Want to make the most of your trip to Arizona? Wondering how you can capture consistently breathtaking photos of Antelope Canyon?
In my opinion, Antelope Canyon is one of the most exquisite natural features in the US. It’s also a landscape photographer’s paradise. You can capture beautiful detail shots, stunning scenics, and everything in between – if you know the right techniques, that is.
In this article, I share 10 practical tips for photographing Antelope Canyon. I explain:
- How to choose the right gear
- How to make the most of the beautiful light
- How to keep your equipment safe while shooting
- Much more!
So if you’re ready to capture some gorgeous shots of your very own, then let’s dive right in, starting with:
1. Do plenty of research
Before you head to Antelope Canyon, it’s essential that you do your homework and plan your trip accordingly.
First, you’ll want to head to the Canyon around midday (between 10 AM and 2 PM). That’s when the sun will shine through the canyon openings, which makes for amazing photos.
But while it’s generally best to shoot at midday, you’ll get different results depending on the time of year. Between the months of March and October, you can capture shafts of light hitting the canyon floor; between the months of November and February, you can capture beautiful colors along the walls (but you won’t see any sunbeams).
You should also research different tours. Note that you cannot view Antelope Canyon without first booking a tour (and yes, the tours are often expensive; that’s a price you have to pay if you want to see one of nature’s most impressive landscapes). Also, Antelope Canyon actually consists of several individual canyons (such as Upper Antelope Canyon, Lower Antelope Canyon, and Antelope Canyon X), each of which has different features, tours, and restrictions.
Some photography tours allow you to carry tripods and gear bags, while tours for non-photographers generally don’t. Also, as far as I’m aware, Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon do not, under any circumstances, let you carry a tripod – whereas Canyon X does (though check the details of your tour before booking just to be sure).
Personally, I highly recommend hopping on a tour designed for photographers. It’ll be more expensive, but the guides are knowledgeable and will generally do a great job helping you chase the light.
2. Bring the right gear
Photographing Antelope Canyon can be done with any gear (including an older DSLR with a kit lens), but for the best results, I encourage you to bring:
- A tripod. It should be sturdy enough to keep your camera rock steady. If you do use a tripod, you can get away with bringing an older APS-C camera. But remember: Tripods are not allowed on all tours and in all locations. If you’re not sure whether a tripod is permitted, be sure to check with your tour company!
- A full-frame camera that offers excellent low-light capabilities. You want to be able to boost your ISO as needed, and older APS-C models will introduce lots of noise. If you plan to use a tripod for most or all of your shots, this is less important; instead, just make sure you bring a high-megapixel camera that can capture plenty of detail in case you decide to create huge prints!
- An ultra-wide lens (or the widest lens in your arsenal). To capture the best compositions, you need a huge field of view. In fact, if you don’t own an ultra-wide lens, consider renting one.
- A remote release. This is optional, but if you’re working with a tripod, any press of the shutter button will create unwanted vibrations. So you’ll either need to use your camera’s self-timer to delay the shutter or a remote release, which will let you trip the shutter from a distance.
3. Avoid changing lenses
Antelope Canyon is dusty.
Which means that you should avoid changing lenses as much as possible. Exposing your camera sensor to the inside of the canyon can lead to sensor dust (never a good thing!).
If you go on a tour that allows you to bring extra gear, consider taking a second camera with a different lens for another perspective. Alternatively, make sure you bring a solid zoom; that way, you can take advantage of various focal lengths to capture plenty of different compositions.
Whatever you do, carry a cloth so you can frequently clean your lenses while shooting. And once your tour is over and you’re back in the hotel room, make sure you give all your gear a good once-over.
4. Make use of your camera’s LCD
Antelope Canyon tends to be pretty busy, and people often stream in and out in large groups. Expect people both in front of you and behind you at all times, so make sure you step carefully.
Don’t get too engrossed in your viewfinder; otherwise, you might find yourself accidentally bumping into other people. My advice is to use your camera’s Live View option – and if your camera has an articulating screen, flip that out. Compose via the LCD, and when you’re ready to take the shot, quickly check the viewfinder, make sure everything is good, then press that shutter.
That way, you can stay aware of your surroundings, but you’ll also get the chance to review your compositions and settings in the viewfinder before taking each shot.
