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.