The Navajo land near Page, Arizona contains some of the worldâ€™s most stunning slot canyons. The concentration of slot canyons here is so high that many posses no official name and new canyons are being discovered even to this day. These formations are one of the most beautiful and most photogenic landscapes in the Southwestern USA.
Popular slot canyons include Upper & Lower Antelope Canyon, Blue Pool Wash Canyon, Butterfly Canyon, Owl Canyon, Mountain Sheep Canyon, Kaibito Creek, Secret Canyon, and Water Holes Canyon.
Of these, arguably the most famous is Antelope Canyon. However, being one of the most visited and photographed slot canyons in the world, the challenge it presents virtually every one attempting to photograph it is the crowd!
If you’re wanting to photograph an equally stunning slot canyon less the crowds, then you’d do well to visit Canyon X. This lesser-known slot canyon is located a mere 16 miles away from Page, Arizona. Yet, despite its proximity to Page along with its smaller size, you’re photographic expedition will never be hampered by fellow photographers. That’s because access to Canyon X is strictly limited. The only way to enter this canyon is by being one of no more than six participants of the exclusive Overland Canyon Tours photo-tour allowed into the slot per day. As these tours are led by an experienced slot photographer, Canyon X is a must-go location if you’re a die-hard fan of slot canyon photography!
Canyon Xâ€™s unique formation and surreal colors are caused by erosion of Navajo Sandstone over millions of years, primarily through flash-flooding. It is these erosive forces that are responsible for the smooth surfaces and intricate shapes.
But what makes slot canyons so incredibly beautiful to photograph is the breath-taking interplay between reflected light and colored sandstone. Depending on the position of the sun and your location in the slot, shafts of light can briefly penetrate the canyon depths to create otherworldly compositions of color, contour and contrast.
The tour started with a 16 mile drive from Page, the last 5 miles of which was on dirt road. Once we were dropped off, it was a short but moderately difficult hike into the canyon. This otherwise fun route takes you down a 30 yard crevasse, over medium sized talusâ€™ and finally over a dune above the giant sandstone alcove. Canyon X consists of a non-slotted canyon bounded at either end by a slot canyon. Beware of your step, though. Commonly lurking in the shadows are rattlesnakes and scorpions ready to bite!
Of utmost concern inside the canyon is the protection of your equipment. Due to high levels of dust and sand in the air, changing lenses inside the canyon is not recommended. The ideal is to come prepared with two cameras – one loaded with a wide angle lens and the other with a telephoto lens. However, if you’re limited to just one camera body, my advise is to mount it with a wide angle zoom.
What’s more, if your camera and lens are not weather-sealed, it may be prudent to wrap them in a rain cover. Two other essential pieces of kit are a dust blower and cloth. You will need both to clean your lens frequently. It’s incredible how much and how fast both you and your equipment get covered in sand and dust!
As the canyon is dark for the most part and youâ€™ll be shooting long exposures, a sturdy tripod is also a necessity. As too is adequate memory storage and sufficient power supply youâ€™ll be photographing practically non-stop for hours. Finally, a remote shutter is strongly recommended to avoid the vibration.
In an effort to ensure accurate white balance, any photography guides recommend using â€œcloudyâ€? or warmer settings.
Rather than wasting precious time inside the canyon struggling with white balance, I strongly recommend shooting in RAW format. This provides you with all the flexibility you need in post-processing, particularly for difficult lighting conditions that require the blending of two or more images with different white balance settings.
As for exposure setting, a low ISO and small aperture are recommended. While this will increase exposure times, it will minimize noise and maximize quality. You may want to stop down the aperture to f/11-f/15 to provide adequate depth of field whilst still retaining sharpness and image quality.
Bracketing Your Shots
Perhaps the greatest challenge is capturing the wide exposure range. Exposure ranges in the vicinity of 10EV are not uncommon. I strongly recommend bracketing all your shots, especially if you want to include sky in your composition. Itâ€™s a good idea to check the histogram to make sure your bracketed shots include sufficient exposure for highlights and shadows.
Finally, when exploring these stunning geological formations, take your time. Many people believe there’s no such thing as a “bad shot in a slot.” I don’t agree! To create a great image, it’s necessary to invest sufficient time exploring your location and searching for that special mix of composition and light – a combination not always obvious at the first glance.
With the infinite selection of form, texture, color, contrast and light, composing all these elements harmoniously in a single image is a challenging yet rewarding task. Perhaps this explains why slot canyons are so alluring for photographers.
Thank you for reading!
About the Author I am Kah-Wai Lin. I am originally from Malaysia. Currently I am a research scientist in US. I has been taking photos since I was 15. When I was in Sweden, I owned a company specialize in architectural photography and virtual reality tour. Since I moved to US in 2012, I has been fascinated by the beautiful and unique American landscapes that have now become my main source of inspiration. Although my portfolio is wide-ranging, the current focus of my work is on church interior and landscape photography. Welcome to my website at: http://kahwailin.com/