Upper Antelope Canyon

Upper Antelope Canyon is something I have wanted to photograph since I started this pursuit.  Having now done so, I can say with certainty it is way too crowded, way too rushed by the group guides, and overall a very dusty trek.  Despite this, Upper Antelope Canyon is, simply put, a magical place and worth every inconvenience to experience it.

Unless you are Navajo, the only way to see Upper Antelope Canyon is by guided tour – either private or in a group.  I hired Lionel Bigthumb of http://www.adventuresantelopecanyon.com to guide me through not just Upper Antelope Canyon, but also through other slot canyons in the area including Owl, Rattlesnake and Mountain Sheep.  These last three you can only visit by private guide.  The experience of the crowds in Upper Antelope Canyon stands in sharp relief to the solitude of these other slot canyon experiences.  But Upper is the granddaddy.  Lionel is a very accomplished photographer in his own right and provided me with some excellent tips on how to best photograph the canyons – I highly recommend his services.

For a complete experience of Upper Antelope Canyon, you must visit it at two different times of the day.  The first is between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. when the sun is directly overhead.  This results in shafts of light shining down into several chambers in the canyon which is an amazing sight to see.   The second time is around 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.  The shafts of light will be gone, but the color palate of the walls will have turned from hues of orange to a spectrum of soft colors.  The second visit is more enjoyable from a crowds standpoint – literally about 1/5th of the people; however, the magic of the canyon is far more subdued.

Unless you are content shooting at a very high ISO, a tripod is a must.  Also, do not even remotely consider changing a lens once inside the canyon – the dust is pervasive.  I had read on several other websites that you should use the widest lens in your arsenal, so I decided to carry three lenses on three bodies – the 14 f/2.8L, 16-35 f/2.8L II and the 24-105 f/4.0L.  What I had read was wrong if you are using full frame bodies.  The 14 f/2.8L was not necessary at all and I used the 16-35 f/2.8L II only a few times wider than 24mm.  Instead, for the vast majority of the shots I used the 24-105 f/4.0L.  Any wider of a field of view would have resulted in over-exposure of the tops of the frames due to the light coming through the slots or too much of the dirt floor in frame for a balanced composition.  Moreover, the additional stop of light was not required because I shot everything at least at f/9.0 for DOF purposes.

Canon EOS 1D X, EF 24-105mm f/4L IS, ISO 320, 28mm, 0 EV, f/18, 4.0 sec.

Upper Antelope Canyon

5 thoughts on “Upper Antelope Canyon

  1. Great shots! Can you please give me some advice on which lens to bring to the Antelope Canyon photo tour (5 canyons) – I only have a Nikon D90. I have a 10 – 20 mm wide angle lens and an 18 – 200 zoom lens. Since everyone says you can’t change lens in the canyon, and I only have one camera, I can only bring one of those lenses. Which one would you recommend?

    • Thank you. The five canyon tour is great. With regard to not being able to change lenses, that “rule” (which can be broken if you are careful about choosing a spot where the dust has settled) actually only applies in Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon. The other canyons, like Owl, don’t have the same traffic – so in those three canyons there is not really any dust in the air and it is safe to change your lens. But, if you are only going to bring one, you have a difficult choice and here is why. On the one hand, I don’t agree with some of the blogs I have read that say to shoot as wide as possible. Yes, there are a few spots/angles where super-wide is the best composition, but I think most of the shots you see on my web pages are composed at 24-100mm range. So, even with a DX at 18MM (27mm), I think you would get more opportunities for composition with the 18-200 in the canyons than the 10-20mm. However, on the other hand there is one very important exception – shooting the light shafts. The light shafts appear in tight spots in the canyons. Consequently, you will want the 10-20mm for those. Therefore, I guess to answer your question I need to know what is the shot you are going for – is it the light shafts (go wide) or is it the waves in the walls (go versatile). Good luck.

  2. Thanks for your advice, David. This is exactly what I need to know. I always feel a little handicapped with just the 10 – 20 because I have very little flexibility. Are the light shafts mainly in Upper Antelope? I could bring the wide angle for the Upper and Lower and change to the 18 to 200 when I’m away from them. Do you know if you come out of Upper and then go to the other canyons or do you walk through from inside?
    BTW, I was also admiring your Firefall shot at Yosemite. What luck! Where did you shoot it from?

  3. Yes, the light shafts are mainly in Upper Antelope. Upper and Lower are a car drive apart – so you will have plenty of time to change your lens once done with Upper.

    Re Firefall – thanks. I shot that from the other side of the valley almost up against the wall across from Horsetail. 300m was a perfect focal length for that location.

  4. Thanks, David. Problem solved – I bought a second hand D80 this morning. That will save worrying about changing lenses.
    BTW, your wild life pics are really stunning!

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