PHOTO TIP #6 (Canyon X and Cardiac 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 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 Cardiac, bearing names suggesting mystery and pain, and believe me you’d never stumble across them on your own. For that you’ll contact Jackie or Jannelle at Taadidiin Tours. They have the sole permit to bring adventurers and photographers into Canyon X and Cardiac Canyon.

For Canyon X they offer Hiking and Photo Tours, but you’ll want to sign up for the Photo Tour as it allows more image making time. I did Canyon X in the morning, as a 2-3 hour photo tour. This allows sufficient time to scout the 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.

Canyon X is rated as Moderate-Hard, but if you’re in decent shape and take your time you’ll be fine. This is mainly due to the steep staircases one must ascend and descend to access the floor of the canyon, 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 to the trailheads.

Cardiac Canyon is high on my personal list of hot locations. You can do it solely or combine it with Canyon X for a good 5-6 hours of total slot canyon bliss. Plan to walk in lots of sand, and have shoes with good sticky tread for scrambling once you’re deep in the canyon. I’ll have more detail and images for you after I shoot Cardiac and discover why it has this foreboding name. Evidently only a few hundred souls have done Cardiac, less than Antelope Canyon sees in a mere day!

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 Images 2 and 3.
canyon x 2 K3K0632 HDRIMAGE 2 (Canyon X)
Don’t forget to bring a good tripod, or else you’ll be handholding your camera and using a very high ISO, as my friend Scott is doing here.
canyon x 3 5530 HDRIMAGE 3 (Canyon X)
Don’t forget the power and pleasure of monochrome, as silvery shades of grey reveal the banded beauty of these canyons in entirely different ways. This image was shot with a Pentax 645 Z, and converted from the RAW file to B&W.
cardiac canyon 4 1050IMAGE 4 (Cardiac Canyon)
This older image was shot on color slide film, and is included here to show how contrasty and harsh the rendition could be. With digital capture you have a much longer tonal scale to render tones and subtlety.
cardiac canyon 5 KJ17144 HDRIMAGE 5 (Cardiac Canyon)
This photo shows the sculpted walls and scale inside the canyon.
To Book your tour, visit: or call (928)-660-8890 today!
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