Roadside Photographs - Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona

You are familiar with the routine by now.  We have been highlighting photographs that do not require the ocean voyage followed by a 20-day hike in malaria-infested jungles.  No, these are easy access photographs which only require getting there, having the right equipment, and knowing how to use it.  Some would also add that some of these locations also may require the correct timing of the day and of the season, but most of the areas we highlight will have great views anytime of the year under the right lighting conditions. For outdoor photographers, the most colorful light with the most contrast remains to be at sunrise and sunset. I firmly believe that although these locations get a lot of eyes and a lot of cameras, it is always rewarding to get your own, unique image of the place. Next up on the list of roadside photographs is the famous Antelope Canyon, a place that is actually better to photograph in the middle of the day in summer.  Enjoy!

UPPER ANTELOPE CANYON, ARIZONA.  Just outside of Utah is Page, Arizona, which is near the Glen Canyon Dam over Reservoir Powell or Lake Powell, depending on your views.  On Highway 98, just outside of Page, Antelope Canyon is actually two canyons, an upper and a lower canyon, both of which are run by different families in the Navajo Nation who own the land.   Your National Parks pass will not work here:  you need to buy an entrance pass at both the upper and the lower canyons.  That’s right.  About $20 will get you into the lower canyon on the spot, but beware, if you are going to put down a tripod, they will try to charge you extra if you have not reserved a photographer’s pass.  (This is what I understood when they got mad at me the last time I was there.)  Call ahead and reserve this time/permit if you know which day you will be there.  The lower canyon is a lovely slot with some great formations including Angel Arch and some great light beams in the summer months.

The Upper Antelope Canyon is probably a bit more amazing in terms of light beams, but these are generally better in the summer when light reaches the bottom of the canyon more often.  The canyon is absolutely packed with visitors, especially in the summer from late March to early September, so patience will be necessary.  So will a guide (you have to have one) who will stop traffic, throw the sand for your light beams, and move you through.  Please be prepared to tip this person, as he or she can do a lot for your photographs.  We had one once who scouted out the next light beams while we photographed with a class.  He was absolutely invaluable.  The Upper Canyon costs about $46 for two hours, and I would make reservations on this one, especially.  The lower canyon is literally right off the road and is clearly marked from the highway.  The Upper Canyon has two parking lots, depending on your guides.  One parking lot is immediately across from the Lower Canyon Parking and another one is a mile or so to the east on the highway.  Your guide group will tell you which parking lot to meet them in.  If you haven't made reservations for the Upper Canyon, then you can generally just show up and pay the price.  Reservations are better for logistics, I believe.   Remember, the Lower Canyon is a little more flexible as it is more accessible and simply a "walk-in" instead of the 15 minute desert drive for the Upper.

"Out of Darkness" was an image taken during a workshop that I was teaching in 2011 in the summer. I was using a Canon 5D Mark II on a Manfrotto tripod with settings at ISO 100, f/13, and 1/50th of a second. These are somewhat significant here because I was often shooting for several seconds in order to brighten up the entire room. In this case, I wanted the dark edges, so I left the exposure low. What is very important about this image is that it is shot with a Canon 24 mm Tilt-Shift lens. Because I was looking up, I "shifted" the lens to normalize the perspective, as the perspective is often changed abnormally when you point a lens upward or downward. Stop in at Pictureline and ask to try this out.

Hint:  Tripods are an absolute must in these low light canyons, and I would expose for 2 – 4 seconds on many exposures.  Keep checking your LCD screen/histogram and bracket exposures.  You must move quickly as large groups will be behind you pushing you.  The dust is what makes the light beams, as does smoke or fog in other situations.  This gives something for the light to bounce off of and into your lens and into history.

Changes in March 2012: The Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation (with the local landholders) has formulated a new paying structure for photographers in March 2012.  This will both help and hurt the photographer's plight.  The increase from $46 to $86 for two hours in Upper Antelope Canyon is suppose to discourage non-photographers to tour during the hours of 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. when the light beams are most interesting for photographers with tripods.  From 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and after 1 p.m., the fee will remain $46 for non-photographers.  This is yet another burden on photographers for photographing Antelope Canyon, as the number of photographers in the canyon during prime hours will continue to be high, and bottle-necking and frustration will continue to flare up.  In addition, and unlike the National Parks Service, the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation has instituted a $50 permit for photographers intending to use images of Antelope Canyon for commercial purposes.

Where to Stay/Eat:  The usual suspects in chain motels are in Page, and most are pretty cheap.  We found ourselves in the Super 8 there, and it was more comfortable than other Super 8’s I have been in.  The summer months can be pretty hot, so camping is less desirable.  Try the Mexican places in Page.  Great food.

Guides:  A few of the local landowners around Upper Antelope Canyon run guiding services, one of which - Carol Bigthumb's Group - has been my personal favorite.  (Carol's mother actually discovered the Upper Antelope Canyon). Other Navajo from other parts of the Nation also seem to have the right to take groups into the Upper Antelope Canyon, but they must operate out of Page itself.  You are welcome to just show up at either the first pullout for Upper Antelope Canyon on the south side of Highway 98 or the second one a few miles down the road (this is Carol Bigthumb's group).  Here are some of the other guides: Overland Canyon ToursAntelope Canyon ToursAntelope Slot Canyon Tours, and Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours.

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Angel archAntelope canyonArizonaDesert photographyFebruary 2012Joel addamsLandscape photographyLight beamsNavajo nationPageRed rockTravel photographyUpper antelope canyonWhere is antelope canyon?