How To Shoot Antelope Canyon

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Upper Antelope Canyon, Page, Arizona – Photo by Ming Lo

Recently, I took a trip to Upper Antelope Canyon, which is located near Page, AZ on the Navajo Indian Reservation.  Antelope Canyon is one of the most famous slot canyons around and photos are, in short, spectacular.  I took the photo above.

I’ll confess, it’s not really that hard to take the photos, it’s really a matter of the right settings on the camera.  You can pay thousands for a photographic tour with a specialist, or here’s the secret sauce.

Set Up.  Before you start taking pictures:

  • The light around noon is best for capturing light beams; local guides will tell you that it’s even better in January or February, when there are few people and you get colors like purple that you won’t get during the summer.
  • When there’s a light beam, the guides will often throw sand up in the air before a shot is taken to highlight the sunbeams
  • Set white balance to shade.  When I went, someone set white balance to flourescent and got blues instead of yellows and oranges.
  • Set ISO to 400 at least; light levels are low so I wouldn’t be surprised if you  go as far as 3200 ISO or more
  • If you have a lens that will get you to f/2.8 or even f/1.4, even better.  I do prefer a zoom because that allows me to zoom in on sections of the canyon above me; you’d have to climb the canyon walls to get a closer shot with a fixed lens (no one will let you, and you shouldn’t, just so that the canyon is preserved).
  • You can use a tripod, although that’s not critical.  Professionals will often bring a tripod and take the photographer’s tour, which is really just more time in the canyon.
  • Shoot raw as well as jpg.

Post Processing.  You can get great pictures even without post processing, but if you feel so inclined:

  • Because we’re working in low light, I often prefer processing in raw because jpg doesn’t handle the subtleties (such as light in the shadows) as well as raw.
  • Raw will also premit you to push color temperature and to get the bright reds.
  • For most pictures, I don’t like adding fill or increasing brightness.  In this case, it works and gives the canyon shots the “glow” effect.
  • I increase the blacks or increase contrast to highlight the darks and the curvature of the canyon.
  • Also for most pictures, I usually increase clarity to increase sharpness.  In this case, I actually like to keep clarity low or even reduce clarity.  I find that less sharpness actually makes the scene just a bit more dreamy.

The shot above was taken on a Canon 5D, with settings of f/5, 1/100 s, ISO 1250.  The lens was a 24-70 f/2.8 lens at 35mm.  There is almost no post processing in this shot.

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