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Thursday
Jan132011

Lower and Upper Antelope Canyon of Page Arizona

I hope you enjoy some favorite images that I took of Lower and Upper Antelope Canyons in October of 2010 shown below.

Just beyond the northern tip of the Grand Canyon on the border of Arizona and Utah sits a town known for multiple outdoor travel destinations.

The town is Page, Arizona.


Lower Antelope Canyon
Exif: f/22, ISO 100, 30 seconds

You might know Page as the entry point for the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area better known as Lake Powell. But you may not realize that the topography of this area is an extension of the Grand Canyon which is south of Page just a hundred miles or so. In actuality, both the Grand Canyon and Glen Canyon are part of a much larger canyon system known as the Colorado Plateau, a visually stunning outdoorsman's paradise. The Colorado Plateau extends out through Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico as well and covers 130,000 square miles in total including what is known as Red Rock Country.


Lower Antelope Canyon
Exif: f/22, ISO 100, 30 seconds

If you've already visited the Grand Canyon and sampled the views and elevations of the north or south rim or other viewpoints within Grand Canyon National Park, then I encourage you to extend your journey north to Page where slot canyons, goblins, natural bridges, hoodoos, horseshoe shaped canyons, and multi-colored sandstone at "The Wave" await you. At least 8 national parks exist in this region of the U.S. as well as at least 7 national monuments and several state parks.


Lower Antelope Canyon
Exif: f/22, ISO 100, 35 seconds

My visit to Page was intended to provide me an opportunity to photograph Lower and Upper Antelope Canyon. These are slot canyons which are narrow canyons formed by water during heavy rains. Made of sandstone, slot canyons are much deeper than they are wide and come in all different sizes ranging from Lower Antelope Canyon (40-50 feet deep) to "The Narrows" in Zion National Park (1,300 feet deep). You might be recently familiar with slot canyons which were the focus of the recent movie 127 Hours which was set in the slot canyons of Canyonlands National Park in Southeastern Utah.


Lower Antelope Canyon
Exif: f/22, ISO 100, 9 seconds

My first slot canyon to visit was Lower Antelope Canyon which I found to be the most enjoyable of the two. Both Lower and Upper Antelope Canyons are on the Navajo Reservation. While there is only one Lower Antelope Canyon, there are multiple Upper Antelope Canyons. To be more precise, Upper Antelope Canyon is essentially one extremely large sandstone rock formation covering several miles of terrain with multiple slots in it each owned by different Navajo families.


Lower Antelope Canyon
Exif: f/22, ISO 100, 14 seconds

The difference in size between Lower and Upper Antelope Canyon is substantial. Upper is accessible by walking directly into the canyon from the sandy floor. Lower, by comparison, requires that you shimmy through this little crack in the rock and crouch, lean, and bend through tight turns and even walk down very narrow stairwells built deep inside. The upside in Lower being so narrow is the unique coloring of the walls and less foot traffic making it, in my opinion, more conducive to photography.


Lower Antelope Canyon Entry

Admission to Lower Antelope Canyon is $26 per person and includes a $5 Navajo Park Permit which can be used during the same day at Upper Antelope Canyon as well. Tours can be booked through Ken's Tours exclusively and last approx. 2 hours. Photographers can stay for 4 hours and enter the canyon self-guided. I visited in October and there was little foot traffic to complicate my shoot and I found the other photographers there that day demonstrated great deference for other photographers.


Lower Antelope Canyon
Exif: f/22, ISO 100, 24 seconds

Admission to Upper Antelope Canyon is offered through several tour companies. I chose to go with Antelope Slot Canyon Tours (Chief Tsosie's company) for their 2 1/2 hour photographic tour which runs $50. Our tour guide Blaine is a photographer and was able to point out the most photogenic points in the canyon for us AND to hold off foot traffic both in front of and behind us to allow for our long exposures. He was a great guide and I'd ask for hime again. I wouldn't go back to Upper Antelope Canyon without being on a photographic tour due to the much heavier foot traffic there.


