Adventure: Antelope Canyon

What an amazing place!  Every corner and every turn seemed like there was a photographic opportunity.  It's no wonder so many photographers have a foundation of Antelope Canyon photos.  The light bounced around the walls to create a rainbow of colors inside.  Blue, purple, red, orange and yellow.  It was a bit more difficult than I thought to get a decent photo without someone in the crowd walking through it or getting the exposure right in the ever changing light.  I found that Manual mode was the only way to get the exposure I wanted and stopping down about 2 stops gave me an overall better exposure. The most important thing I could recommend for a place like Antelope Canyon is to protect your camera!  I (luckily) did my research beforehand and found that guides will throw dust up into the air to create the light beam effect, and with dozens of people walking through on the sandy floor dust is bound to get into the air.  The essentials in protecting your equipment?  A plastic bag (whether you make it to fit over your camera or you buy a camera specific one) and lens filter (a cheap one is probably best although you don't want to sacrifice too much quality).  After spending a few hours in the canyon I came out with one dirty, pretty much useless, filter.  Imagine if that was my lens!  All those tiny particles of sand scratching the glass, I was glad I did my research.  Some other things to keep in mind if such an occasion arises that you happen to get the opportunity to photograph such an amazing place; do not change lenses, stick with a wide angle lens, and go to the tour booth set up just to the east, down the road from the sign for Antelope Canyon Upper and get the 11:00-1:00 photo tour.  It is well worth it.  The guide for my tour was excellent and made sure everyone got the shots they wanted. 

I did a bit of experimenting with my Singh-Ray ND Graduated filters and was pleasantly surprised by the results.  With so much range in light there were several blown out shots that had potential.  With the help of my 3-stop graduated filter I was able to hold back enough light to catch the details in the brightest spots that were naturally visible to the eye.  On shots 2, 3 and 6 of the series below the variation of light was so broad I couldn't get it all without compromising one way or the other in exposure.  However, with the graduated filter I was able to get the correct exposure of the darker (blue) areas while holding back the brighter (yellow) areas enough to get the detail in the rocks. 

  • Tripod - it sounds crazy to take one with the lack of space and crowds, but there is no other way to get the photos you want.  Long exposures are a must.  Not only is flash not allowed, it does nothing for the photo.
  • Protection - plastic bag for camera, lens filter.
  • Shutter release cable.
  • Singh-ray ND graduated filters.
  • Patience!  You have to realize everyone else feels entitled to be there, too.  Get your shots and be considerate of others' shots.

*note:  The blacks in these photos are essential to accentuate the depth and rich color of Antelope Canyon.  


  1. We're planning our summer vacation and this location is a must on our list. The tips you gave about protecting the camera and on the filters was extremely helpful. Thank you.

  2. Glad I could help! It really is an amazing place photograph. Enjoy your Summer plans!