10 Quick tips for Photographing Antelope Canyons

10 Quick tips for Photographing Antelope Canyons

A Guest post by Amar Ramesh.

Antelope Canyons in page Arizona is one of the most exquisite gifts of nature that is generally overlooked by people traveling to Arizona.

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The sandstone canyons lit from the streak of light passing right through the slots makes it one the most serene places in the world. Located at the Navajo Tribal Park near Lake Powell, these canyons have narrow paths, created by water flowing through them for millions of years. It’s a photographer’s paradise. Listed below are some the quick and easy tips that would help you take better pictures in these canyons.

1. Plan ahead

Like for any travel, do your homework and get to know the place. There are two canyons – Upper and Lower – both located in Page, AZ. Mid-day(11am-1pm) between the months of March and October is the best time to photograph these slots, with the shafts of light shining down from the openings above. There are photography tours available in both upper and lower canyons. Even though it’s a little expensive than the ordinary tour, it’s totally worth it. The guides who take you along the photography tour generally do a wonderful job helping you ‘chase’ the light. I highly recommend it.

2. Gear

Use the widest angle lens from your arsenal. You have to capture a wider area with light streaks and you absolutely need a wide angle lens to do this. If you don’t own one, try renting it. Tripod is a must and make sure you turn off image stabilization. A remote trigger would help remove the vibration caused by pressing the shutter button.

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3. Try not to change lens

An important note to remember if you are shooting with a DSLR is that you should not change your lenses inside these canyons because of the amount of dust in the air. Trust me you wouldn’t want to change your lenses inside the canyons. If you have a second camera, by all means, take it along with a different lens on it. You will get a different perspective. And yes, carry a cloth to clean the lenses frequently.

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4. Make use of your Live view

The canyons are generally crowded. People keep streaming in and out, in large groups. So expect people both in front and behind you. With so much going around its easy to be engrossed into the view finder. So advice would be try using the live view, as well as an articulating screen (some of the newest cameras have them). When you are ready to take the shot, you can quickly check the view finder and make sure everything is good and press the shutter. This will help you be aware of things happening around you.

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5. Go Manual mode and shoot RAW

Set the camera in manual mode, shoot RAW. f11 to f18 is the sweet spot for aperture and open the shutter anywhere between 2 and 6 seconds depending on the variation in light to get the best shots. Frequently check your histogram to see how you are doing.

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6. Look up

There will be times when you have to wait for a group of people to move before you can take a picture. So try to use that time to come up with different compositions. Look up and try to compose shots. Also remember including people in the picture is not always a bad thing to do.

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7. Look for hidden slots

These canyons are spiritual to the Navajo tribes. They talk about the forms and shapes carved into the rock by water that flows through the canyons. One of the greatest pleasure in shooting these canyons is to see the unseen, find what is hidden, and put them in the center stage and show it in pictures. The stone in the picture below has taken a form of an eagle with open wings. To see more pictures of hidden forms visit my blogpost “Finding the hidden creatures

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8. Try to put people in the picture.

Bring some life to the pictures by placing a human subject. Here in this picture I requested a traveler from South America dressed in contrasting colors to be photographed which made the picture interesting.

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9. High contrast

Look for frames with the most contrast to make it all that more interesting. You can find so many frames with high contrast between the darkest and brightest regions because of the shafts of light that penetrate from above make the center areas of the canyons brighter and the sides darker.

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10. Carry a water bottle

Last but not least food is not allowed inside, so if you are planning to spend a good time in these canyons, have your food before entering the canyons and make sure to carry a water bottle with you.

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Amar Ramesh is an emerging photographer from Redmond WA, USA. Photography, to him is a passion with infinite opportunities and he loves to share the lessons and tips that he learned with others. Please visit his Facebook Page for more. He is also in Flickr | Twitter | Portfolio.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Pete Freeman May 9, 2013 10:11 am

    Amar, which lens would be better 100mm Macro Canon or 18-55 Macro Canon for the Canyon shoot.? thanks

  • ratna February 22, 2013 05:07 pm

    Thanks Amar! I am going to the upper antelope canyon on May 18th 2013 for the 11:30am extended photographers tour and hope to get good pics with my D90. Thanks for your suggestions

  • mich February 3, 2012 04:53 pm

    thanks for the tips..what abt going in mid feb? Anyone visited during this time?

