The last time I visited Lower Antelope Canyon, near Page, AZ, was in February 2014. I had arrived with about an hour before the local Navajo operators were closing for the evening, so my time exploring the area was brief. As I was ushered out of the canyon by the diligent canyon keepers, I knew I would have to return and ensure ample time to take properly survey the area with my camera. Fortunately, that opportunity presented itself a little over a year later, when I returned to the undulating and confined spaces of this marvelous slot canyon in early April 2015
There are several ways you can explore Lower Antelope Canyon but all now require that you be a part of a tour group. There are two companies that operate tours, both located right near the canyon entrance: Ken’s and Dixie Ellis. Both companies offer two basic types of tours: the standard guided tour and the photography tour. The latter requires that each tourist brings a tripodsomething that I strongly recommend anyway. I strongly recommend going with Dixie Ellis mostly because they seem to do a better job of limited how many people can sign up for the photography tours. I signed up for two tours with them on back-to-back days. On the first tour, there were four of us and on the second, there were fivetotally manageable. Ken’s, on the other hand, constantly looked like a cattle herd barreling through the canyon. If you do go with Dixie Ellis, be sure to ask for Armando. He was a fantastic guide who, once he ascertained that I didn’t need photo guidance, left me to my own devices so that he could focus his efforts on the other group members.
As you make your way down to the base of this slot canyon, it will become very clear that a two hour guided tour will not be nearly enough to truly appreciate the intricacy and complexity found within these undulating walls. Stone bends, curves, and meanders in ways that I never really thought possible. It is as perfect of a display of nature’s ballet as anything that I’d ever seen. Whether you use a wide-angle or telephoto lens, there is something truly magical to capture. And seeing the colors of these walls erupt and change as the minutes go by is breathtaking. That’s why I took two toursone in the late afternoon and one just after sunrise. There isn’t one perfect time to see these canyons, it’s a necessity to explore them several times during different hours of the day to truly appreciate how much character these walls have.
If you do find yourself fortunate enough to visit this magical place, keep some of this advice in mind to maximize your photo-taking experience:
- Go with an open mind. Nothing sabotages creativity quite like a busy mind. Trust me, this is something that I battle with constantly and it will do you no good down here. Don’t force or compel yourself to have to find those shots. Hell, don’t even turn on your camera until you feel comfortable and acclimated to the dizzying flow of these narrow walls. Once you feel calm and lucid, start looking around for your compositions
- Keep your head on a swivel. While the tour you’re on may be moving in one direction, be sure to constantly look everywhere. I mean it. Everywhere. Look in every direction and at every angle. There are nearly an infinite number of ways to capture these flowing walls and what’s great is that maintaining a level horizon line isn’t a necessity here. In this canyon, abstraction can be a huge reward!
- Break rules of composition often. Sure, the rules of composition, exposure, and stylization have merit within the universe of photography and knowing them is critical… if only so that you can break them more effectively. Lower Antelope Canyon is not a manmade structure, so why would you restrict yourself to manmade rules of photography? There are no blueprints or diagrams. It’s a perfect testament to nature doing what it does best on its own terms. Embrace the fluid chaos of this are and let it define how you compose your photo. Experiment with your camera and I promise you’ll find a photo that makes your jaw drop.