On my previous trip to the American Southwest last year, we stopped at Upper Antelope Canyon where we shot shoulder-to-shoulder with other photographers and onlookers. We can away with some beautiful shots, but had relatively little freedom to move about the canyon, as it is exceptionally popular among photographers. Just across the street from the wash leading up to Upper Antelope Canyon there's a small and easily-missed sign indicating Lower Antelope Canyon. For a little variety over last year, and also with the hope of having a little more freedom to move about, this was our destination for this trip.
A couple of things to note about Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon:
1) They're notorious for being dusty, so changing lenses is not recommended.
2) The dynamic range is very broad, ranging from bright orange directly-lit sandstone at the top, to deep purple shadow at the base.
3) They're very popular, and therefore difficult to find freedom to shoot the way you'd like.
4) Upper is generally considered more picturesque than Lower.
To my surprise, nearly all of these things turned out to be somewhat false. We had the remarkable privilege of being the ONLY occupants in the entire canyon (until a small video crew we'd met the day prior arrived to film a DVD series on Photography), which meant there were between 4 and 8 people there for the 3+ hours we shot there. As a result we had great freedom to move about the canyon, take time setting up, and just shoot to our hearts' content. Because there were so few people no dust we being stirred (or thrown) in the air as it was in Upper Antelope Canyon last year, and I ended up moving away from my wide 10-20 zoom and really focusing on detail shots using a 50mm lens instead (but frequently shifted between the two). I also found that I was able to handle the dynamic range better than last year - possibly due to a shift of focus to smaller detail areas of narrower range, and due also partly to advances in how dynamic range are handled between my D40, used last year, and D90 use this year. Regardless, I was able to make exposures without blown highlights or lacking shadow detail most of the time. And finally, although the Upper and Lower Canyons are notably different (lower is broader at the top, letting in more daylight, but narrower at the bottom making it more difficult to navigate) I found both had a broad range of colors (though I found more of the deep purples here and more of the bright oranges in Upper) and both were a pleasure to shoot.
I found it very difficult to chose even one photo to share from this 3 hours of photo-nirvana, but chose this exposure as it strikes me as best capturing the spectrum of light available to shoot in either canyon, and the sort of compositions I leaned towards on this trip. As sunlight directly lights the canyon walls at the top they light up yellow and orange and, as the walls are illuminated more and more but only reflected light, the colors shift deeper towards blueish purples. I have many more photos I'd like to share from Lower Antelope Canyon, so they will follow shortly as well.
Nikon D90 | Nikon 50mm f/1.8 | f/11 | 1/2s | ISO100 | Tripod
All text and images © Tyler Westcott, All rights reserved, Unless otherwise noted.