PHOTO TIP #6 (Canyon X and Secret Canyon)

If you’ve photographed either Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon recently, you’ve dealt with the crowded, oversold conditions in these now world famous slot canyons, which for me greatly diminishes the experience of descending or walking through these sandstone cathedrals. And it almost goes without saying that the image making experience is greatly challenged by waiting for hordes of people to pass your camera position, giving you mere slivers of time to make your images. At the very least it’s terribly distracting and at it’s worst I find these now overcrowded slot canyons to be maddening, and not worth the time or cost.

Thankfully, there are many other slot canyons in the vicinity of Page that offer their own water-sculpted beauty, and are far less crowded. Two of my favorites are Canyon X and Secret Canyon, bearing names suggesting mystery, and believe me you’d never stumble across them on your own. For that you’ll contact Taadidiin Tours, with a lovely gallery-like office on Lake Powell Boulevard. They have the sole permit to bring adventurers and photographers into Canyon X and Secret Canyon, and do so with their fleet of Hummer H2’s.

They offer Adventure and Photo Tours to both slot canyons, but you’ll want to sign up for the Photo Tour, so you can use your tripod, and you’ll need to do so. I did Canyon X in the morning, a 3-4 hour tour, and after a lunch break in Page did Secret Canyon in the afternoon as a 3-hour tour. Both offer sufficient time to scout each canyon and make quality images, especially as the small group sizes mean you’re not waiting for long lines of people to work their way through the narrow defiles of honey orange Navajo sandstone.

Secret Canyon is rated Easy-Moderate in difficulty, with Canyon X rated as Moderate-Hard. This is mainly due to the steep staircases one must ascend and descend to access the floor of the canyons, as once you’re down inside the walking is actually fairly easy, with just occasional scrambling on uneven surfaces. Both are very safe, and their guides are excellent. They share info on local geology, history and culture on the roughly 30 minute drive from the office to the trailheads. Wear comfortable walking/hiking shoes with good tread, plus a hat and sunscreen.

Image1 CanyonX KJ16435 HDRIMAGE 1 (Canyon X)
Bring your widest lens, or widest zoom lens, to encompass the scale and depth of the walls of multi-hued sandstones in each canyon. I suggest using lenses from 15mm to 100mm on your full frame DSLR, and stop down the lens aperture to F11-F16 for maximum depth of field. Using a low ISO of 100, this makes for exposures several seconds in length. You may wish to bracket those exposures, and then combine them later in HDR software. I currently use HDR Efex Pro2, as with this image in Canyon X, and Image 4 in Secret Canyon.
Image2 SecretCanyon KJ16467IMAGE 2 (Secret Canyon)
Be aware of the varying textures of the sandstone surfaces around you and work to show the tactile quality of the rock. I like for the viewer to almost be able to feel the stone, as in Image 2.
Image3 Secret CanyonIMAGE 3 (Secret Canyon)
Deep inside this striking slot canyon is an erosional feature that to me evokes a tongue, and it provides an evocative shape to shoot around, from below and beside. This is my favorite area of Secret Canyon, and where I spent most of my time. NOTE, I shot these four images with the Ricoh-Pentax 645Z. Set your Color Balance to either AWB or SUN, and use an electronic shutter release for best precision.
Image4 SecretCanyon KJ16485 HDRIMAGE 4 (Secret Canyon)
After you experience the peace and soothing mood inside Canyon X and Secret Canyon I think you’ll never want to return to the madhouse of the pair of Antelope Canyon slots. You’ll pay more to shoot these two beauties, but I believe you’ll love the experience and images, as I did. And the rollicking ride to and from each canyon will add some adrenalin to your day as well! Good shooting…
To Book your tour, visit: 928-645-2266