Antelope Canyon is actually 2 separate canyons that were formed from flood waters rushing over Navajo Sandstone. These canyons are in a Navajo Tribal Park in the LeChee (Lichii’ii) Chapter.
The two canyons are a couple of miles away from each other and, although they’re made of the same Sandstone, they are each unique. Tse’ bighanilini (also called Upper Antelope Canyon) means ‘the place where water runs through rocks.’ It’s a wide, fairly straight canyon; and it is the shorter canyon of the two. Hasdestwazi (also called Lower Antelope Canyon) means ‘spiral rock arches.’ Not only is this canyon much narrower, but it also twists and turns throughout its length.
Sunlight streams through the open ‘ceiling’ of the canyons and constantly changes the colors and shades of sandstone. Colors range from yellows to firey and bright oranges to deep purples. The twists, angles and turns of the canyon walls reflect different amounts of light and provide limitless inspiration.
My personal favorite to photograph is Lower Antelope Canyon, because of all the twists and turns. The angles make for a high contrast scene. Each part of the canyon wall that curves, juts or cuts in a different direction will capture a different tone of light. That’s why it’s possible to get deep purples and bright yellows in the same image without any digital manipulation.
Upper Antelope Canyon has a broader feel to it. It opens into several different large spaces / rooms. The light has a much different feel in these rooms and it makes for more evenly toned photographs – less colors per image, but no less dramatic. For most photographers, this is the preferred choice of the two canyons.
When you photograph Antelope Canyon, give yourself at least two days – one day for each canyon. Plan on being there a couple of hours before noon to scout the entire canyon before mid day. Plan your mid day shot and be in position 20 minutes before high noon. Set up and shoot away. The light will be changing continually, so change your shot along with it. Once you get that shot with mid day light, continue exploring the canyon. Don’t be afraid to return to the same spot 4 or 5 times in a day; the changing light makes for dramatic changes.
Some other tips for photographing the canyons:
1. Do not change lenses on a DSLR in the canyon. It can be dusty – keep your digital sensors clean! If possible, bring multiple camera bodies so that you have the benefit of multiple lenses.
2. Shoot Wide! Choose a nice wide angle lens to capture all the striations and curves.
3. Bring a tripod. Even at mid day, you may have an exposure too long to hand hold.
4. Be patient. There are a lot of folks wandering the canyons and, as a result, in and out of your photo frame.
5. Leave no trace. Take only photographs and leave only footprints.
6. Look in all directions, including up and behind you!
7. Turn your camera. Remember to shoot vertically, as well as horizontally.
8. Remember the line is a design element and all your other compositional tips.
9. Meter carefully and bracket your exposures. There are a lot of light hot spots in the canyon where parts of your image will blow out if not exposed properly. Conversely, there are a lot of shadow areas where you’ll loose details.
10. Bring plenty of drinking water.