Convoluted

An HDR view from Upper Antelope Canyon, near Page (Arizona), converted to black and white:

Convoluted

I’ll be posting a longer comparison of Upper to Lower Antelope Canyon at a later date.  For now, let’s just say that a walk through the Upper Canyon is a crowded experience — even in the “off-season,” even on a “Photo Tour.”  So taking shots facing the sky is a good plan.  In any case, the canyon is a unique experience, and always a reliable source of geological abstracts.

The many faces of Church Rock

Over the holidays, my family took an old-school road trip down to Arizona to visit relatives. Along the way, we came across an interesting geological feature that I’d never even heard of before — an old, eroded bit of volcanic material called Church Rock:

Church Rock

Located 10 miles east of Kayenta, Church Rock (nicknamed after its supposed resemblance to a cathedral from some angles) is part of a whole string of interesting geological features in this part of the country.  On the far horizon, you can see the chisel-shaped tip of Agathla Peak, in Monument Valley.  I think the line-up of features makes a good composition, although something like a 16:9 crop would reduce the impact of the foreground nicely.

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Sculptural

Another geological abstract shot from lower Antelope Canyon in Arizona:

Sculptural

If you’re planning a trip to Antelope Canyon and you’re taking a DSLR, you should give some thought in advance to just what lens(es) you should put on your camera body(ies). Fortunately, you’ve got a strong ally in this effort — namely, Flickr.

Before the trip, scan through Antelope Canyon shots that other people have posted to Flickr to find ones you particularly like. Then, when EXIF data is available for the shots, take note of the focal lengths used for the images — this will give you a very good idea of what you want to be taking along on your trip.

In my case, the images I liked best seemed to be taken with focal lengths around 20-30mm (35mm equiv.). So since I have Olympus four-thirds camera bodies (2x crop factor), I aimed for 10-20mm focal lengths in my lenses. So I had a 7-14mm lens on my E-3 body (primary camera) and 14-54mm lens on my E-520 body (backup). Whichever camera wasn’t being used at the time rested in a padded torso pack (ThinkTank Change Up) to protect it from accidental dings. Meanwhile, both camera bodies were outfitted with quick-release plates for my tripod so I could switch back and forth quickly.

Oh, and both camera bodies have lanyards — so whichever one was in use was tethered to my wrist at all times. Particularly important when there’s nothing soft for a camera to land on if you drop it.

Just hanging out…

When my daughter and I walked through the Phoenix zoo a few weeks back, we were greeted by one of the locals. I don’t know what (s)he was trying to tell us (“go away?” “bring sugar-water next time?”), but for a while it kept chattering around us.

Just hanging out...

At least the little critter was content to sit still on a branch for a bit so I could capture its portrait.

Face-off

Can you call a squabble a territorial dispute when it takes place on water? At any rate, we were headed out of the Phoenix zoo when we saw these two trying to settle boundary issues with each other:

Face-off

In the end, one of them turned tail and swam off, with the winner in pursuit.

Passageway

Another shot from lower Antelope Canyon:

Passageway

And some more travel trips to go with it

  • Our visit to the canyon was on Memorial Day (a U.S. holiday held on the last Monday in May), and the trip through the canyon was dry as a bone. Some fellow travelers, though, told us they’ve gone through in winter and found spots chest deep in mud. So if you’re not traveling in summer months, make sure you have a change of clothing you’re willing to sacrifice to the hike — the pink mud permanently stains whatever you’re wearing.

  • It wasn’t terribly hot when we visited, but remember that you can’t exactly get out in the middle of the canyon to get that water bottle out of your car — take a bottle with you on your hike.

  • I’d been told before that a flashlight was a necessary thing to take on a trip through the canyon, but we never used ours. Maybe this is another winter (or early morning / late afternoon) thing?

  • Dust — there’s lots of it in the canyon. I’d recommend picking one lens for your camera(s) before you head in, then leaving it on. Swapping lenses in a dusty environment like this one is likely to get a lot of gunk into your camera. My solution: I have two camera bodies, I put complimentary lenses on the two of them and left them there.

I’ll talk more about photo gear in my next Antelope Canyon post…

Getting to Antelope Canyon

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.

Antelope Canyon from Page

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).

Yes, there's an entrance here

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:

Looking up and out

This, BTW, is an HDR image (3 shots 1 stop apart, with a bit of noise cleanup afterward). More to come

Red alignment

We’ve got relatives in Arizona, so occasionally when we’re visiting we get an opportunity to drop in on some local attractions. On one trip I thought I’d experiment with a long-exposure nighttime shot of one of the telescope domes at Flagstaff’s Lowell Observatory:

Red alignment

It’s odd, but once your eyes get adjusted to the lighting, you don’t particularly notice its red coloration.