Upper Antelope Canyon is a photographer’s dream and nightmare (at least mine).

I recently got back from a trip of Arizona where I got to visit the canyon. It’s been on my list of places that I’ve wanted to see and photograph.

It’s a beautiful, colorful narrow slot canyon formed by erosion. The Navajo call it Tsé bighánílíní, which means “the place where water runs through the rocks.” It’s naturally dark which is harder to shoot, and it’s extremely popular, so you’re sharing it with dozens of people at a time who are in your shot and bumping into you. You can only go with guides who quickly move groups through like a conveyor belt.

There used to be “photography tours” which gave you more time and space and the ability to shoot with a tripod. Most of the photos you see online of the canyon were probably done during these tours, but they ended them in 2019 because it got in the way of other tours.

That means any photography in the canyon now has to be done handheld, which is a challenge in dark environments where you want slower shutter speeds to let in more light, low ISO to ensure cleaner shots, and high apertures for a wider field of view – all factors that are harder to achieve hand-held. The light in the canyon changes as you move through it and you don’t have a lot of time, so you really have to know your camera well to quickly change your settings. 

I had read a lot of tips in advance of my trip, like aiming up to cut out people, avoiding photographing the sky since the dynamic range will be too high and it will blow out the highlights, and just knowing your camera inside and out. 

My “hack” for the fact that tripods aren’t allowed was to buy “The Green Pod” which is essentially a small bean bag that attaches to your camera. I used this to stabilize the camera against the canyon walls and help hold it steady to allow for slower shutter speeds. Combined with Lightroom’s new AI de-noise functionality, I think it worked pretty well and it’s a good solution to the “no tripod” problem.

See my full Upper Antelope Canyon gallery.