Lower Antelope Canyon – Arizona’s Hidden Gem
Even if you’ve never heard of Antelope Canyon, chances are you’ve seen photos of its iconic and colorful slot canyon walls. There are two sections of Antelope Canyon – Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon.
Upper Antelope Canyon may be more famous due to the shafts of light that stream down into the slot canyons during mid day, but for the best experience I recommend Lower Antelope Canyon. Not only is it less expensive, but you’ll also avoid the crowds you get with Upper Antelope Canyon.
Getting To Antelope Canyon
Both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon are located in Page, Arizona, along Highway 89 near the Utah border. Lower Antelope Canyon itself is located on Indian Route 222, just west of Page off Highway 98. It’s the perfect stop during a road trip of Utah’s National Parks and made a great bookend to my own trip.
There are only two companies who provide tours of Lower Antelope Canyon, and only one of them has a website: Ken’s Tours. The other company shares a parking lot with Ken’s Tours, so if you want to try them out, they’re easy to find! I’ve heard from others that booking online with Ken’s is problematic, so I recommend booking in person. Both tour companies are also cash only, so be sure to have enough to cover your costs!
Why Lower Antelope Canyon?
Let me begin by saying that if you’re enthusiastic about photography and have time for both tours, go to both parts of Antelope Canyon. They have different looks and you’ll get a full experience seeing both versions.
However, if you only have time for one, Lower Antelope Canyon is better for a few reasons. The biggest part of its appeal for me is that foot traffic only goes one way – you enter from one side and exit from the other. This means that you won’t have to contend with the crowded return traffic when you’re making your walk through the slot canyon.
Speaking of crowds, Lower Antelope Canyon is less crowded than the Upper Canyon. This isn’t just because of the one-way traffic, but there are less companies that visit here and they travel in smaller groups as well. That means even if you’re in sold out groups like I was, it’s still a fairly intimate experience.
Finally, it’s cheaper to visit Lower Antelope Canyon. Who doesn’t like to save money? The tours through the Lower Canyon cost $20 per person for the regular tour, compared to as much as $50 for upper!
Which Tour To Take
Ken’s Tours offers 2 different tours of Lower Antelope Canyon: the regular tour and the photo tour. Both tours take the same route, but the photo tour is 45 minutes longer and requires you to bring an SLR camera and a tripod. If you don’t have a tripod, you can rent one from Ken’s Tours, but you’re on your own with the camera.
I took the regular tour, which actually prohibits the use of tripods. It wasn’t too much of an issue with my camera, but I did have to crank the ISO settings. Most of my shots were around ISO 1200-2400 and wide open at f/ 2.8. Although it was a shorter tour, I still found it to be enough time to get the shots I wanted. I can definitely see the appeal of the longer photo tour, though, where you can really take your time and travel with a smaller group.
Marching Into The Canyon
Once it’s time for your tour to depart, instead of loading into a truck like the Upper tours, you’ll meet your guide and take a short walk to the entrance of Lower Antelope Canyon. From there, you’ll descend a steep metal ladder down into the canyon entry way.
Once you’ve entered Lower Antelope Canyon, you’ll follow your guide through the winding slot canyons. The canyon runs a half mile long and the tour takes its time going through it. Our guide was quick to point out the various shapes in the rocks and had some good suggestions for creative photo angles.
Even though this was the regular tour, the guides were very helpful with photography advice, even suggesting certain filters for the iPhone users in our group. There were a few open areas where our guide would stop and offer to take group photos as well. Overall it was a great experience and our guide did a fantastic job; he was obviously enthusiastic about what he did and his excitement was contagious.
How To Photograph Antelope Canyon
It’s a bit dark 120 feet down in the slot canyons, so it helps to have a camera with decent low light ability. You’ll have to pay attention to your settings if you want the best results, but even the visitors with nothing but a smart phone were coming away with good shots. Here are some of my best tips for photographing Antelope Canyon:
- ISO Settings: I started out at ISO 640 and rode this setting the most, sometimes all the way up to 3200. Most of my photos were taken at 1200.
- Aperture: I was wide open at f/2.8 the whole time and was happy with the results. The shallow depth of field gives the slot canyons a mysterious look. If you want a deep image that captures everything in focus from front to back, you’ll need to take a photo tour so that you can use a tripod and shoot at f/8 or higher.
- Shutter Speed: Be sure to keep an eye on your shutter speed when you’re shooting handheld and compensate with your ISO as needed to keep motion blur out of your shots.
- Exposure: Try not to overexpose your shots, the colors pop a bit more when they’re slightly darker. It should go without saying that you should be shooting RAW to give yourself flexibility to adjust in post.
- Framing: If possible, try not to capture the sky in your shots (sometimes you can’t avoid it). With the difference in light it will just be blown out and take away from some of the mystery of the canyon walls. Try to look for abstract framing opportunities as well, sometimes a small area can look very cool when photographed at the right angle.
- Go Wide: You can leave the telephoto lens at home for this one, Lower Antelope Canyon looks best when captured with a wide lens. The canyon walls are VERY narrow in some places and wider lenses do a great job of capturing the scale of the walls.
- Capturing Colors: It will be helpful to up your in-camera saturation a bit, but don’t go too overboard if you want to take pictures of people. The canyon walls do a good job of showing off the colors on their own. Don’t forget to set your white balance to daylight (or shade if you want to really bring out the reds), auto white balance will suck the color out of the red and purple walls.
In the end, it’s nearly impossible to visit Lower Antelope Canyon without getting good shots. It’s such a magnificent and scenic area that it just naturally pops in photos. If you have time, check out Upper Antelope Canyon as well and try to photograph its famous rays of light, but rest assured that you’ll get the full experience in the lower canyon. I’ll leave you now with some photos of this amazing place.
Lower Antelope Canyon Photos