Photographing Antelope Canyon

Photography Tips for Antelope Canyonsdsc_4696-edit

If you are interested in taking quality images in the slotted canyons at Page, Arizona, there are two things you must do: First, schedule photography tours. Though these will cost more, but they’re totally worth the investment. Secondly, visit the area in the off-season. During the summer so many people visit these locations it’s impossible to experience the freedom necessary to shoot the vastness of the canyons. You should note that on the photography tours, you will be required to have a sturdy tripod and a DSLR camera, no point-and-shoots.

Equipment:

  • DSLR camera
  • Tripod: You will need a very stable tripod, as it very dark in most areas of these canyons. Exposures ranging from 2 seconds to as many as 20 seconds are needed to capture the beautiful colors.
  • Wide angle lens: These canyons are very narrow, so the use of a wide angle lens is a must; for example, a 14mm on a cropped sensor. I was shooting with the Nikon D750 full frame at 24mm, but in many places it would have been preferable to go wider.
  • Remote shutter release: Because it is necessary to shoot with very slow shutter speeds, triggering with a remote will help avoid any camera movement. If you don’t have a remote, use your camera’s timer to release the shutter hands-free.dsc_4676

Camera settings

Shooting in the canyons is very fast paced, so be very familiar with all your camera settings.

  1.  I highly recommend shooting in RAW. It’s not a must, but you will need all the dynamic range you can get for post.
  2. Shoot in manual mode. The lighting in these canyons can be very tricky and deceiving… Don’t trust your camera to choose the right exposure. More about exposures is covered below.
  3. Aperture: In very low lighting, your first instinct might be to shoot wide open, but in the long, narrow canyon passage ways you will want all the depth of field you can get. Try somewhere between f/8 and f/10.
  4.  ISO: Shoot at your lower ISOs, such as ISO 100, as these will help keep your images from becoming grainy while shooting in extremely low light. And, believe me, you are going to be surprised how dark it gets in these slotted canyons!
  5. White balance: I tried two different settings here, daylight and cloudy, but if you are shooting in RAW this can be adjusted in post.

Determining Exposure

Setting up your exposure options is the tricky part. Two things I recommend:

  1. Use your histogram: if you are not familiar with using your camera’s histogram, practice using it before you go out on a canyon shoot. And as you are shooting, check the histogram. The key here is to avoid clipping either end, but most importantly in the highlight (the right side) some areas of the canyons can be very contrasting.
  2. Bracket your exposures: After getting your exposure as close as you can by looking at the histogram, bracket your exposures to make sure you have an exposure that will bring out the most detail and color. The more contrast in the scene, the more exposures you’ll want to bracket for. This may come in handy later in case you want to try using HDR in post to improve the dynamic range of your image.

The canyons are very narrow in many places, so I recommend leaving your backpack in the car and just carry in your camera, tripod and a cleaning cloth for your lens. Don’t take any extra lenses, because the canyons are so dusty there is no way you should even try to switch out your lens there. Most of the guides in the canyons are very knowledgeable about camera gear, so if you have problems, they might be able to help you. dsc_4707-hdr-edit

So if you ever find yourself anywhere close to Page, Arizona, take the opportunity to photograph Antelope Canyons.

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