  • Mike December 28, 2011 04:45 am


    Here's what I found. The "famous" light beams will not be as strong, or potentially going from ceiling to floor because the sun will not be as high in the sky. However, that will make the light softer and potentially "better". It wil be cold so bring a jacket, not freezing but cold, and there won't be any snow in the canyon but might be some on top. I'm jealous, as the lack of snow here at home in Colorado makes the skiing suck and would much rather take a trip down there.

    Best of luck.

  • Suba December 27, 2011 03:02 pm

    I am inthe area and considering driving to Page tomorrow (Dec 27) Wondering if you found recos about winter? Kinda stretching my luck for a response here:-)

    Great pictures Amar


  • Mike December 7, 2011 06:26 am

    Has anyone ever, I know people have, but anyone on this thread ever photographed the canyons during the Winter months? Was thinking about heading out there at the end of December. And if so...good results?

  • roberto September 7, 2010 10:37 am

    I agree with Amar about turning off stabilization. The IS servos try to make micro-adjustments when the camera is locked on a tripod. Not a problem if you're shooting faster than 1/10 second or so, but on a time exposure of several seconds you will actually get what looks like camera movement. And be sure to focus manually.

  • satish m vakharkar August 15, 2010 06:43 pm

    Dear Amar Ramesh
    the pictures r awesome i wish i to see the place in my lifetime
    i m regular reader of your articles i DPS
    keep it up

  • Sue July 30, 2010 06:43 am

    Navajo tours was fine. That's who I used and the guide really made sure the photographers in the group got to the front to get their pictures.

  • Sue July 30, 2010 06:36 am

    I went to the canyons in late May 2010 and was very impressed. In fact several of the pictures I took are quite similar to yours. It was so beautiful there and you're right; it is a photographers dream. Only suggestion I have for others is 'don't take a tripod' if it's really crowded. It just gets in the way and people may knock them over. There is not enough room to set it up and be out of everyone's way. I love your pictures.

  • Amar Ramesh July 22, 2010 02:48 am

    @ralph marshall and @wayne white - Since the camera is on a Tripod you dont need the image stabilisation any more.

  • Art July 18, 2010 10:03 am

    Awesome pictures of Antelope Canyon. Gotta visit this place once before I die! You would think that midday sun would be too harsh, but there still seems to be plenty of warm colors in the rocks. And the curving striations add a texture to the rocks not commonly seen. The shaft of light illuminating the man under it looks almost like a divine emanation. Of special interest to me are the hidden forms.

    Keep up the excellent work!

  • Ralph Marshall July 18, 2010 10:03 am

    Why turn off IS? Beautiful shots, thank you

  • Lindie July 17, 2010 09:56 am

    Thanks for the tips. They come in handy as I will be visiting the canyons at the end of august.

    I was considering leaving my 17-35 lens at home and only taking the 25-105. But I'm now starting to think I whould take the 17-35. Is it possible to take good pictures with the 25-105 or should I make room in the handluggage for one more. I will also be visiring Bryce, the Grand Canyon, death valley and some more places, we're doing a round trip from LA, page, vegas, bakersfield, SF, LA with lots in between.

    I found a site called navajotours.com, anyone have experience with them? Their photo tour is $40 and you can either go at 10 or 12 (every 2 hours but these two are the best) I'm kind of leaning towards the 10-12 timeslot.

    The horseshoe bend is also in the planning. anyone know if it's wort planning it for sunset? Or is the location better at other times of the day?

    I didn't know about the wave, just looked it up, and don't think we will be able to add that to the planning, their calendar is already full for the whole time we are there.

  • Dan Zeis July 17, 2010 05:41 am

    I shot a myriad of photos there in Jun of 2005. The guide was great! Back then he kept anyone without a tripod back until those with tripods got their shots. I used a Canon 20D with a 10-22mm lens exclusively. I started out shooting jpg's but quickly switched to raw and manual settings using the timer because I didn't have a remote then.
    I nearly ruined one of my tripods! Yes there is sand - very fine sand at that. It took me a couple of hours to tear apart the tripod and clean it. I did not know, however, that there is a lower & upper canyon.

