If you’re at all into outdoor photography, you’ve likely seen shots from Antelope Canyon in Arizona — even if you didn’t know it at the time. This is the first in the series of posts I’ll be writing about a little detour we took to the canyon on a recent trip to see relatives in Arizona.
Antelope Canyon is actually a series of “slot canyons” in the drainages leading to Lake Powell in northern Arizona. Should you decide you want to see it, you’ll first have to get comfortable with a lot of driving, then you’ll have to decide which of two sections you’d like to see. Upper Antelope Canyon is somewhat more photogenic — but it’s been “discovered,” and so (I’ve heard) can be swamped by people being shuffled through it by the tightly-scheduled truckload.
Since ours was a family trip, we opted for Lower Antelope Canyon, instead. Much less crowded, not at all hectic, you can wander through at nearly your own pace (up to an hour as part of a “group,” up to 4 hours if you spend a few dollars extra for a “photographer pass”), and still very beautiful. Oh, and if you go this route, make sure to swing by an ATM first. When we went it cost $28 per adult and $16 per child (12-18), and payment is by cash only. We opted for a group outing (vs. photo pass) since I doubted our 8 year old would really be interested in spending 4 hours underground.
Anyway, when it comes to getting there, the biggest nearby city is Flagstaff — so let’s just say for the sake of argument that it’s your jumping-off point. From there, you drive about 2 hours north to an intersection just south of Page, then turn east on Highway 98. Once you pass the turnoff for Lechee, the road you want is the first left onto a paved drive, then take another left on a dirt road down to the parking lot. If you make it to one of the power plant roads (can’t miss this, it’s HUGE), you’ve gone too far and need to turn around.
Once you pay your fees, your guide takes you out to the entrance to the lower canyon, which is basically a hole in the ground — hardly looks wide enough from a distance, but it’s straightforward if you’re not carrying too much extra weight (either bodily, or in the form of camera gear).
This gal spoke German (and I only know a few words of it), but I have to think at the time she was saying something along the lines of “you’ve GOT to be kidding me!”
Access to this section of the canyon has improved dramatically since the addition of metal ladders bolted into the stone here and there. Mind you, some years back a group of people died here in a flash flood — it was raining far upstream, the local guides told them to get out, but the tourists’ stubbornness and the (then-used) rope ladders out combined to thwart their escape.
Anyway, if you’re reasonably good shape, you’ll have no problem getting down into the canyon (or out again). And make sure you pay attention to what the guides tell you to do.
Once you’re into the canyon, things get easier — more elbow room, although there are still some tight spots here and there. One thing you’ll need to contend with, though, is a wide range of lighting — something like a 10 stop difference between light and shadow. I’d recommend you do some multi-exposure HDR work if you want to wind up with a good shot — otherwise, you’ll have to content yourself with some really low contrast shots. This advice is particularly relevant if you get any sky in your image, like this one:
This, BTW, is an HDR image (3 shots 1 stop apart, with a bit of noise cleanup afterward). More to come…