A tripod is a must for
shooting in the canyons--the passageways are darker
than one might think, especially on overcast days. This
image was taken in Upper Antelope Canyon. (Tech info:
A 4Mp digital SLR, ISO 200, 16-35mm zoom at 16mm, f/11,
4 sec exposure.)
Photos © 2002, Rick Sammon, All Rights Reserved
From a purely sensuous point
of view, few outdoor scenes beat Arizona's Upper Antelope Canyon
and Lower Antelope Canyon, two of the best-known slot canyons in the
The curves, shapes, and forms of the winding canyon walls, carved out
of stone by eons of erosion, entice photographers from around the world
to go there to capture their beauty; it's a striking beauty that
changes from moment to moment as the light, filtering down through narrow
slots at the roof of the canyons, changes throughout the day.
From a logistical point of view, getting to the magnificent slot canyons
is relatively easy. Both are located at about a 10-15 minute drive from
Page, Arizona, which is about a one-hour flight or six-hour drive from
This cut-away in Lower Antelope Canyon is a popular site,
one which is easy to find. Millions of years of erosion
have left a layer of fine dust on the floors of both canyons.
That dust can damage your camera, so don't place your
camera bag down on the ground. (Tech info: A 4Mp digital
SLR, ISO 200, 16-35mm zoom at 16mm, f/11, 5 sec exposure.)
Once in Page, where you can
easily rent a car and find a hotel room, you hop in your car and drive
down Route 98 toward the power plant, Page's main landmark that
billows smoke into the air through tall smokestacks. Signs mark the entrances
to both canyons, which are on opposite sides of the road, about a half-mile
At Upper Antelope Canyon, you join a group at the entrance. Then a four-wheel
drive vehicle takes you to the walk-in entrance of the canyon.
You can explore Lower Antelope
Canyon on your own, after you are guided to the entrance, a narrow slot
in the ground that leads to a metal ladder that you climb down.
Cost per canyon visit is $20-$50 per person, depending on the group's
size and length of visit. Wear hiking boots and pack a rain slicker to
drape over your camera bag in case of rain. Try to get to the canyons
around 10am, when the entrances open.
This narrow passageway is the entrance to Upper Antelope
Canyon, which offers shapes and forms waiting to be captured
by creative photographers. (Tech info: A 4Mp digital SLR,
ISO 200, 16-35mm zoom at 16mm, f/8, 1/125 sec exposure.)
Spring, summer, and fall are
good times to visit the area--unless you want to photograph some
nice snow scenes.
Capturing the beauty of the canyon walls, bathed with highlights and filled
with shadows, can be tricky. Try to compose your pictures so that the
contrast range does not exceed that of your film (about 3 stops for slides
and 5 stops for print film) or digital image sensor (3-5 stops, depending
on your camera and your digital darkroom know-how). Keep in mind that
our eyes have a much wider sensitivity range than any film or digital
image sensor--in effect, about 11 f/stops. As always, follow the
pro's BLH rule: Bracket Like Hell.
You'll definitely need
a tripod to steady your camera in the relatively low-light conditions.
You'll also need a wide angle lens in the 16-24mm range if you want
to take in large areas of the canyons. I'd also suggest using a
small aperture, say f/11, for good depth of field.
Monument Valley is only about a two-hour drive east from
Page, Arizona. After shooting the slot canyons around Page,
take a side trip. Plan to be there early in the morning
or late in the day for the best light. (Tech info: A 4Mp
digital SLR, ISO 200, 16-35mm zoom at 24mm, f/8, 1/125 sec
Another challenge you'll
face is getting a picture without other photographers in the scene. I
found that if you work as a team with the others in your group, you will
all have a much better chance of getting good shots during your self-guided
tour. One-hour and two-hour tours are standard in Upper Antelope Canyon,
but you can spend an unlimited time in Lower Antelope Canyon. I spent
about one hour in each canyon and was very pleased with my pictures.
If you go to the slot canyons, keep this word in mind: respect. First,
you must respect the weather conditions. If it looks like rain and the
guides tell you to leave the canyons, do it. They can flood. In 1977,
11 French tourists lost their lives in a flood. Second, keep in mind that
you are on Navajo land, which is sacred to the Navajo. During my visit,
one very disrespectful photographer was shooting two nude models--while
the other photographers looked on. When the guides learned about the unauthorized
photo session, they demanded the photographer's film. The entire
group felt the stress. Hey, I am not against photographing nudes. But
I am against photographers who have total disrespect for others.
Shame on him!
Horseshoe Bend, formed by the Colorado River, is about 10
minutes from Upper Antelope and Lower Antelope Canyons.
It is located off Route 89, about four miles south of Page
on Route 89. The entrance, on the right side of the road,
has no sign, so keep your eyes peeled for a dirt road that
leads to a small parking lot. To get a shot like this, you'll
need a 16mm lens on a digital SLR or a 24mm lens on a 35mm
SLR. A gradual filter will help reduce the contrast range
between the sky and foreground. A polarizing filter will
reduce the reflections on the water. Of course, a tripod
will let you shoot with a small aperture for great depth
While you are in the area,
take an hour and photograph Horseshoe Bend, about four miles south of
Page on Route 89 (not Route 98). There are no identification signs, so
as you are driving, look for a dirt road and parking lot on the right
side of the road. It's a spectacular formation carved by the Colorado
River. For the best light, go in early morning. Bring a wide angle lens
(16-24mm), polarizing filter, gradual filter, and tripod.
If you plan to make a weekend photo trek to the area, take a drive to
Monument Valley, made famous in many John Wayne Western movies. It's
only about two hours away. There are several chain-name hotels to stay
at in Kayenta, Arizona--the "entrance" to Monument Valley.
Tours are easy to book at the park entrance, but you can drive through
if you have a four-wheel drive (so rent one in Page if you plan to go).
You may also want to explore Lake Powell, which is about 10 minutes from
Page. You will see some wonderful scenery there, too, especially if you
rent a small boat.
A relatively open area in Lower Antelope Canyon gave my
guide, "Casey," an opportunity to shoot me shooting
the slots. Including a person in a slot shot adds a sense
of scale to the picture. Try it just for fun! (Tech info:
A 4Mp digital SLR, ISO 200, 16-35mm zoom at 24mm, f/5.6,
1/30 sec exposure.)
In closing, my guess is that
you will take more pictures than you anticipated...so be prepared
with plenty of film or memory cards.
For more information on the slot canyons of Arizona, do a Google search
typing in "slot canyons."
Rick Sammon is the author of
"Rick Sammon's Complete Guide to Digital Imaging." Contact
Rick at RickSammon@aol.com
for information. Rick is also leading a "Shutterbug" digital
photography workshop to the slot canyons in May of this year.