5. Choose the right settings (including RAW)
First things first:
For the best Antelope Canyon photos, you should absolutely be shooting in RAW, not JPEG. RAW files take up more storage space, but they also offer far more flexibility when post-processing; for instance, if you have the original RAW file, you can recover missing highlight or shadow detail if you accidentally mess up the exposure. (If you want JPEGs for easier sharing, then consider shooting in your camera’s RAW+JPEG mode.)
- ISO: If your camera is mounted on a sturdy tripod, use your camera’s lowest native ISO (usually ISO 100). This will keep noise levels to a minimum. Otherwise, boost the ISO until the shutter speed is fast enough to overcome camera shake (generally around 1/60s or so).
- Aperture: Use a narrow aperture to keep the entire scene sharp. In my experience, you’ll need to shoot between f/11 and f/18, but the specifics will depend on your scene. An f/11 aperture can handle shallower compositions, but if you’re shooting a scene with lots of depth, f/18 may be necessary. (Alternatively, you can use a focus stacking technique.)
- Shutter speed: Pick a speed based on your camera’s exposure meter. This should generally be between 2 and 6 seconds with a low ISO. If your ISO is much higher, you may be able to shoot at 1/60s or faster (which is essential for handholding).
After you take an image, be sure to check the result on the back of your LCD. Check the histogram, too, just to make sure you don’t clip the highlights or shadows.
6. Spend time searching for new compositions
At times, you’ll be forced to wait for groups of people to move through the Canyon. This might feel frustrating – but I encourage you to use the downtime to search for new compositions. Look up at the openings in the rock, and see what you can find.
That way, once the group has left, you’re ready with a new photo!
Pro tip: Aim to include layers in your compositions. Layers create eye-catching patterns, and they can also add depth to your shot (which is pretty much always a good thing).
Also, if people are lingering and you can’t get the photo you want, remember that it’s not always bad to include people in your shots! You can also have fun using ultra-long exposures that render passersby as ghostly blurs.
7. Look for hidden slots
Antelope Canyon has great spiritual relevance to the Navajo tribes. The Navajo talk about the forms and shapes carved into the rock by water that flows through the canyons. And for me, one of the greatest things about shooting in this area is finding the unseen, finding what is hidden, and capturing it in a beautiful photo.
So as you’re searching for different compositions, seek out hidden slots. Look for interesting forms and shapes. And do your best to capture them! When you photograph a slot that nobody else has ever shot, you’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment.
The stone in the photo below represents an eagle with open wings:
8. Do include people in your photos
I get it: The most popular Antelope Canyon shots tend to feature rock untouched by human presence. When groups of people walk through the area, most photographers stop shooting.
But in my opinion, you can actually capture amazing shots by incorporating visitors into your compositions.
Do I think you should only compose with people in the scene? Of course not! But by including a person in your photos, you can:
- Add an eye-catching point of interest
- Create color contrast (between the person’s clothes and the Canyon wall)
- Provide a sense of scale so you can communicate the incredible size of the Canyon
I do recommend keeping the number of people in your photos to a minimum. Too many passersby will look like, well, a tour group. But if you can include just one or two people, you’ll end up with some very pleasing shots.
For this next image, I asked a person dressed in green to stand in the scene. The green shirt contrasted with the orange walls, and the picture turned out far more interesting!
9. Incorporate contrast
The more contrast you can include in your Antelope Canyon photographs, the better. I’m talking about contrast of all types! For instance, you can:
- Add textural contrast by including a mix of smooth and wavy walls
- Add tonal contrast by seeking out scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows
- Add color contrast by looking for different hues in the rock walls or (as discussed in the previous tip) by including people with contrasting clothing
I especially love compositions that feature strong tonal contrast. If you look carefully, you’ll notice places where shafts of light that penetrate from above make the center areas of the Canyon brighter and the sides darker.
10. Carry a water bottle
Here’s your final tip, and it’s a big one:
If you’re planning to spend a significant amount of time in Antelope Canyon, make sure you bring a water bottle! The area is dry, dusty, and – depending on the time of year – very hot. So stay hydrated; that way, your Antelope Canyon memories are nothing but great!
(Note that food isn’t allowed inside, so eat before you arrive!)
Photographing Antelope Canyon: final words
Well, there you have it:
My top 10 tips for capturing incredible Antelope Canyon shots.
So have plenty of fun. Remember my advice. And enjoy the beauty of the Canyon!
Amar Ramesh is an emerging photographer from Redmond WA, USA. Photography is a passion with infinite opportunities, and he loves to share the lessons and tips that he learned with others. You can see his work here: Flickr | Twitter | Portfolio.