Pro Tips for Photographing Upper Antelope Canyon as an Amateur Photographer

Pro Tips for Photographing Upper Antelope Canyon as an Amateur Photographer

Antelope Canyon is one of the most photographed locations in the world. With sweeping curves, sunbeams and sand showers, it looks like something out of a daydream. Naturally, it was a must-see on my mission to complete 12 trips in 12 months.

Located in Lake Powell Tribal Park in Page, Arizona, you can only access this Navajo site with a designated guide. There are two canyons, Upper and Lower, but the photo tours and coveted sunbeam shots are only available at Upper Antelope Canyon.

Those with a passion for photography should opt to take a photo tour. While more expensive, you’re guaranteed great shots. Most tour attendees are serious photographers that are looking to sell their photos and make multiple visits to capture different light.

If you’re an amateur photographer heading to Page for the first time, here are some things you need to know before going on a photo tour of Upper Antelope Canyon.

Antelope CanyonWeather and Timing:

The unforgettable moment in Antelope Canyon is when you see sunbeams shine in through the slot canyon for the first time. This occurs between 11am and 1pm in the spring and summer months. If you’re going in March, make sure you go after the spring equinox. Otherwise, the sun does not rise high enough to shine in to the Canyon.

If you are able to, reserve a 10:30am photo tour, ensuring that you’re in place for optimal light. Those hoping to see lower Antelope Canyon in the same day should schedule their visit for after Upper Antelope Canyon, not before, since you’ll be able to enjoy Lower Antelope Canyon regardless of the time of day.

Reservations:

There are several different tour operators that take you in and around Upper Antelope Canyon. I went with Adventurous Antelope Canyon Photo Tours and the experience was $130 for two hours, which includes a half hour of transportation and an hour and a half in the canyon. I booked online and chose this company ultimately because of their reviews. I read that they assisted photographers with camera settings and, being new to the photography game, that was worth a little extra for me.

You’re not allowed to use flash and have to utilize the manual setting to get the best shots. This requires playing with the aperture and exposure settings so it’s best to have an expert on board to help. Also note that if you’re taking photos with your iPhone, the color in Upper Antelope Canyon is actually enhanced by the chrome filter.

Antelope CanyonEquipment:

To participate in a photo tour you need, at a bare minimum, a tripod and DSLR camera. You’ll also want to bring a rain sleeve or ziploc bag of some sort to protect your camera while moving around inside the canyon since it’s really dusty. Personal bags and purses are not allowed in the canyon so you’ll have to bring your camera already mounted on your tripod. You’re allowed to bring water with you but no other food or beverage is permitted. There are no trash cans out here so please don’t litter. Also, bring tip money for your guides since they really go above and beyond to make sure you have a great experience.

While it isn’t recommended that you change lenses in the canyon because of the dust I mentioned, you should have some sort of device ready to clean your camera if necessary. Some photographers had lens wipes, others had a rubber squeeze air blower. Come prepared because chances are you’ll need to use or borrow at least one of the two.

Antelope CanyonPhoto Permit:

In addition to your photo tour cost, you also have to pay an $8 entry fee for Lake Powell Tribal Park. Additionally, if you plan on selling your photos or posting them online on a blog, you need to get a photo permit directly from Navajo Parks Management. It’s $50 ahead of time and you have to pay by mailing in cash or a money order. If it’s later discovered you sold a photo or otherwise profited without acquiring the proper permit first, it’s $200 to purchase a permit retroactively.

I had good luck corresponding with Shaina Begay, Office Assistant at the park, and received my permit within a week of mailing in payment. The number is 928-698-2808.

Antelope CanyonThe tour:

The best part of a photo tour is that you pay to keep people out of your pictures. As photographers, you get top priority for the best shots. You set up in two rows, with long and short tripods, and when the time comes for that perfect sunbeam shot you get two minutes to capture it, during which all other tour groups are held back so that you can get empty pictures of the canyon.

Be prepared to move your tripod at a minute’s notice, that’s why you go in with it already mounted. Also, you may have a passerby or two trying to take shots over your shoulder–just tell your guide and they’ll take care of it. It can be a tense atmosphere with so many people invested in getting money-making or award winning pictures. Try to go in with a positive and flexible attitude.

There will be plenty of time for you to get every picture, so don’t worry about missing out if you’re broken into groups. Beware falling sand, as the guides usually throw it in the air so you can catch the particles glimmering in the sunlight on their way down. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it, that’s what the guides are there for.

Antelope CanyonUpper versus Lower Antelope Canyon:

The biggest pro to the photo tour, as mentioned, is having the ability to take shots of the canyon undisturbed. The downside is that, if you’re looking for photos that include you, this is not the right tour. This is more for landscape and scenery shots rather than portraits.

Also, given the popularity of the site, it can feel crowded. Many guests actually prefer to visit Lower Antelope Canyon for a more relaxed visit.Antelope CanyonI hope this post is helpful to you. As an amateur photographer I know how intimidating it can be to visit this place, but the experience is unlike any other and definitely worth your time and the investment in materials. If you have any questions, feel free to drop them below.