    It resulted in 50 - 60 magnificent pieces of art!

  • Wayne White July 17, 2010 04:09 am

    That is the first time I remember a recommendation to turn off image stabilization. Could you explain the reason?

  • Heather Samuels July 16, 2010 12:44 pm

    No one mentioned taking bracketed shots for HDR. I found this helpful due to the high contrast between light and shadows. Tripod is a must. If you go on the photography tour, the guide rotates photographers so eveyone gets their shots.

  • st1100 July 16, 2010 11:21 am

    Nice article and pictures. I have been to both canyons and have experienced their splendor.
    However, I wonder how many people have spent time working their mind and camera/lens/exposure potential instead of fiddling with their synthetic, enhancing software....?
    I used to say "WOW" when I saw a spectacular photo... now, I merely wonder how much time was spent enhancing....

  • Bill July 16, 2010 08:07 am

    The place really was a zoo when I went through in June (on a week day). Be prepared to be aggressive to get a good position, or you won't get a good shot. There are multiple tours vying to hit the same positions at the same times when the beams appear.

    Use manual focus and focus on the walls, not the beams of light. If you leave it on autofocus the camera will focus on the beam, and the walls will be OOF. You want the walls to be clear and the beam to be blurry. You also want a long exposure for the same reason, so you must have a tripod.

    They shovel sand in the air, so the place is extremely sandy/dusty. Do whatever you can to dust-proof your camera. My L-series lens is still crunchy from the experience. I'll probably need to take it in for cleaning.

  • Dave July 16, 2010 04:05 am

    One thing you didn't mention on the planning part.
    Flash flooding and the dangers.
    Remember the Guide.

  • dave July 16, 2010 03:56 am

    I was in Lower Antelope this past April around the noon hour on a sunny day (a must), and it is spectacular. Great shots!

    Two other tips.

    First, bring a ziplock bag large enough to put your camera in to help shield it from all the sand and dust. I had no problem shooting my Sony a550 thru the plastic. You can't believe the number of envious comments I got from the other shutterbugs. I was told that springtime is typically very windy there, which creates even more sand and dust.

    Second, if like me you don't have a tripod, I got some great shots by holding the camera against the various walls for support. Worked very well.

  • Joseph July 15, 2010 04:57 pm

    I`d also recommend looking into the other slot canyons in the area, waterholes canyon is very nearby. For the most part all you need is a pass to be on the native american land - i think it was 6 or 11 dollars when I was last there.

  • oliverignacio July 15, 2010 04:32 pm

    nice read, great images.

  • Amar July 15, 2010 01:06 pm

    You can definitely go below although I would not recommend below f8.

  • Dirk Sachse July 15, 2010 04:27 am

    "And yes, carry a cloth to clean the lenses frequently."

    I would take that out. Seriously.
    You dont want to wipe a cloth over your lense in these conditions, trust me. I severely scratched my 16-35 2.8 II in that canyon...
    Just bring your Giottos Air Bomb if you absolutely must clean your lense.

  • kate July 15, 2010 12:22 am

    @Amar - Oh wow. That's pretty high. Why not a lower one for a slightly faster shutter speed?

  • Amar Ramesh July 15, 2010 12:16 am

    @Kate - Most of the people who travel to Grand Canyons do not plan to visit these Antelope Canyons which are only 2 hrs from GC. That's why its often overlooked.

    Also the aperture that you can play around with is between f11-f18

  • kate July 14, 2010 10:34 pm

    Wikipedia's first note on them is as the most visited slot canyon in the southwest with a reference to a book only 4 years old. The site even has photography tours listed as an option.


    How overlooked can they be?

    @amar With what aperture?

  • ay July 14, 2010 05:45 pm

    Great job Mr. Amar
    Fantastic writeup and images

  • Amar July 14, 2010 08:26 am


    1. Tripod is a must because you will shooting anywhere between 4-8 seconds of shutter speed. Since its dark inside there is no way you can shoot at shutter speeds faster than the minimum speed required to shoot hand held which is 1/30th of a second in my case.

    2. People are in front and behind but the tour operators do a very good job of getting the photographers nice spots between the curves which is not blocking the way. So there is no big hindrance in setting up tripod when you take the photography tour.

