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Antelope Canyon - Guide Recommendations and FAQ

Adam Krauss , Jul 15, 2012; 06:15 p.m.

Hi all - I am going to be in Lake Powell the end of this month and plan on visiting both upper and lower antelope. I wanted to visit lower with my family and do the upper the following day alone with a photo tour. I figured I would aim for the 10:30am tours for both upper and lower as I am hoping for directed overhead light beams. I was going to book with chief Tsosie for the upper photo tour, as i read some good things about that tour. Not sure about the lower. I understand that as a "photographer" i will be allowed 2 hours in the lower and dont need a tour guide. Is this true ? If not, are there any guides for the lower you would recommend ? I would like to experience the lower with my wife and kids, but it seems that if they don't have photo gear (and therefore don't qualify for the photographer pass), the only way to do that is for me to take the 1 hour guided tour. Also, is there the ability or need to reserve a time slot for the lower canyon, or do i just show up a bit in advance ? Thanks for any advice.

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Glen Berry , Jul 15, 2012; 07:06 p.m.

Did that very tour on May 10th of this year. Yes - book in advance - the sooner the better. The Chief Tsosie tour is very good - particularly if "Rob" is your guide - he's also an accomplished photog which was a huge help. I took my tripod (which was a huge mistake - given the number of people in the canyon - others will argue for the use of a tripod). I just did the Upper Canyon, so can't speak to the Lower Canyon. Some tips - use the widest lens you have, and don't even THINK about changing lenses once in the Canyon. You'll find the very fine white sand gets into everything. In fact, while travelling to and from the Canyon in the pick-up truck - I'd recommend you have some type of dust protection for your camera/lens because those truck wheels kick up plenty of dust. I'd also recommentd using something like black electrical tape to seal the connection between camera and lens - again - for the dust. I also used a damp chamois to clean up the camera and lens once were were done - worked great. Suggest you set your camera to "cloudy", in AV priority, around f8. It'll be plenty hot during the time you're there - take water as well. Good luck!

Eric Merrill , Jul 15, 2012; 08:30 p.m.

Adam:

I was there on April 2nd this year. It was already plenty warm. I can't imagine how hot it would be during the heat of summer, especially with all the bodies packed in the canyon. I took a 10:30a tour from Chief Tsosie. I have no complaints about them. I was bothered by other guides for taking photos on a non-photo tour. I ignored them as best I could. The photo tours are in the canyon at the same time as the regular tours. The guides were telling the photographers to take their photo and move over for the next one. I heard several times, "Just photoshop the people out later and don't worry about it." It was a different experience than I had imagined from seeing various photos online. I came away with few decent light shaft photos. Here's one:

http://canid.com/arizona/120402_upper_antelope_canyon_030b.html

This is a composite of three exposures: f/5.6 at 1/50, 1/200, and 1/800 at ISO 3200. I didn't have time to check to see if the highlights were blown before a different tour guide literally shoved me out of the way while I still had the camera to my face taking an exposure. Based on my experience, I will not be spending any more of my money with this particular Navajo tribe. It's just not worth it. Customer service is a foreign concept. I had taken less time taking these 3 exposures than somebody else did on a tripod, and I had waited to cross while they were exposing. The difference? I hadn't paid double the price for a "photo" tour. If they were serious about photo tours, they wouldn't schedule them at the same time as non-photo tours, but that wouldn't maximize their revenue stream.

While you're in the area, Horseshoe Bend is worth the hike. Because of my own height issue, I wasn't able to get close enough to the edge to get the complete bend. This was standing, from a couple feet back. If I had been brave enough to go to the very edge, this would have been better. :)

http://canid.com/arizona/120401_horseshoe_bend_001.html

I believe that anybody can go on the photo tours. I didn't do the lower because my daughter has a worse fear of heights than I do, and my understanding is there is a bit of a climb in and out on a ladder. From what I read, the lower canyon doesn't have the light beam opportunities, but it is significantly less crowded due to it not being as easy to walk through. The upper canyon has the entry and exit at ground level.

Eric

Karen Seagle-Warnberg , Jul 16, 2012; 12:55 p.m.

