In recent years, Antelope Canyon has become one of the most famous places to visit in Arizona. This incredible slot canyon system is famous for its deep red and orange hues and the light that shines through the canyon from above. It is every photographer’s dream location. However, if you don’t come completely prepared with all of the essential tools and knowledge, your pictures won’t look at all like how you hoped. This list of tips for photographing Antelope Canyon will ensure that you get the best photos possible.
Info About Antelope Canyon
Antelope Canyon is the most famous slot canyon in the world. Because of its incredible orange and red hues, curved walls, lighting, and tight slots, it has grown in fame and popularity over the years. This is both amazing for the tourism industry of the Navajo Nation and frustrating for the photographers who want to take their time and explore the canyon.
Antelope Canyon is actually broken up into three different canyons: Upper Antelope Canyon, Lower Antelope Canyon, and Antelope X Canyon. Each canyon is shared by a different Navajo family that is allowed to run tours out of it. Upper Antelope is split by five Navajo families, Lower Antelope is split by 2 families, and Antelope X is run by one family.
Antelope Canyon one of the best things to do in Page, Arizona. It is easily accessed from Kanab and Moab, Utah, and isn’t far from the Grand Canyon. Antelope Canyon is EXTREMELY popular so it is vital that you book your tours well in advance.
The tours of Antelope Canyon start at about $80 a person which includes your entrance fee to Navajo Land. If you book a photography tour, it will be around double that price. Keep in mind that guides also accept and appreciate tips as well.
Navajo Nation Requirements
Antelope Canyon is located in the Navajo Nation and therefore abides completely by Navajo laws and regulations. One of those regulations is that you cannot go on Navajo Land without a local (Navajo guide). This means that only guided tours of the canyons are allowed.
Be sure to respect all Navajo Nation rules and regulations as they are kindly allowing our use of their land. It is also important to note that if you are planning on doing commercial photography, you must obtain a permit in advance. It is recommended to apply for that permit at least one month before your scheduled tour.
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Ideal Camera Settings For Photographing Antelope Canyon
Exposure in such a dark setting can be tricky. While photographing Antelope Canyon, it is extremely important to keep your ISO low which often means taking longer and longer exposure photos. If you are lucky enough to book a photography tour, you will be able to bring a tripod and take longer exposures and even multiple exposures to stack in post-processing. I found that on my photography tour, I was often taking 15-second exposures to light up dark parts of the canyon.
If you aren’t on a photography tour, which is the more likely case, then you will not be able to take 15-second exposures because your hand cannot remain perfectly still. When I needed to shoot in low-light situations inside the canyon with a handheld camera, I found my ideal exposure to be around 6-10 shots per second. This combined with my relatively steady hand created an ideal low-light setting for me. If you have shaky hands you may need to shoot in the 15-20 shots per second range to avoid blur in your images.
The aperture settings on your camera will be drastically different while photographing slot canyons instead of wide landscapes. You don’t want a narrow field of vision and an intense bokeh so you will not want to shoot on f/2.8 even though you are shooting in low light. The ideal aperture setting in the canyon is f/11 because there is so much depth that you want to be able to capture in the walls of the canyon. You want to be able to see all of the waves in the walls in the distance if you are shooting with a lower aperture.
If you are on a photography tour of Antelope Canyon, you will be able to bring a tripod with you. This will enable you to take longer exposures to even out how dark shooting at f/11 can be. When I didn’t go on a photography tour, I shot at f/8 because I couldn’t take a long enough exposure with a handheld device to let in enough light to compensate for shooting at f/11.
One of the most important things to watch out for in your canyon photography is the noise that your photo is producing. When shooting in low-light situations, often pixelation will begin to occur which is called noise. To avoid this pixelation, you want to keep your ISO as low as possible. When shooting with a tripod, you can take longer exposures to let in more light. This means that you can keep your ISO at 100 at all times. You should never have to raise it because you can adjust the lighting with your exposures.
If you do not have a tripod with you, there may be times when you have to raise the ISO in order to capture the desired image. Ideally, your ISO will still remain below 400.
White balance is an internal camera feature that allows the camera to change the temperature of the light received and adjust the color balance. Basically, it helps make your photos warmer or cooler. While this can be done in post-processing, if you are not skilled in that area, it is easy to simply set your white balance for the correct setting and shoot away.
The ideal white balance setting from a preset mode is “Shade” because it brings a warm element to your images and takes into account the shade of the canyon. If you are setting a custom white balance, then you will want to be around 5200 as it warms your images. This warmth will help bring out the red and orange hues of the canyon walls.
Essential Tools For Photographing Antelope Canyon
If you are lucky enough to be able to book a photography tour, then it is absolutely essential to bring a tripod. The ideal tripod will be one that you are familiar with and that you can set up and tear down quickly. While photography tours do give you more time in the canyon, the time goes FAST and there is a lot to see. You will need to be able to close your tripod up quickly and move to the next location or to allow others to pass.
