Hi everyone and welcome to today’s post. Well, it is now late spring when a photographers thoughts turn to chasing light beams in Antelope Canyon. Ok, I know that I might be stretching things a bit for some of you who think that spring fosters the sling of Cupid’s Arrow. I cannot speak on matters of the heart but for me, May is the time when the angle of the sun changes and brings spectacular beams of light in Upper Antelope Canyon.
This image was made in Upper Antelope Canyon, located just outside of Page, Arizona, on the Navajo Reservation. The Navajo guides are very good on the timing of the beams in the various chambers and will place you at the right time to capture them as they emerge. But it pays to be attentive to other opportunities. In this instance I was setting up for a shot more to the camera right position when I looked into the chamber beyond to see this subtle wisp of light. The beam literally shimmered and danced hence the name of this shot, “Ghost Dancer”. I see many things in this image that speak to spiritual matters. The dancing beam and the beautiful light illuminating the canyon roof are powerful archetypes. But if you look closely at the buttresses, and with imagination, you can see many faces etched in the rock. And at the top of the first buttress is an orange ellipse with pointed rays like the sun. The Navajo guides can show you many things carved into the rock by the forces of wind and water. For them the canyon is a spiritual place-a sacred place that is home to many living spirits. After many trips here I have begun to find some faces of my own. They reveal themselves slowly and only if you are ready to see. In my first trip to the canyons I really did not see. Like many first time visitors I aimed my camera at anything that glowed. But over time I have slowed down and now walk the chambers with a more “in the moment” approach. When you slow down many things are revealed to you. I can hear the wind and the subtle falling sounds of minute grains of sand. The dynamic chiaroscuro lighting envelopes you-darkness gives way to light and back to darkness. The rock itself is cool to touch and if you run your hands along the surface you can feel the lines of age cut by natural forces. Light and dark, ancestral faces and animals embedded in the rock, and dancing ghosts of light; if you do not believe this place has a spirit then you have no soul. A strong statement I suppose. But seeing and feeling is believing.
With the above in mind I want to layout a few tips while shooting in the canyons. Before I even talk about equipment or shooting I would ask that you go in with an open mind and a sense of respect. For many of the Navajo guides this is their home and the home their ancestors. Take only pictures and leave only footsteps. The light beams are very popular and the canyon will be very crowded during the summer months. To get the best possible results you should book a Photographers Tour. I would suggest contacting Carol Bigthumb of Adventurous Antelope Canyon Tours. Carol or her guides will place you in the right position and hold back the crowds to allow you the chance to capture some truly amazing images.
As to equipment you must go light and you must be prepared to make quick changes. I carry two bodies with matching quick release plates. One is set with my 20mm or 24mmPC lens and the other with a 24-70. The shots above were all captured with my 20mm which is my weapon of choice. The canyon is narrow and if I need to “zoom” in I just shift my position.
All my shots are done in Manual Mode. I am an old “match needle” guy and I like the control of adjusting the +/- through the Command Dial. As to exposure I will set all controls to what the camera meter believes is correct and view the histogram. Keep in mind that with such extremes of light the histogram will show clipping in the darks and the highlights. I look where the bulk of the mid-tones are located and change my exposure to move those zones to the right and more towards the middle if I can. Make sure you have the blinkies turned on. Some highlight blow-out is to be expected but you want to avoid blowing out the tones in between the mid-tones and highlights. From there take a shot and then bracket around this point.
A tripod is required, period. Exposure times are long and you cannot hand hold your camera to get these shots. Leave the flash at home. The Navajo guides will ask you not to use flash and your photographic results will be quite disappointing. And along with the tripod do not forget you electronic shutter release. Shoot in mirror lock-up mode to minimize and potential camera shake.
Shoot with low ISO. Todays cameras are quite good at controlling noise but I still prefer the shooting at ISO ranges of 100 to 200 and longer shutter speeds. A longer shutter of from 2 seconds or longer is necessary to capture the ghost like beams. The guides will toss sand into the light and longer shutter times will give you the shimmering movement.
When possible shoot from a low tripod position. When the light beams occur their contact with the ground will produce a hot, white spot. By lowering the camera position the spot becomes thinner and less pronounced. As you can see the dynamic range of light is incredible. Deep shadows to blown out highlights. Bracketing exposures for blending will help you in post processing. However I will tell you the shots above were done in a single capture so it can be done.
I do not use filters to enhance the color. The intensity of light and color is already there. I do not use the Auto WB but instead set my exposures on the K scale. Typically I set this in warmer light to 5500K. If I want to pull out more cooler tones I will set it to a tungsten setting around 3200K.
If you are planning a trip to Antelope Canyon I hope this small bit of information will help you take some great images.
Thanks for stopping by today.
Hozógo nasádo (Navajo): Walk in Beauty