I visited the slot canyons in April of this year. I would highly recommend Carol Bigthumb & Pearl Begay's tour. Yes, it's more $$, but you get what you pay for. Ask for Vernon Tso--he's a photographer & gave us lots of useful tips. We went in small groups (6-7 people) in an enclosed vehicle--not as much dust and a place to change lenses. We visited 3 canyons, two of which are only visited by the Bigthumb/Begay tours so no crowds to contend with. They do a great job of scheduling so you only see other tours upon entry & exit. Lots of time for photos, although they do not limit their tours to only photographers.
Be prepared for a zoo at Upper Antelope. Most tours there herd 75-100+ people through at a time, with the ensuing dust, noise & movement in your shots. Photo tour guides are allowed to stop the crowds for approx. 3 minutes at a time during the light beams in order for you to get your shot. The guides line you up, tripod to tripod and signal when to begin shooting. Yes, there are rude people who push past the guides, but all in all, I found it was a better experience to be with a smaller group. If you are bracketing your exposures, tripod is a must, then you can use your lowest ISO for best quality. Vernon suggested 4600 on the WB and he was right on--colors were incredible. Bring your widest angle lens and plan to shoot a lot of verticals-the canyons are tall. You can see some of the results at my "Slot Canyon" gallery. Also, if you plan (or think you might want to) sell your pictures from any Navajo Nation Property, purchase a photo permit before you go. It's $50 before but if you purchase after you take your pictures, it is $250. The tours do not sell the photo permits. They only collect the canyon access fees.
I imagine it will be hot now and I don't know what the status of the beams will be--you should check before you go. If you want to know more about my experience, drop me a pm.

Adam Krauss , Jul 16, 2012; 11:22 p.m.

Thanks Glen, Eric and Karen for the quick response and great tips. Karen, I read some good things about Carol Bigthumbs tour, but also understand it is a full day commitment. Correct ? Also, did you go to lower antelope with Carol Bigthumbs ?

Karen Seagle-Warnberg , Jul 16, 2012; 11:49 p.m.

Adam, I only signed up for a half day tour with Carol Bigthimbs from approximately 8 am to 12:30. the rest of the group continued on and may have gone to Lower Antelope, I'm not sure. I had all the pictures I wanted by then although I would have enjoyed more of Vernon's stories. There was some climbing in one of the canyons we visited, but no more than about 8 feet up a steel ladder got you into the canyon. Further climbing if you wanted to go deeper, but plenty of photo ops without that. Guides were very helpful, holding gear, etc while we climbed, as were others on tour. The summer heat & times of the light shafts may cause schedule changes, I'd give them a call before you book.

I also second a side trip to Horseshoe Bend for sunrise, you'll have a better chance at decent light, sunset can be questionable as you'll be shooting towards the sun. It is about a half mile hike with some elevation gain to the viewing site from the parking lot, so another reason to go in the -AM. Have a great trip.

Charles Wood , Jul 17, 2012; 06:15 p.m.

The combination of greed and being discovered, have pretty much turned Antelope Canyon, both upper and lower, into a zoo. The latest restrictions imposed by the Navajo Nation, aimed at both restricting and extracting as much money as possible from both commercial and serious amateur photographers, no longer leave Antelope of any interest for me. Fortunately, I was able to obtain some worthwhile frames about ten years ago that still hold up.

Greg Campbell , Jul 18, 2012; 07:50 p.m.

The people who run Lower may let your wife and kid tag along for the whole 2 hours, even if they don't have a tripod. This was my experience, as of a year ago. Suggest you shoot your way down to the climb-out ladder, then ignore the ladder and reverse course, shooting more on the way up. The light will have changed significantly.

Upper is an utter zoo. IMO, the shot-to-death light beams aren't worth fighting the mob... http://www.flickr.com/photos/charlesstacey/5996302033/ You've been warned! :)

Instead, try an early morning jaunt to Buckskin, and/or tour the half dozen slots along Cottonwood Canyon Rd.

Richard Barron , Jul 22, 2012; 01:27 p.m.

Of note about Antelope Canyon:
-Yes, it is a zoo. I paid extra for the "photo tour." At one point one nice lady in our party put away her camera and said, "this just isn't relaxing."
-There is no chance you will be breaking new ground photographically, since it is shot by a thousand people a day, so dispense with any self-importance or urgency and just have a nice time.
-Your gear will get unbelievably dusty.
-Speaking of gear, you will need your ultra-wide for about 99% of the images. It's so tight in there that on several occasions I had to turn sideways to let other people pass.
-The "shaft of light" is highly over-rated.
-I had much more fun and made better images at nearby Waterholes Canyon the previous day, and had that venue entirely to myself.
-It's worth doing once to say that you've done it and to have the images in your bag, but beyond that it's far less than amazing.
Trip report here... http://richardbarron.net/traveller/2012/06/08/siren-song-june-2012/

Greg Campbell , Jul 25, 2012; 03:11 p.m.

Good trip report, thanks!


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