Keep in mind that Lower Antelope Canyon does not offer photography tours, and Upper stopped offering them during COVID and has yet to resume. Antelope Canyon X is your best chance of booking a photography tour that will allow the use of tripods. I personally use the Peak Design Travel Tripod, and I absolutely love it. It’s great for quick setup and teardown situations just like this.
Any camera body is a good camera body if you know how to use it. However, your ideal camera body will be one with higher megapixels if you plan on blowing up your photo in a large print. I personally use a Canon 6d Mark ii, but I am hoping to upgrade to an even better camera in the future.
The final tool that I found to be essential when photographing Antelope Canyon was a remote timer for my camera. Remote timers are great because they allow you to shoot photos while not touching your camera. This allowed me to take photographs of myself with my camera during my photography tour, and it also allowed me to take longer exposure photos without worrying about the shake of the camera when pressing the shutter button. I use this remote timer and it hasn’t failed me yet!
Tips For Photographing Antelope Canyon With An iPhone
Nowadays, phone cameras are as good, if not better than any basic camera on the market if you are just looking to take a simple picture. IPhones specifically have an incredible set of cameras on them that make it really easy to photograph Antelope Canyon. Some settings to keep in mind for taking the best photographs of the canyon with an iPhone are the following:
- Always shoot using the wide-angle lens (.5). This will allow you to capture more of the canyon.
- Try doing vertical panoramas, this will allow you to capture massive amounts of the canyon walls. I took almost all of my shots in panorama mode with my iPhone.
- Turn your camera mode to “vibrant”. This will help you capture all of the colors of the wall.
- Use my Lightroom Mobile Preset Bundle to edit your photos in one click when you are done!
Tips For The Taking The Perfect Shot
The slot canyons can be incredibly overwhelming when you first set foot in them. They are so tall and incredibly slim. The juts and curves in the wall are incredible to witness, and your mind is spinning with how crazy it is that water caused all of this. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment as you are being prodded to move forward at a decent pace so that your group can get through the entire canyon. It can be easy to just look ahead and around you and get wrapped up in that beauty.
However, one of the biggest mistakes you can make while photographing Antelope Canyon is to forget to look up. Some of the best views of the canyon aren’t in front of you, but above you. The way the canyon walls intersect causes incredible shadows and depth that are just begging to be captured by your camera.
Use The Walls
The walls are striking but also very useful. One of the best ways to get an incredible angle or shot is to utilize the wall as the base for your camera. If you set your camera against the wall and look up, every curve in the wall will be visible in your photograph. Don’t be afraid to lean against the wall to take the perfect shot! Just don’t climb the walls or do anything to jeopardize the environment.
If you are lucky enough to be on a photo tour, then don’t ignore the things you have at your disposal. Sand covers the canyon floor and also provides the perfect element for both long exposures and catching light. On my photo tour of Antelope Canyon X, my tour guide brought a small shovel and used it to throw the sand against the wall for a long exposure shot that I wanted to take. People also (carefully) throw sand up in the air to help capture the light filtering through the canyon. Be sure to ask your guide before doing this, but it is definitely worth trying!
Post Processing Tips For Antelope Canyon
Use Lightroom Presets
After photographing the canyon, it’s exciting to get back home and upload and edit your photos! I personally use Adobe’s Lightroom to do all of my editing because it is so user-friendly and an amazing editing program. To make my edit flow easier, I make presets (saved versions of all of the settings used to edit a picture) so that I can reuse them on my hundreds of images. This speeds up my editing process and gives me a basic edit to start with and then I can tweak each image as needed.
You can buy my slot canyon presets here! I highly recommend them as they are the exact presets that I used to edit my photos of Antelope Canyon so they were specifically designed for the exact type of photos you will be taking as well.
Try Stacking Images
Because the canyon walls have so many curves, every photo you take will have some amount of shadow or exposure issue that may stop you from getting your ideal photograph. If you have the ability to put your camera on the ground (so that you can shoot at different exposures without moving) or use a tripod, then you can take multiple different exposures of the same spot.
In Adobe Lightroom, you can use their “Stacking” function which combines the exposures from all of the photographs to make one, well-exposed HDR image. It is both fun and practical as it makes beautiful photos of the canyon and all of its walls and curves.
Tour Options For Photographing Antelope Canyon
Each canyon is famous for its own specific thing which you should keep in mind when choosing a tour! Upper Antelope Canyon is famous for the way the light filters through the canyon and causes an incredible glow. Lower Antelope Canyon is famous for its deep colors that you won’t find a match for in any other slot canyon. Antelope Canyon X is famous for the way the walls overlap while looking up; at one point they even make a visible X!
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Wow, Shannon, you have taken some awesome photos. I plan to follow in your footsteps at Antelope Canyon…and am tempted to leave my high school library media specialist position to travel full-time, like you. Inspiring!