Posted by: kerryl29 | October 29, 2012

Arizona Day 3 – Monument Valley Sunrise, Lower Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend

[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.

Mittens Dawn Silhouette, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

The sky and overall lighting improved as sunrise approached.

The Mittens at Dawn, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

East Mitten and Merrick Butte at Dawn, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Monument Valley Dawn, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

The light was sublime, and lit up clouds above features other than the Mittens and Merrick Butte.

Dawn Clouds, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Gradually, the sun began to directly affect the setting as the clouds near the horizon started to light up with orange .

The Mittens at Dawn, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

East Mitten and Merrick Butte at Sunrise, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

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.

Sunrise Over East Mitten, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

After a few moments, the sun moved behind the main edifice of East Mitten, producing a cap to the morning.

Monument Valley Sunrise, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

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.

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

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.

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

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.

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Image opportunities at Lower Antelope Canyon are seemingly limitless.

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Light–reflected and re-reflected–produces awe-inspiring differences in color on the slot canyon’s walls.

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

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.

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

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.

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

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.

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

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.

Next:  Arizona Day 4:  Lake Powell at Sunrise and an Introduction to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon


  1. Oh my…I need to go to AZ. with my camera…what incredible shots, beautiful and one after another…what a blessing to wake up to this:)

    • Many thanks.

      • Truly, thank you for sharing and inspiring….WB and I will hit the road next summer for AZ as our son and his wife have traveled there to see the wonder of the rocks and colors. They loved it:)

        • Have a great time! There are many, many wondrous sights to see in Arizona.

  2. Magic!

  3. truly inspired by your work. Wishing you a full recovery. I am sick now, and the only way to get rid of it is to surrender and be sick and rest.

    • Thanks, Jane. I’ve fully recovered at this point. I was never horribly sick during this stretch (i.e. I wasn’t ever bed-ridden), but it did make the mere thought of image processing a non-starter.

  4. beautiful color. the cloud gods were on your side as well.

    • Thanks, Dan. Yeah, one of the hallmarks of this trip was that we were frequently treated to nice skies, particularly at sunrise. (Sunset tended to be more hit-or-miss.)

  5. Beautiful, Amazing Photos – thanks for sharing! Hoping November is a little easier on you:)

    • Thanks. I’m counting on zero sick days in November. 🙂

  6. Worth waiting for- the skies are fabulous! And I love the Horseshoe Bend shot too.

    • Thanks very much.

  7. Kerry, healthy thoughts to you. Just love your images and how you captured them, especially the sunburst at MV. I was there in March and hid the sun behind the mittens to avoid overexposure – but yours is really special. Your shots in lower antelope are quite nice, I took a photo tour of the upper portion and found it to be very frustrating since we were rushed from spot to spot – couldn’t recapture if you didn’t like your settings. A lot of mine came out looking like vagina’s 🙂

    I’m a definite amateur and my lack of a wide angle (enough) lens at horseshoe bend was quite frustrating. Gorgeous setting, took a lot of mental images but no luck on capturing that wide view.

    Your shots are amazing & beautiful.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Kathy in Pittsburgh

    • Hi Kathy. Thanks for weighing in.

      Re the lack of a wide angle…you can often get around that problem by taking multiple shot and stitching them together to cover the entire scene. Let me know if you’d like a quick tutorial.

  8. Such beautiful photos. I certainly could spend days in the canyon taking photos. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been under the weather, but glad that you are getting better. This series certainly entices me to get out there to enjoy the scenery.

    • Thanks for the kind words and thoughts. I’ve completely recovered at this point, which should allow me to post the next installment in the series in a more timely fashion.

  9. Glad to hear that you are feeling better and sharing your photography again. With every post I’m adding to my (photo) bucket list!

    • Thanks very much, Angela.

  10. Glad to see you are better…. really liked how you included the sky into one of your Ant Canyon shots. Love the clouds and light you captured there and for a truly informational post.

    • Thanks, Mike.

  11. Absolutely stunning photography, Kerry…truly wonderful. Glad you’re back….

    • Thanks very much, Scott.

      • Most welcome.

  12. Like Like Like …Love it! Oh my gosh Kerry! Lower Antelope Canyon is a dream come true! Just what I want to do is get into places where light can reflect, bounce and fall through the rocks. Fantastic shots. And no one does it better than you. These are awesome images….just spectacular. I’ve been back and forth, peering with my nose on the screen! Stunning!

    • Thanks very much, Judy. I really appreciate the kind words.

      I’ve shot in several slot canyons, but Lower Antelope is, by far, the most extensive and spectacular of the group. If you want to shoot there, I highly recommend finding a way that will allow you in unescorted with a two-hour pass. I can’t imagine doing anything more than snapshooting on one of the conventional guided in-and-out tours.

      • Thanks for the tip, Kerry. I just love your photos…the lighting is gorgeous. It reminds me of Fire Valley, NV…Not sure I got the correct name. But I loved your close-up shots from there in the early light also. Just amazing with your special touch!

        • Thanks again, Judy.

          Good eye! There are some definite similarities between Lower Antelope Canyon and some spots in Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, Pink Canyon in particular. Pink Canyon is a slot canyon too, but nowhere near as deep or intricate as Lower Antelope. Still, both are significantly sculpted by flood waters (and, to an extent, wind).

  13. Kerry, just catching up on reading blogs and saved this post to savor. As per your usual finesse and skill in taking excellent images, this post was not only what I expected but went far beyond! And of course, your narrative is wonderful as well as informative. But the shots of Lower Antelope Canyon rocked my world – the sheer sensuousness of rock that looks like liquid one minute and fire the next – I’m sure you would have loved to stay the entire day there. What a visual treasure! I must consider going on a photographic tour as you did – I’ve just invested in a new Nikon for my next nature/music project and would like to up my photo skills too. You are definitely an inspiration!

