[My apologies for the long delay between posts. October was a combination of unanticipated travel (none of it photography-related) and illness; I was sick for approximately three weeks of the month. The next update should be much more timely.]
The morning of the third full day was our final shooting session at Monument Valley. The decision had been made to shoot the Mittens and we were treated to a fine dawn and sunrise. I played around with focal lengths ranging from wide angle to short telephoto, and experimented with different exposure choices. Silhouettes were a natural.
The sky and overall lighting improved as sunrise approached.
The light was sublime, and lit up clouds above features other than the Mittens and Merrick Butte.
Gradually, the sun began to directly affect the setting as the clouds near the horizon started to light up with orange .
Shortly after the sun crested the eastern horizon, I heard E.J. say that he wanted to catch the sun coming up between the “thumb” and “hand” of East Mitten. I hadn’t realized this was possible, given the trajectory of the sun, but I was certain E.J. knew what he was talking about. I immediately determined that, to have any chance of catching this phenomenon, I was going to have to move far to the right on the overlook we were standing on and I was going to have to do so very quickly. So, I picked up my things and practically ran along the overlook to my right until I thought I was in position. Within 45 seconds, the sun peaked from the thumb, right on cue. I stopped down to f/22, adjusting my exposure accordingly, to produce the sunburst effect.
After a few moments, the sun moved behind the main edifice of East Mitten, producing a cap to the morning.
After the morning’s shoot, we checked out of the hotel and began the approximately three-hour drive to Page, Arizona. The plan was to drive straight to Lower Antelope Canyon for an early afternoon shoot.
Lower Antelope Canyon isn’t as well known as its more famous big brother, Upper Antelope Canyon. It is, however, less crowded and every bit as impressive in its own way. When we arrived, the parking lot was crowded, but we were able to secure an unescorted two-hour photo tour, because of E.J.’s experience at the location. I can’t imagine trying to photograph Lower Antelope Canyon without this kind of access. Guided tours are sent through the canyon regularly–roughly every 15 minutes–which would make it next to impossible to have the time to set up. Given the shutter speeds that are necessary, a tripod is a necessity for decent photography, and if you’re on one of the standard tours, there’s no backtracking allowed.
The slot canyon is extremely narrow and there are a number of tight staircases that have been built into the rock to make traversing the length of the slot possible. In fact, after a walk of perhaps 1/4 mile from the parking area/ticket booth, it’s necessary to descend into the canyon itself via a narrow staircase.
It’s necessary to visit the canyon when the sun is out, because it’s the interplay of reflected light and shadow on the water and wind sculpted rocks that makes the abstract quality of imagery. The sky is visible from time to time in the slot and, sometimes, incorporating it in your imagery can be quite effective.
Image opportunities at Lower Antelope Canyon are seemingly limitless.
Light–reflected and re-reflected–produces awe-inspiring differences in color on the slot canyon’s walls.
Depth of field is a constant consideration and focus stacking is a theoretical option. However, I found it to be a non-starter. Traffic constantly moving through the canyon made it extremely difficult to take the time to properly carry out the multiple exposures necessary for post-processing focus stacking.
Despite the frustrations, Lower Antelope Canyon was an incredible photographic experience, one that I wouldn’t have missed for anything. I would love to have the chance to do it again.
After our much-too-short two hours in Lower Antelope Canyon, we checked into our Page hotel and then went over to the nearby Horseshoe Bend overlook. Horseshoe Bend is a spot where the Colorado River takes a turn of more than 180 degrees. The overlook is on a clifftop, approximately 1000 feet above the canyon floor. There are no barriers, so one should take care at the overlook.
The overlook itself is roughly a 1/2-mile hike from the parking area. While the hike itself isn’t difficult, when we were there it was extremely hot–this was Arizona in the summer, after all. Still, the scene is breathtaking and while it wasn’t one of the greatest sunsets I’d ever seen, it did produce a colorful sky near the western horizon, which contributed to the ambiance of the image below.
I got right up to the overlook edge, naturally, and used my 14-24 mm lens to gain the continuous line of the near shore of the river.
It had been a long day, but an extremely productive one. The next day would be replete with additional photo opportunities.