Upper Antelope Canyon
Exif: f/22, ISO 100, 150 seconds

Sunny cloudless days are ideal for photographing slot canyons as they illuminate the very dark canyons below sufficiently to photograph. Additionally, having the sun directly overhead is best so there's no need to get up early for sunrise shots to catch the "Golden Hours". Photographing the Antelope Canyons can be quite challenging the first time out as light dynamics are quite contrasting. The canyons receive light from the sun which lights the top of the canyon yellow. As the canyon deepens, so does the light until it is orange and then red. Some of the sandstone located deep inside the canyon has a very small amount of black on it which together with the blue sky above deepens red hues and causes blues and purples to show near the very bottom of the canyon.


Lower Antelope Canyon
Exif: f/22, ISO 100, 24 seconds

Safety. According to Wikipedia, on August 12, 1997, eleven tourists, including seven from France, one from the United Kingdom, one from Sweden and two from the United States, were killed in Lower Antelope Canyon by a flash flood.Very little rain fell at the site that day, but an earlier thunderstorm had dumped a large amount of water into the canyon basin, seven miles upstream. The lone survivor of the flood was tour guide Francisco "Poncho" Quintana, who had prior swift-water training. At the time, the ladder system consisted of amateur-built wood ladders that were swept away by the flash flood. Today, ladder systems have been bolted in place, and deployable cargo nets are installed at the top of the canyon. This data was accessed on Wikipedia 1/13/11. If the guides indicate that rough weather could flood the canyon, leave the canyon immediately as flash floods there are common.


Lower Antelope Canyon
Exif: f/22, ISO 100, 19 seconds

Gear: I shot with a Canon 7D, a battery grip, a Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens, no flash, a tripod, cable release, several memory cards, extra batteries, and a circular polarizing filter. I've seen a few references on other blogs that suggest using a graduated neutral density filter but I'm not sure this is the best approach as light in the canyon doesn't break in a line. You're much better off bracketing your exposure which I discuss more later. Try to avoid changing lenses inside the canyon as sand from the canyon floor can easily enter the camera body and the sensor of the camera.


Lower Antelope Canyon
Exif: f/22, ISO 100, 25 seconds

Shooting the canyons is quite challenging due to the extreme contrast in light. You may find it beneficial to shoot HDR or at least to use exposure bracketing to make sure that you get the right exposure on every shot. Some shots will literally require a range of 5 or 6 stops to get the proper exposure throughout the image. Alternatively, you may find it easier to work on compositions that include a smaller dynamic range. I chose to shoot for detail and good front-to-back sharpness in all of my images so f/22 was the rule. However, the tradeoff was extremely long exposure times. My longest was 2 1/2 minutes. Granted, I was using a polarizing filter which also lengthened the exposure time but the lack of light coupled with a need for detail without the noise factor of high ISO makes for long exposures with or without filters.


Lower Antelope Canyon
Exif: f/22, ISO 100, 20 seconds

Photographing the Canyons. Aim at the walls that aren't in direct sunlight. I found this to reduce some dynamic range of exposure in my image and reduced or avoided any lens flare which I found to be quite difficult to avoid otherwise. The reflected light looks brilliant against the sandstone and changes color throughout the day so a second visit later in the day will prove to be very rewarding. Avoid including the sky in your image unless you are bracketing your exposure and I suggest using a lens hood to avoid lens flare.


Lower Antelope Canyon
Exif: f/22, ISO 100, 3.2 seconds

Sunbeams are said to occur in the summer months predominantly when the sun is at a unique position in the sky around midday. However, summer months in the canyons are the busiest somewhat resembling the foot traffic of shopping malls around Christmas time while winter months tend to be quieter. In October I was still able to locate a few small beams at Lower Antelope Canyon. Sunbeams tend to be more prevalent in the late morning up until around noon-ish. The key to shooting sunbeams is to throw a small amount of sand on them to better illuminate the ray of light...provided of course this doesn't disturb another guest.


Lower Antelope Canyon
Exif: f/22, ISO 100, 10 seconds

Temperatures inside the canyons can be slightly cooler than outside. Plan on bringing some extra layers to don as the temperature can drop 10-15 degrees deep inside.


Lower Antelope Canyon
Exif: f/22, ISO 100, 4 seconds

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