Have you ever heard of Antelope Canyon?
Antelope Canyon is one of the most beautiful yet challenging places in the world to photograph. Located in the deep American Southwest, you will have to overcome a number of difficulties if you want to get that shot which will have your landscape photographer friends turning a vibrant shade of emerald green with envy.
The canyon itself is situated on land owned by the indigenous Najavo tribe and is a sacred site that is protected, and not freely accessible to tourists (challenge no. 1). Although it’s not a huge obstacle to overcome, you just need to book a pre-planned tour with an authorised tour operator.
Antelope Canyon is to the Navajo people what a cathedral is to Catholics. A place of spirituality and sanctity, used to connect with a high power. Years ago, the area surrounding Antelope Canyon had herds of wild antelope roaming free which is most likely where the English name comes from. The canyon is actually made up of two separate slot canyons, Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. Although the Navajo tribe use the original indigenous names of “Tsé Bighánílíní” (literally translated to “the place where water runs through rocks”) and “Hazdistazí” (spiral rock arches).
Before entering, tribesmen would pause for thought to make sure they were in the right mindset to enter such a place. The idea behind it is the canyon provides a physical link between Mother Nature and man.
Photographing Antelope Canyon
Photographing Antelope Canyon is notoriously difficult due to the vast exposure range produced by dark shadows and bursts of bright sunlight breaking through and reflecting off the walls (challenge no. 2). Filters, filters and more filters! You’re going to need them. Or if you are more technologically minded then HDR photography is the other option. Just don’t forget to lug that tripod down into the canyon with you. Completely worth it when you can produce stunning images like this one though.
The infinite amount of amazing compositions available to choose from makes the job even harder, especially considering the limited hours of ideal, flattering golden light that penetrates down into the canyon.
The inaccessibility of Antelope Canyon is another factor that makes photographing it hard. Apart from the fact you can only visit using an authorised tour operator, getting all of your gear first to the surrounding area, and then down into the depths of the canyon can be tricky especially for less able people (challenge no. 3). That being said getting into the upper canyon is a lot easier than the lower canyon, which leads me nicely onto the next section of this article.
Upper Antelope Canyon
The most frequently visited of the two canyons, Upper Antelope is easier to get into despite the walls reaching up 120 feet from its floor. The entrance is a simple walk from ground level as opposed to Lower Antelope which involves some climbing.
The second reason why it’s more popular with photographers is strong beams of light radiating down from the opening are a more common sight here. The summer months are the best time to see this happening. The light show starts on 20 March and continues throughout summer until 7 October when the beams are replaced with a much softer light that throws a warm blanket across the rock surface.
Lower Antelope Canyon
More difficult to access with less chance of seeing the beautiful light beams, this is still a hike that should be on your to-do list if you are lucky enough to be there. The lack of distinct beams of light is compensated by the spiral rock formations that twist and twirl their way up the walls of the V shaped canyon.
As you can see it really isn’t a place you would want to skip, especially as a photographer.
Some stairs have recently been installed in Lower Antelope Canyon which makes getting in and out a little easier but it is still a good few flights to climb and the trek through it is a lot more uneven, rockier and narrower than Upper.
The best lighting is in the early hours of the morning.
Antelope Canyon Tours
To gain access to both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon you will need to book through a reputable and authorised tour operator. The best way to find one that suits your needs is to do a simple Google search. Some of the best and most used ones are:
You can also find reviews on the experiences from people who have been on the tour at Tripadvisor.
Antelope Canyon Hotels
If you want to take full advantage of the great morning light in order to get the best photographs possible then you might want to consider staying in a hotel as near to the canyon as is possible. The best advice I can give is to check out availability at the time as some local hotels can get booked up especially in the summer months.
The best hotels to check out though are:
Or if you feel like a little more comfort:
So if you didn’t know you needed to visit Antelope Canyon as a travel photographer before, now you do. The beauty and history of the area come together to form one of the best and most unique experiences any photographer could ask for.
Thanks for reading and if you have any of your own first hand photos then feel free to share!