Edit: As of 2020, photo tours will no longer be offered at Antelope Canyon. Read more below.
Antelope Canyon is one of the most picturesque locations in the world.
With sweeping curves, sunbeams and sand showers, it looks like something out of a daydream.
Photographing Antelope Canyon is a goal for photographers both budding and seasoned.
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 Antelope Canyons, but the photo tours and coveted sunbeam shots are only available at Upper Antelope Canyon.
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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 lighting.
If you’re heading to Page with a camera in hand, here are some things you need to know to ensure success in photographing Antelope Canyon.
2020 Ban on all Photo Tours
As of 2020, photo tours will no longer be taking place in Antelope Canyon. The message and rationale given was as follows:
“We’re regretfully stopping Photographic Tours DEC 20th 2019, this will be the last Photo Tour.
It’s been many years that we’ve offered the Photo Tour – we’ve done what we could to reduce the wait time inside the canyon by only taking 6 photographers max (in hopes others will follow); with a smaller group it made it easier to get photos and allow the flow of the canyon to continue.
We at Antelope Canyon Tours also took the photo tour off on weekends and during major holidays to help reduce the negative feedback of the world.
With a recent meeting there was a unanimous vote among all tour operators, conducting photo tours in 2019, to Discontinue Photographic Tours to the Upper Antelope Canyon in 2020 and beyond.
We will continue to offer our Sightseer’s Tour where you can still take photos with all forms of handheld cameras/cell phones.
However, on the Sightseer’s Tour you will not be able to use a tripod. Without photo tours inside the canyon we are in hopes this frees up the walk through, which in return should make for a better experience.”
Weather 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.
There are several different photo 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 the 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.
Note that your mobile device can take great photos as you’re walking, or if you choose to go on a regular walking tour. The guides take pictures all day and know the best spots.
In addition to your photo tour cost, you also have to pay an $8 entry fee for Lake Powell Tribal Park.
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 but no other food or beverage is permitted. There are no trash cans so please don’t litter.
Also, bring a tip for your guides since they 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 a device ready to clean your camera if necessary.
Some had lens wipes, others had a rubber squeeze air blower. Chances are you’ll need to use (or borrow) at least one of the two.
Antelope Canyon Photo Permits
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 luck corresponding with Shaina Begay, Office Assistant at the park, and received my permit within a week of mailing in payment. The phone number is 928-698-2808.
Photographing Antelope Canyon
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.
Upper 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.
I hope this post is helpful to you.
Photographing Antelope Canyon is an experience 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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Thursday 18th of July 2019
Hello, thanks for the detailed post, but I do have one lingering question. I'm thinking of joining the same photo tour (by the same company) later this year. My main concern is that we'll be travelling in a family. I'm worried if they won't allow ANY portrait photos at all. I don't mean a carefully staged model-posing photoshoot of a person. I'm hoping at least we'd walk away with a few happy snaps of photos of the family inside the canyon. I know your experience was 2 years ago, but do you recall if this was an issue back then? (I do see that one photo of you)
I've tried asking by email and they say "no portrait or photo-shoots allowed". I'm not sure if they mean the model-posing kind of portrait photo-shoot. Just hoping for a happy-snap really... wary no flash permitted though... (do you know if flash restriction is just for photo tours?). Thanks!
Jen on a Jet Plane
Friday 19th of July 2019
It's not meant to be that kind of tour but you have a few moments in between where you can ask someone to snap a quick shot of you. The others on the tour might resent it a little since they're usually pretty hardcore about getting their photos. If you're interested in family shots rather than the landscape photography just take a regular tour! They'll be happy to snap away :)
Wednesday 26th of June 2019
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Sunday 10th of February 2019
Hi Jen, I’m considering an October visit to Antelope Canyon. I found your website by searching for the best time of day. I noted your comment about visiting after the Spring Vernal Eqinox due to the sun’s angle. Using SunSurveyor, an app on my iPad, I entered Upper Antelope Canyon’s coordinates and set the date to March 20, this Spring’s Equinox. On that day, the highest angle the sun reaches is 53.1 degrees above the horizon. Changing the date to October 15, when I had planned to visit, the highest angle of the sun is only 44.5 degrees. I was planning these dates to coordinate with another photo op. Would you suggest I go at a different time of year?
Jen on a Jet Plane
Sunday 10th of February 2019
By mid-October the sunbeams won't hit the floor so if that's the shot you're hoping to get, you'll want to reschedule. You can still see beams and it'll be illuminated inside the slot canyon, especially during the prime hours of 11am-1pm. If you just want to visit to have the experience it's worth going any time of year. Lower Antelope Canyon is also stunning for pictures, it's just not the money shot of the sunbeams coming in from above.
Saturday 29th of December 2018
Great article, thanks for sharing! Is a DSLR obligated for the photo tour or can you have a system camera with fixed lense as well on the tripod? When you go as a couple, are you both obligated to have such a big camera or is 1 just ok? I'm into photography but my boyfriend isn't, so would that mean we'd have to take separate tours?
Jen on a Jet Plane
Saturday 29th of December 2018
They say you need a DSLR but as long as you have a professional looking camera with a tripod you should be alright. I've also seen people head in as a couple, that should be fine as well. I took a separate tour from my friend and she actually got great photos with her in them (not allowed on the photography tour) so it's up to you. Have a great time!
Friday 20th of April 2018
Me and my wife are going next month, super excited, but we center our photography around capturing ourselves in beautiful landscapes, and it seems like the photo tours here discourage this. Did your tour allow participants to photograph themselves in the light beams? Also, do you have any tips on gear or settings for capturing portraits inside the canyon?
Jen on a Jet Plane
Sunday 22nd of April 2018
On the photography tour of Upper Antelope Canyon specifically yes, people in the shots are discouraged because it's geared more towards photographers who want to capture and sell landscape photos. I had a friend go on a regular tour with the same company however and she got some great photos of herself in the beams, captured by the tour guide.