Planning a photo trip to Antelope Canyon

Sometimes I think the most exciting part of a trip is the planning. These days it feels much easier because everything you want is just a few clicks away on the internet. I remember the days when my parents had to pour through AAA guides and even had them prepare a Triptik which had to be ordered well in advance. With a destination like Antelope Canyon you’ll find more sites than you can read. I wanted to write a post leading up to my trip. I’ll provide links to the interesting sites and also explain how I used the information and what tools I implement along the way.

First is to pick the destination. My partner and I were told we had to go to Antelope Canyon so that made picking the destination easy. Google Maps told us that it is about a 10 hour drive from Denver, CO to Page, AZ so now we had a start. Our next task was to determine when we wanted to go. Here are some of the things we considered:

  • Light beams – We saw some fantastic shots of sun beams shining down into the canyon. Are some times during the year better than others?
  • Overall weather – that part of the country can get extremely hot during the mid summer months. We’d probably want to avoid those times.
  • Popularity – We heard the canyons can get crowded. Probably another reason to avoid the summer months and possibly even the weekend.

We landed on late April since that would work with other travel plans and events going on back home and it would not eliminate the possibility of light beams. I’m going to gloss over an important step mainly because it was partially arranged for us. Picking the tour group sounds like it can be a task in itself, and a very important one. For us we were following the advice of a friend and used the same guide outfit. Antelope Canyon is on Navajo land and you are required to hire a Navajo guide to accompany you. Don’t plan on heading in alone.

With the time and details of the tour set we needed to find out what else we could do in the area. It’s a 10 hour drive and you only spend about 3 hours in the canyons so we weren’t going to just turn around and head back to Denver. Below is map that I start generating on Google Maps to help organize our trip and potential photo sites. If you don’t have Google Earth or want to work from a web browser you can go to https://www.google.com/mymaps and create a custom map under you Google account.

antelope canyon map

Google Maps with routes and potential destinations added

We found sites like Horseshoe Bend, The Wave, Navajo Bridge, Glen Canyon Dam, Bryce and Zion National Parks. Lake Powell would be a lot of fun but it sounds like you need a boat if you’re serious about getting some good photos.

Preparing the gear

Many photo sites about Antelope Canyon warn you about how tricky the conditions can be. I am definitely a planner so over the past few months I’ve tried to gather as much information about the shooting conditions as possible. You can read blog postings like this one on Fototripper.com and also use sites like 500px to review photos and get ideas. I like utilizing a site like 500px because in most cases the EXIF data has not been removed and you can learn what focal length, ISO, shutter speed, etc. were used and prepare yourself.

research 500px antelope canyon

The first obstacle to overcome was the lens. Currently I only own a 50mm prime and a 28-300mm lens. Most of the images are taken with wider angle lenses. I’ve run across a similar issue in the past and used LensRentals.com to fill in the gaps in my gear. For about $160 I was able to rent a lens that retails for about $1,900. So far I have been very happy with their service. You pick the lens and the dates for the rental and then they ship it out and include everything you need to return the gear at the end of your rental period. Choosing a start date slight before the trip let me practice with the lens a little, which is always helpful.

This lens will not only be great in the slot canyons but also for shots at Horseshoe Bend and for doing some star trails or night shots. I think I’m going to have a hard time returning this lens.

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Test shot with rented lens: f/6.3, 1/15sec, 15mm, ISO 2000, handheld

While the conditions in the canyon are not as harsh as say Burning Man, I’ve read that you do have to protect your gear. My camera is weather sealed but I’d rather not take any huge risks. You might wonder why you have to be so careful. Shooting in the desert is one thing but in order to highlight the sun beams shining in the canyon the guides toss sand up in to the air. This fine sand and dust apparently gets everywhere and having your camera protected will make the rest of your trip much more enjoyable, right?

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Altura rain cover

Hopefully this will do the trick. We ordered the rain cover above off Amazon. It definitely takes some getting used to it. I would recommend ordering it early and practicing with it so you’re not thrown off when you’re in the canyon.

Preparing my mind

There are so many blogs out there about Antelope Canyon (I’ll provided links to the ones I found most helpful at the bottom) and I recommend reading as much as possible to prepare yourself. Obviously I’m going to shoot in RAW. I’m contemplating bracketing photos if I have enough time but I’ve been warned that you have to move fast and maybe that won’t be possible.

I’m really not sure how the lighting will be in the canyon. It’s the biggest thing on my mind. In addition, my gear will be covered by the rain cover mentioned above so I’ve been running through all my camera settings so that I can access them by touch and feel as easily as possible. Knowing your gear is an underlying theme to lots of the blogs. I’m going into the canyon expecting to shoot between ISO 100 and ISO 400, around f/10 (+/-) and who knows about the shutter speed. I’ll figure that out when I get there and adjust the ISO accordingly. I don’t think I want to go lower than f/8 if I can help it. In the end, since it’s my first time in Antelope Canyon, I just have to do my best to prepare myself for the unknown.

The journey

Luckily, my partner and I are very fluid travelers. Neither of us expect to stick to a strict schedule. The only thing we have planned is the Antelope Canyon tour. Other than that we’re open to where our cameras take us. It’s great knowing that if something pops up on the side of the road worth shooting neither of us will hesitate to tell the other to stop. For me that works well and allows me to shoot in the moment.

Finally, the links

Here are some of the sites I found most helpful in my preparations.

Hopefully this post is helpful. It doesn’t cover every detail but it highlights the important steps in my preparation. Stay tuned for another blog post or two after our return. I’d like to cover the great photo opportunities and what I learned from trip that may not have been covered here.

P.S. the images on this page, except the test shot of the train station, were gathered from screenshots or product shots found on the web. If anyone has questions about them please contact me.

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3 thoughts on “Planning a photo trip to Antelope Canyon

    1. Alley, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. In actuality we did visit Rattlesnake and Owl Canyons and I agree the hitting the “alternative” slot canyons is where it’s at! We almost did Canyon X too but we were too busy with other things – that will be for the next visit, because there will be a next visit. 🙂

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