Antelope Canyon, which is located just outside Page, Arizona, is probably the most photographed slot canyon in the American southwest.
The twists and turns in the walls of this tight canyon create dramatic pictures with light and shadows and brilliant shades of oranges, reds, and deep purples; it is no wonder it is such a popular destination! There is a dirty little secret to the canyon though that most photos don't show, and that is that it is extremely crowded during the peak times for light. This canyon, which can be as narrow as just a few feet across, fills with literally hundreds of people around the noon hour when the sun is directly overhead and creates the famous columns of light... not exactly a fun experience.
Luckily for us though, this canyon is actually split in to two halves; known as Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon.
The Uppers, as they are referred to, are owned and operated by the local Indian nation and a large number of tour operators take tours there at regular intervals throughout the day. The Lowers on the other hand, are operatored by a single tour company and draw far fewer people despite the fact that it is just on the other side of the street from the Uppers.
My advice, skip the Uppers and just go to the Lowers!
My wife and I visited the Lowers during the peak times for light and had the entire canyon mostly to ourselves - save two other photographers who were there at the same time. Under normal circumstances, the tours are guided, however if you show up with a tripod they will give you a 4 hour pass and let you do a self guided tour (there is really no way to get lost... just one way in and one way out).
Photography Tips for the Canyon
- The lower canyon, unlike the Uppers, get wider towards the top; so the peak times for photography are a couple hours on either side of 12 noon. I would recommend showing up around 1PM and staying staying until they close around 5PM.
- As the sun moves across the sky, the lighting changes inside the canyon dramatically, so my wife and I actually walked from one end of the canyon to the other, and then turned around and came back out the same way we entered. You'll be surprised at what you see coming back through that you may have missed the first time, or that the lighting just wasn't quite right.
- For best results, make sure you shield your lens from the blue sky as it will always overpower the picture.
- As I mentioned earlier, bring a tripod with you to receive the photographer's pass and have the best chance at having the whole canyon to yourself
Written and contributed by Dan Thompson