Antelope Canyon is probably one of those places that became famous solely thanks to photographers. While definitely an amazing place, I see no good reason for someone to want to spend several 10s of $$ for a short guided tour in a narrow, dusty, crowded place. The photography experience, however, is not of this world. The photos and compositions you can take in this place are comparable to nothing else.
This blog entry is intended to give you some advice as well as the impression of the place - so you can decide on your own if it's meant for you.
I'll start by saying - we haven't booked much in advance. Two days before - that's all... And apparently - Photography tours - the ones you'll need if you wanna bring a tripod with you - are fully booked quite some time in advance. It seems that the Navajo owned agencies are the ones who get fully booked first. However, after making some calls, we were lucky enough to find an agency who agreed to take both my wife and me.
We went out on the 10AM trip to the upper canyon. Our ride to the canyon was in a closed 4WD, so the dust wasn't an issue. I asked for the guide's advice regarding camera settings (polarizer?) on the way and he was quite helpful. We were in a group of 5, overall, so it seems promising - we won't have to wrestle each other for a good spot...
I've heard a lot of how awfully crowded the place can be, but when we got to the canyon, the first hall was surpsisingly - empty. We started advancing in the canyon, having some time to place the tripods and take good exposures. When we got to the end, we were lucky enough to have a nice light beam - and we were the first ones there!
The way back, however, was a different story. It was so crowded, that at first we didn't have any place to stop for even a moment. At that instance I understood the horror stories about this place. Still, I managed to get some good shots at some relatively free places. And at the end, we even had another beam!
So having read all that, you probably got some idea on how it's going to be. Here are some tips:
1. Take the photography tour if you're serious into photography. You'll need that tripod.
2. Have the camera settings ready in advance. You won't have much time to play when you're there - people will always wait behind you.
3. The beams are dusty. Well, not the beams themselves, but the guides are throwing sand in the air, so they'll look better. Be prepared to protect your camera and take the shot only when it's right.
4. Take in as much light as you can. No polarizer, it's dark as it is...
5. There's no one correct camera setting. There are areas with more light and less light.
6. An example for camera settings: ISO 200, f/13, ~0.5-1.5 sec. Of course, you should adjust as you need when you're there, since you won't always have the time to put the tripod on the ground for a long time. Personally I had much longer exposures (of 13 sec and more) - but these are not easy to get without disturbing and being disturbed by others.
7. Do not change lenses in the canyon. You'll both loose time, and get dust in your sensor. If you have two cameras - use both. If not, I found that most of my images were taken between 20-60mm (on a crop factor of 1.5, equivalent to 30-90mm on a regular sensor).
7. If you have time, bracket. You'll never know when it'll be needed. Many times you'll get bright and dark areas in the same image.
8. Light beams: if you're lucky to be at the right place and time, think before you shoot. The canyon is a dark place, and having the lit-up part in your image will definitely result in a burnt area.
9. It really can get very crowded. Keep in mind - how long you'll have for each image is very much a matter of luck...
10. And finally, you're there to shoot, and enjoy. Shooting will no-doubt keep you busy for most of the time, but don't forget to have a look around, and enjoy the beauty of the place. You might also get some ideas for more personal compositions.