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.
In this article you’ll learn everything you need to know about visiting and, more importantly, photographing Antelope Canyon.
The canyon itself is situated on land owned by the indigenous Najavo tribe.
It’s a sacred site that is protected and not freely accessible to tourists. 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 higher power.
Years ago, the surrounding areas 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.
The Navajo tribe prefer to use the original indigenous names which are: “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 reasoning is that the canyon provides a physical link between mother nature and man.
Where Is Antelope Canyon?
It is located right on the edge of the state of Arizona in the USA. It is roughly 10 miles to the east of Page and sits on Navajo tribal land.
It’s only 20 miles south of the Arizona/Utah state line. On the map below it’s marked in red, Page is marked in blue and the state line is in green.
Photographing The Canyon
There are a few issues you’ll face here as a photographer. They can be overcome though so long as you know what to do. More experienced photographers will probably know how to deal with these things already, but I’ll go over them anyway for anyone who’s interested.
Photographing Antelope Canyon is notoriously difficult due to its vast dynamic range produced by dark shadows and bursts of bright sunlight.
Filters, filters and more filters!
You’re going to need them.
Or, if you prefer, then HDR photography is another option. Just don’t forget to lug that tripod down into the canyon with you.
UPDATE: You can no longer take a tripod down into Lower Antelope Canyon but you can still take one into the Upper canyon.
Completely worth it when you can produce stunning images like this one below though.
There are also only a limited number of hours of ideal, flattering golden light that penetrates down into the canyon. So if you want to catch the best light, you need to visit early in the morning.
The inaccessibility of Antelope Canyon is another factor that makes photographing it hard. Apart from the fact that 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.
That being said, getting into the upper canyon is a lot easier than the lower canyon (more on this in a minute).
Dealing with the crowds
One of the biggest challenges is dealing with the crowds. It’s a popular place to visit so the chances are, unless you’re extremely lucky, you won’t be alone.
There are three ways around this.
The first way is obviously just to wait until you have nobody in the frame to take the shot. This can be tricky since you’re often time-limited.
The second way is to shoot long exposures using ND filters.
By shooting a long exposure of 10+ seconds, any people that walk through your composition won’t show up in the final image. But that only works if they continue walking by. If anyone stands still for too long they will show up in the image so you need to time it right.
Just be careful to properly expose your images and not blow out the highlights when shooting long exposures.
The final way to remove people from your photos is using a program like Photoshop. Some people don’t like doing this though so it’s up to you whether that’s an option.
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 that strong beams of light radiating down from the opening above are a more common sight here.
The summer months are the best time to see this happening.
The natural light show starts around the 20th of March and continues throughout summer until around the 7th of October when the beams are replaced with a much softer light that throws a warm blanket across the rock’s 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 in the area.
The lack of distinct light beams 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 miss out on visiting. Especially as a photographer.
Some stairs have now been installed in Lower Antelope Canyon which makes getting in and out a little easier. But it’s 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.
Some Pictures Of Antelope Canyon
Below are some pictures to inspire you and help you get an idea of what’s possible photographically.
Antelope Canyon Tours
To gain access to both the Upper and Lower canyons, 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.
But to point you in the right direction, here are some of the best and most popular ones.
Visiting from Las Vegas
Enjoy small group sizes with the Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend Tour from Las Vegas. Everything including pick-up and drop-off at your hotel is included.
2 Day tour of both the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon
With the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon Overnight Tour, you’ll get to spend a night in a hotel where you’ll be served a hot breakfast in the morning ready to explore these two stunning locations.
Spend 3 days exploring some of the most beautiful places in Arizona
Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley & Horseshoe Bend 3-Day Tour. This action-packed tour takes you to Red Rock Canyon, Monument Vally, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon and the Vally of Fire. Two nights in a hotel are included.
Visiting from Flagstaff or Sedona
Antelope Canyon Full-Day Tour from Flagstaff or Sedona. You’ll be picked up from your hotel in Flagstaff or Sedona and driven in an air-conditioned van to see Oak Creek Canyon, the San Fransisco Peaks, Glen Dam as well as the main event itself.
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 will want to stay in a hotel as near to the canyon as is possible.
The best advice I can give is to make a reservation early as the local hotels get booked up fast, especially in the summer months.
The most convenient hotels near Antelope Canyon are in Page, so the hotels below are all based there. From Page, it’s less than 10 miles away, so really easy to get there.
The best budget-friendly places to stay
Motel 6 Page is a no-frills but comfortable motel with its own pool to cool off in.
Lake Powell Canyon Inn is another clean, comfortable and reasonably priced motel with its own pool (very important in the desert!).
Or if you feel like a little more comfort
La Quinta by Wyndham Page at Lake Powell is a modern hotel with its own on-site gym, not that you’ll need that after exploring the area all day.
Country Inn and Suites by Radisson. Radisson hotels never disappoint, you know what you’re getting. Everything you need for a great night’s sleep.
Ultimate luxury after a long day in the desert
Hyatt Place Page Lake Powell offers stunning views of the surrounding desert from its terrace. A beautiful hotel in a beautiful location.
Attractive Apartment w/ Hot Tub Near Lake Powell. It’s your own apartment with a hot tub, need I say anymore?
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 on Instagram using the hashtag #WTPFeature.