Until next time, safe travels!

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22 Comments

  1. April 22, 2017 / 2:23 pm

    Wow, sounds like an intense photo tour! But what an amazing experience to be able to get such great photos of such a gorgeous place. Great tips about exactly when to go to make sure you see the right light!

    • April 23, 2017 / 8:06 pm

      Thank you Ali! It really was haha, it may have just been because it was my first one but I definitely felt the pressure. The sunbeams were the tough part to capture but worth the effort!

  2. April 22, 2017 / 2:28 pm

    Your photos are incredible! I actually didn’t realize it was so dusty and sandy in there – ahhh! That would make me nervous for my camera. So cool that there are tours specifically designed for photography. We’ve always wanted to go here and that would be exactly the kind of useful tour I’d love to book!

    • April 23, 2017 / 7:21 pm

      I was incredibly nervous, especially because for a second my focus wasn’t working so I thought I messed something up. But everyone was really nice about calling out sand showers in warning (like how golfers yell “four!”) and shared their cleaning equipment. You would love it!

  3. April 22, 2017 / 2:45 pm

    Wow these photos are amazing! I’m going in may and cannot wait!! You got some great shot! Thanks for the iPhone tip too!! Did you get a lot of sand on your camera?

    • April 23, 2017 / 7:20 pm

      No problem! That’s a tip straight from the guide, really helped bring out the warm colors during the day at the Upper Antelope Canyon, there are cooler colors in Lower Antelope Canyon so don’t use the filter there necessarily. And thankfully my bag was protected by a haphazard ziploc bag, super professional I know!

  4. Kelly
    April 22, 2017 / 3:03 pm

    So cool and so happy to hear that I am not the only amateur photographer. I would totally sign up for the photo tour because I would need all the help I can get to get great shots. Thanks for a lovely post. Really appreciate it.

    • April 23, 2017 / 7:18 pm

      Hahaha I literally set up my tripod and then just looked at the guide like, “erm, miss, what now??” Lol once they said I had to shoot in manual all hope was lost!

  5. April 22, 2017 / 3:29 pm

    Erm, I was wondering if it’s possible to visit without a tour at all?
    Also, you talked about the best time to visit, but even during that time, when is it less crowded?

    Those pictures are to die for! Such a beautiful place 🙂

    Telma @ Blank Canvas Voyage

    • April 23, 2017 / 7:16 pm

      Unfortunately not, since it’s on Navajo land you have to take a tour to access the site, and pay $8 for admission fee to Lake Powell Tribal Park in addition to your tour price. It is less crowded in the fringe hours, so 9:30-11:30am and 1pm-3pm. Beautiful to visit at any time of day, and thank you so much!

  6. April 22, 2017 / 5:18 pm

    Thanks for the tips! I think I will go with a photo touring option as well since my husband is not that keen on hiking.

    • April 23, 2017 / 7:13 pm

      Not a lot of hiking involved for Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon. Since you have to go with a guide they pretty much drive you to the entry point. You and your husband would enjoy either tour!

  7. April 22, 2017 / 7:30 pm

    That sounds super intense! What length lens did you use (or what distance were you using most often if you had a zoom)? This place is definitely on my photographer bucket list!

    • April 23, 2017 / 7:12 pm

      I used the standard kit lens (18-55mm) because my budget didn’t allow for a wide angle lens purchase before the trip unfortunately. But even with the basic equipment, the place does the hard work for you, definitely worth a trip!

  8. Becky
    April 23, 2017 / 7:06 am

    Great post really useful. I love photography so this is on my list. Didn’t know you could even book photo tours.

    • April 23, 2017 / 7:10 pm

      If you’re a photographer you would definitely find it useful! It’s a longer tour and they help you get the perfect photo setting, you won’t leave disappointed!

  9. April 23, 2017 / 3:24 pm

    What a great photo tour, but would it be possible to visit it without a tour? Sometimes people are so distracting during photo tours. Your images are absolutely beautiful! Thanks for the tips.

    • April 23, 2017 / 6:16 pm

      Since it’s on Navajo land you have to go accompanied with a guide, but you can choose to take a regular tour and try to find an outfitter that offers small groups! Agree with you 100%. And thank you so much, these were the best 5 out of 500 haha 😉

  10. April 23, 2017 / 8:31 pm

    Incredible photos – well worth it. I’ve never really considered a photography tour but this would make me think again. It’s really interesting to read about the work that goes into shots like these. Particularly the guide throwing sand – love that. Also, your post-processing session must have been pretty epic!

    • May 2, 2017 / 12:37 am

      So true Steph! It was an entire production haha but the end results are timeless shots I can display around the house so I gotta agree, well worth it!

  11. April 24, 2017 / 12:44 am

    Great tips. I did not know that you needed a permit to put up pics. That’s interesting and something that is often overlooked.

    • May 2, 2017 / 12:35 am

      Definitely! And there are some steep penalties for buying after the fact. I like to be respectful and pay all fees up front, especially on Native American territory. Glad you enjoyed the post!

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