  • Cornell July 14, 2010 06:15 am

    Amar Ramesh writes,

    (a) “Tripod is a must and make sure you turn off image stabilization. A remote trigger would help remove the vibration caused by pressing the shutter button.”
    (b) “People keep streaming in and out, in large groups. So expect people both in front and behind you.”

    Given the large number of people “streaming in and out”, I’m wondering whether using a tripod would be in the way of others moving around and why, given the circumstances, whether the practical thing to do is to hand hold a camera with internal stabilization turned on and to use continuous shooting mode. Or, is the number of people moving in and out not as large as is implied in the article?

  • Kevin July 14, 2010 05:14 am

    If I remember correctly, there's a very specific time where the light beams shine through. I think it's a 30 minute time frame.

    The ride to the canyon is very sandy/dusty too. Keep your gear in a bag!

  • Christian V. July 14, 2010 04:43 am

    Another Thing,

    Just play with your Whitebalance when inside. I got my best results with Cloudy or Shadow settings. But feel free to try it afterwards when shooting in Raw Mode.

  • Christian V. July 14, 2010 04:41 am

    Hi There,

    great tips :)

    i´ve been there in June 2010 and i´ve had the same ideas bout shooting in that canyons.

    Interesting for all visitors:

    Shooting for private purpose is allowed. An Permission is required for commercial use of the pictures.

    The Upper antelope canyon is a must seen on most photogs. But don´t miss the lower antelope. It´s more narrow than the upper canyon, but there´s more light in there. The Guy at the boxoffice has seen my tripod and gave me an "Photo Pass". At the lower canyon prices for Photo Pass and regular entry are the same. But you can stay up to 4 Hours with your Photopass. It costs 25$

    Prices in Upper Antelope are higher than the lower. An Photopass is about 55$

    Best Time is about 11 am (June), as most spots in Upper Canyon are falling in at this time.

  • Erik Unger July 14, 2010 04:02 am

    Antelope Canyon is an amazing place. While the light rays are very beautiful, the different lighting in the winter can make really nice shots as well. It is also nice to have the canyon almost all to yourself during the winter months. I was out there this past January and was able to get some really nice shots. Here are a couple of my favorites.





  • Ryan July 14, 2010 03:29 am

    The sun needs to be directly overhead to allow maximum light into the canyon.

    Great shots!

  • Maximo Almonte July 14, 2010 03:06 am

    WOW. They almost seen unreal. They are truly amazing and eye catching. Astonishing, Thanks for sharing.

  • Les July 14, 2010 02:46 am

    The beams are only in upper antelope if I am not mistaken, if you get the photographer's tour they have people who stop traffic at each end of the canyon so you get an unobstructed shot of the beam. The beam only forms when the sun is high in the sky (11am - 1pm) and only lasts less than 2 minutes... it takes around 1 minute from the beam to go from 1inch to 2 feet.

    While you're there make sure you visit "horseshoe bend" and "the wave" with the wave you really need to plan ahead (3-6 months ahead).

  • Michelle G Portraits July 14, 2010 02:26 am

    Outstanding photos!! The light is absolutely beautiful! Thanks for the tips!

  • Amar Ramesh July 14, 2010 02:13 am

    @Jason - the best time to photograph these canyons are between 11am and 1pm. Its noted in tip #1

  • Jason Collin Photography July 14, 2010 01:39 am

    Excellent photos and good tips (especially the no food inside one). I did not notice a time of day recommendation. Is it better in the morning, evening, or midday to get those light beams in shots?

  • Enduring Promise July 14, 2010 01:38 am

    Great job Amar!

  • Egidio Leitao July 14, 2010 01:17 am

    I visited these canyons in 2007. The Lower Antelope Canyon is especially wonderful because you don't have the crowds. You can also stay in the canyon as long as you want. Without any special equipment or preparation, I was impressed with the shots I got (http://ka-el.net/antelopecanyon/) just because of the natural light in the canyon.

  • 2ManyCars July 14, 2010 12:42 am

    Very useful. Even more beautiful!

  • MeiTeng July 14, 2010 12:39 am

    Wow...the canyons are gorgeous! Thanks for sharing.