Upper Antelope Canyon in Utah has been on Hector’s “photographer’s bucket list” for a while. This slot canyon is in the Antelope washbasin within the Navajo Nation. We have seen many iconic photographs of the dreamy red curved rock and moody shafts of light and we wanted to see it for ourselves.
There are two kinds of tours. The regular guided photo tour where tripods and monopods are prohibited. And each company runs one photographers’ tour each day which gives more access and time in the canyon.
The best time for photos is around noon, when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky and provides the most light into the canyon. That is also when the famous “light shafts” occur in the upper canyon during spring and summer. The photographers’ tours go during this best time of day.
But both kinds of the mid day tours book up months in advance and our plan to visit this place was kind of last minute, so all the mid day tours were all booked when we checked online.
We did not give up, however, and when we arrived in Page we decided to visit each tour company personally. And we found a couple of mid-day tours slots available. But what we really wanted was the photographers’ tour.
The third try was the charm. The third tour operator, Adventurous, is located a bit of a drive outside of town. They had room on the day that had the clearest weather forecast of the week! For this photographers’ tour the only requirements are that each person have a tripod and an SLR. So we both signed up.
The lady at Adventurous also informed Hector that if he planned to show or sell any of the photography from the area, he needed to get a permit from Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation department. Although normally they prefer photographers to apply by mail in advance, Hector and I made it happen in two days. But it took some persuasion.
Then each group enters the canyon with their guide. Although this is not an experience of solitude and reflection, it is a beautiful and awe-inspiring place. The canyon is narrow and winds a quarter mile or so. The tours take you through to the other end and then back. And although lots of people are walking through the canyon, the guides manage the groups fairly well. However, we were not there at the peak time of year, which is the summer.
The photographers’ groups get special handling (they are also more expensive). They are given a bit more time in the most photogenic spots, while the guide blocks traffic in both directions to allow just a couple of minutes to get a clear shot. It is a bit frantic and all the photographers are shoulder to shoulder, but it worked really quite well.
I had a bit of a tough time, as I was not very familiar with the equipment I was using (one of Hector’s older cameras), and this is not really a place for beginners. At one point I accidentaly unscrewed my tripod top. It was a challenging experience but it motivated me to learn to use all of Hector’s equipment.
Hector also had one issue, he was unable to bend down to shoot up from a low angle, because it was too painful for his ankle. But none of our challenges had to do with the tour, in fact, I would highly recommend Roman, our guide. He was great. He worked hard to manage the people and arrange our clear access, had expert advice on camera settings and really made sure his group got the best shots possible.
The two hours in the canyon really did make a difference, they allowed us to return to places at crucial times, for example when the light shafts occurred, or when there were no groups walking through. The downside is that in this fast moving group there is no chance of getting any posed people photos, everyone is so focused on getting the best shots of the canyon in the small time windows given for each setup.
Hector and I really enjoyed the experience, the canyon is truly an amazing place, and I think he captured it beautifully (click on any photo to see a larger image). I wound up focusing on photographing the photographers and other people and managed to get a couple of nice shots.
And we learned a lot about how to enjoy and photograph this beautiful place. Check out our tips in the next post.