    • Thanks very much for the kind words, Lynn.

      If you want to shoot at Lower Antelope Canyon (among other places), I believe the Arizona photo workshop I was on in August will be offered again next year. I’m also aware of one or two other options that cover LAC. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll dig up some links for you.

  14. […] experienced four previous sunrises on this workshop and they had all been terrific: the first and second mornings had been spent at Monument Valley; the third morning saw as at Lake Powell; the fourth had […]

  15. Thanks for showing your pics. This is a must to place. I realyy lokking to go there. Is there a special time to get that beatifull light?

    • Thanks.

      I’m not sure which place depicted in the images from this entry you’re referring to. If it’s Monument Valley, that’s very much a “Golden Hour” kind of place. If it’s Lower Antelope Canyon, that’s completely different. You want a sunny day and you want to be there some time between mid-morning and mid-afternoon. The slot is very narrow and you definitely want light penetrating it because what you see on the interior is the product of reflected light. When direct sunlight penetrates the canyon and starts bouncing off the many crevices, that’s when magical things start to happen.

      • Antelope Canyon is the one I’m thinking.

        • Yeah, that’s definitely a place to go on a sunny day, some time between mid-morning and mid-afternoon. It’s important that the sun be high enough in the sky for light to directly penetrate the slot. Sunlight will bounce around, reflecting off the canyon walls; that’s what provides all of the fascinating colors. Exactly how the scene will appear varies depending on exactly what kind of reflections you’re getting, where you’re standing in the slot and so forth. So, the place would appear completely different at, say, 10:30 AM and 2:30 PM on the same clear day.

  16. Your pictures are amazing! My son and I will be going to all the NP’s in southern Utah, MV, LAC, GC and Death Valley beginning May 7 and have 11 days. I’m really struggling with route and trying to reserve campsites or hotels is difficult as I can’t figure out where we will be each day! Any advice? I’ve got a D3100 Nikon, but I know very little about how to use it. Is it worth learning before trip or just using camera from my Samsung 9+?

    Also, can you advise how to go about getting unescorted access to LAC the way you all did?

    • Thanks for the kind words re my photography.

      If you’re really going to go to all of the national parks in southern Utah (there are five of them, plus several national monuments) and Monument Valley, Lower Antelope Canyon, the Grand Canyon and Death Valley, all on the same 11-day trip…let’s just say that’s beyond ambitious. 🙂 I understand the desire to see as much as possible, but if you establish an itinerary covering all of those places, which are strewn over a fairly broad area, in such a relatively short period of time, you’re going to be giving all of them short shrift because you’ll be doing a significant amount of traveling, each day, from location to location. My base recommendation would be to scale back the number of locations, by as much as one half.

      As for more specific recommendations, if you are in fact planning on spending time in Zion and Bryce Canyon, avoid weekends like the plague. In fact, that’s good advice for just about anything with a national park designation (though Capitol Reef probably won’t be that terrible). Zion in particular has seen visitation explode in recent years; there isn’t enough money available to get me to go there on a weekend. There is plenty of lodging available in Springdale (Zion) and just outside Bryce. Moab is the place to say for Canyonlands (Island in the Sky District) and Arches. Torrey (or the campground inside the park) is your best option if you’re going to stay near Capitol Reef. Page, Arizona is the place to lodge if you’re going to stay near LAC; there aren’t many options at Monument Valley. There’s the View Hotel, right inside the park, which is very nice but pricey. There are also a couple of places nearby, though they are small, and there are some campground locations as well. Can’t help with Death Valley as I haven’t been there (yet).

      With regard to the LAC “photographer’s pass,” I’m not sure what, if anything, can be done in that regard. When I was there, I was on an independent photo tour and the tour leader secured the passes for our small group, which allowed us to go in unaccompanied by a guide and (this was very important) to bring tripods into the canyon. I’m not quite sure what was involved in getting those passes, but some finagling was required. My understanding is that, as of last year (2018), no photo tours were being offered at Lower Antelope and no tripods were allowed. Frankly, given how dark it is in the canyon, without a tripod there’s virtually no way to get a sharp image in the canyon without shooting with huge apertures and absurd ISOs to obtain a shutter speed that would be successfully hand-holdable. Personally, if I couldn’t take a tripod into the canyon, I wouldn’t bother taking a camera. It may still be worth seeing with one’s own eyes, but photographing becomes effectively impossible.

      With regard to the camera, the answer to your question deals with what you think you might want to do with the images you capture. If you’re planning on nothing beyond social media and/or e-mail, your phone will probably be fine. If you have other ambitions (prints of any size, for instance), a dedicated camera (and a tripod!) with decent lenses are a better option. If you do go with the latter option, the sooner you gain experience/knowledge of with/of your camera, the better. Whatever you end up using to capture images, the last thing you want to do (IMO) is learning what to do on the spot. Be comfortable with your equipment, whatever it is, before you embark on your trip; it will lead to a much more satisfying experience when you’re on the ground.

      Best of luck, and if I can be of any further help, let me know.

  17. […] as the prelude to a photo tour of portions of northern Arizona–specifically, Monument Valley, Lower Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  I came in a day before the start of the […]

  18. […] in the slot really stand out. (You can see some examples of this in the post covering a shoot at Lower Antelope Canyon back in 2012.) There are some exceptions to this rule of thumb, but broadly speaking, direct […]

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