The Most Photogenic Places on Earth Part II - Antelope Canyon

Everyone knows about the Grand Canyon. It's fantastic, and well worth the millions of visitors it gets each year. What most of those people don't realize, however, is that there is a true gem of a natural wonder only a few short hours from the Grand Canyon/Flagstaff area in northern Arizona.
There are a few places in the world that look so good in photos you just assume they're fake over over-manipulated images. Antelope Canyon is one of those places. It's so cool, it's almost surreal. In fact, the most expensive photo ever taken was captured here not too long ago. It's a good pic, but 6.5 million - seriously? I should have taken more black and whites down there, I guess. Anyways, here is everything you need to know about traveling to Antelope Canyon, including a few tips for snapping some postcard worthy photos which may or may not land you millions.

Where is it?
Antelope Canyon is located just outside of Page. If you are traveling through Arizona, it really helps to have your own rental car - and they're cheap, especially in Phoenix. Highway 89 will take you right into Page, and from there your GPS can navigate you through the handful of turns you must take before arriving in the big parking lot - just look for the huge power plant sending smoke and steam billowing into the air. The lower canyon parking lot is essentially right underneath the plant. If you are touring through Utah's national parks, Page is only a twoish hour drive from Zion National Park.

Upper or lower canyon?
Visiting the canyon is easy, but most people have a lot of questions as to which part of the canyon to visit and which tour group to select. Yes, you do need to pay for a tour - there really is no way around this as the land is part of the Navajo nation and it's also quite dangerous to visit the canyon due to a serious risk of flash flooding which has killed a number of tourists in the past. Tours will range anywhere between 25 and 80 bucks, depending on what you want to do and when you go. If you have to spend much more than 30 bucks for a 90 minute tour, you're probably getting stiffed - so watch out for that. If you pick up your tour from one of the companies in either canyon's parking lot, you should be safe.

The upper canyon is the more popular of the two, although I'm not entirely sure why - probably because it is a little easier to walk into. The lower canyon, often preferred by photographers, requires descending a few flights of steep flights of stairs into the canyon - all part of the adventure and well worth it, if you're physically able! My recommendation is to visit the lower and leave it at that. You can do the upper, but I've heard too many stories about having huge tour groups and being rushed through the canyon to make it worth spending another 30 bucks. It's also going to be much harder to get photos free of people standing around, so take that into consideration.

You may or may not need a reservation for your tour - I made one just in case, and it ended up being only myself and two others on the tour along with a really cool guide who pointed out some of the best spots to take photos. I seriously learned a lot, not only about the canyon but about photography and even the abilities of my own camera.

If you're on a tight schedule, make a reservation just to cover yourself but tours do run all day and you shouldn't have an issue showing up and getting in on a group within a half hour or so. For what it's worth, I used Ken's Tours and absolutely loved my experience.

In addition to the standard guided tours, some operators also offer photographer passes which cost about twice as much as the normal fee, but you get left on your own to take time with your tripod and camera inside the canyon for about two hours. Might be worth it for a handful of you, but in my opinion. it's unnecessary for all but the most serious photographers.

A few tips for those seriously interested in taking the best photos - play with your white balance - try out your incandescent setting and watch how it plays with the already amazing colors, pulling on the staggering differences between the shadow areas and the rocks glowing from the sunlight. If you're in search of the famous light rays, go anytime between late spring and early fall and make sure to take a tour between mid-morning and mid-afternoon as these are the only times the sun gets high enough to create these beautiful beams of light. Take multiple pictures with different exposures as well. Most of my HDR photos turned out better than flat images due to the crazy variance of light in the canyon.

More to do in Page
Since Antelope Canyon only takes at most two hours to visit, you'll have the better part of the day to hit some of the other sights in the area. I highly recommend visiting Horseshoe Bend for some fantastic views (it's a great spot to watch the sun go down as well). Also, Glen Canyon Dam is just a couple minutes from downtown Page and is part of a beautiful National Recreation Area. For 5 USD you can take a really interesting tour hundreds of feet down to the bottom of the dam. If you have a little more time, try and hit "The Wave" if you can land a permit.

Hanging out at Horseshoe Bend at the end
of an unforgettable day

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