A soak in a hot tub after hiking Lower Antelope Canyon helped with some of the aches from the previous days. However accurate or inaccurate it may be, according to my Fitbit I had walked over 13 miles in Monument Valley and another 10 the in Page and Lower Antelope Canyon. Everyone in my camp was from Germany or Japan and things were pretty quiet. Inside my tent I strung some LEDs from my camera bag and read a bit before getting some much needed rest.
In the morning I was able to find a power outlet to get my laptop and phone charged, more photos downloaded, and things ready for my tour to Upper Antelope Canyon. After some questionable breakfast, I arrived at the tour and checked in. While waiting for the tour I ran into a couple that had been out driving in Monument Valley when I was and we chatted for a while, mostly discussing cameras and wondering how I was able to get a spot on a photo tour.
Like Lower Antelope Canyon, Upper Antelope requires access through a guide and photo tours are extremely hard to book. They are smaller than regular tours and fill up months in advance.
As we started to get into our respective groups and get into trucks to go out to the Canyon I saw that I was the only one in my group from America, other than our guide. The rest of my group was from China and spoke little English, if any. We all climbed into the back of a large truck, buckled in and most of us held on tight as we off-roaded through the arroyos to the Canyon entrance. One of the funnier moments came when we went through an extremely rough stretch and one of the girls had night tightened her seat belt, bouncing her into the air and onto her friends' laps. After that they put away their cameras and stopped trying to take pictures of themselves until we reached the canyon entrance.
If you're reading this because you're headed to one, or both, of the Antelope Canyon areas to photograph, here's some of the info you probably need to know:
- You will not want to change your lens inside the canyon because of the enormous amount of dust. Make your choice before you go. I recommend something pretty wide. Upper Antelope has larger chambers than Lower Antelope, but both are much smaller than you would think. For both canyons I used my Nikkor 16-35mm on my Nikon D800. If you're using a crop sensor, or DX format camera, you will need something even wider.
- Bring a small blower with a brush to keep your lens clean. As I said before, there's an enormous amount of dust in the air. The light beams are captured by guides throwing or kicking sand into the air through a light shaft, if you are lucky enough to catch one.
- You;ll be moving fast, so know your camera's settings and native ISO. I fielded many questions from other photographers in my group about what settings they should use, even from one man that was shooting a $35,000 medium format Hasselblad. You'll be shooting on a tripod (it's required). Shoot at the lowest ISO possible or your camera's native ISO.
- Use slower shutter speeds to blur the sand that creates the beams of light and the sand falls. There were several photographers in my group shooting at ISO 800 and faster shutter speeds. They ended up with more noise/grain in their photos and their photos of the beams and sand weren't near as smooth.
- Shoot in RAW format. That's a given. The colors are amazing and changing the white balance and give you very different pictures. I ALWAYS shoot RAW and recommend to everyone that they do to, but here it's very important.
- Stay quiet and follow your guides instructions. They do this for a living and know what photographers are looking for and will point out things to you if you're courteous and gracious. One girl in our group kept yelling, over and over, for the guides to throw more sand into a light shaft. It was amazingly rude and the guides are well aware of what photographers are there to capture.
- Lastly, focus your camera before you shoot. I shouldn't have to say it, but it's true. On the ride back from the canyon, one of the girls asked me to look at her pictures. I zoomed in on some and they were all out of focus. She was almost in tears when I started to point it out.
The guides on the photo tours are not only tasked with managing their group, but working with all the other tour groups in the canyon (and trust me, there are a lot of them) so that certain areas are free of people for their group to shoot. I talked with our guide when we returned about the crowds, worst in the middle of summer, and the best time of year to shoot, also the middle of summer. I was sure to thank them and tip them, a courtesy that not all cultures do as I was the only one in my group to do so.
If you want people to appreciate you and your work, make sure you do the same to others.
Below are some photos from my trip through Upper Antelope Canyon.