The American Southwest: Post 14—South Antelope Canyon | Jim Kofron Photography | Jim Kofron

The American Southwest: Post 14—South Antelope Canyon

So it's Thursday, May 20th. We've just gotten back from the wilds of the Paria Plateau. Isolated, quiet, wild photography. Today we follow it up with a shoot of a classic: Antelope Canyon. This is only a 10 minute drive from Page. The slot canyon sits on Navajo land—it's very popular and very, very crowded.

For those not familiar with slot canyons, imagine a sloping plain of sand and sandstone. Pretty flat terrain. Imagine you pour water into this area, and it eventually finds a lower spot to run off. Rinse and repeat for a couple thousand years. You end up with a deep canyon that is almost unnoticeable from above. The entrance is barely large enough to fit me into it. But this crack in the earth slopes down, from 5 ' deep to 10' to 20' to 60' or so. The striated sandstone is beautiful and polished from the wear of water (and probably some wind too). Not a place to be in a rainstorm (you'll die). The width varies from some chambers that are around 20' to areas that you have to turn sideways and squeeze. There's a nice sandy bottom and steps/stairs to guide the way. In general, the Navajo only allow guided tours unless you ask specifically for a photographers pass. Then you'll be allowed to dilly-dally to your hearts content.

We showed up around 10:30 or so in the morning. The place was packed. The light was getting harsh. Jim's frustration with Chunsum's tripod setup (which doesn't point 'up' easily) was evident. But we snapped of some decent stuff even with the crowds. There were some 'shaft of light' shots (I didn't get any particularly good ones). But we decided to come back in the afternoon when the light would be lower—the hope was that the sandstone would 'glow' more with reflected light.

When we got back, light was still 'hot', but the crowds had substantially thinned out. It was much more fun working in there now. We could take our time, not be in the way of other photographers, and we didn't have to deal with the one jackass photographer who was there in the morning yelling at everyone. The light got better as the day wore on, and we started to get the classic 'glow' of the sandstone. Remember that the colors you see are more due to the lighting of the stone than differences in the stone itself (I think it's pretty homogeneous the whole way down). This was a great experience for me to shoot one of the classics, and it was a lot of fun until the very end…

Mmmmm, land of swirls…


And land of contrasts in light. It was really hard to get rock solid exposures with bright and dark. Huge dynamic range issues. Skip metering and shoot manual.


An example of different colors of rock from the 'same color' of rock. What's my white balance?!?


These are just beautiful


And Kendall helps give you a sense of the scale of this place. This is a natural 'cathedral'. It's an amazing experience.

Of course, pink danger lurks behind every curve.


Pointing up with Chunsum's tripod/head combination made for some very interesting flexibility exercises for me.


I appreciated the nice floor. There are other slot canyons where you're climbing boulders, splashing through streams, praying that there aren't any storms coming. This one is much easier.


These next two are very similarly framed. The top is -1.7 EV on A mode, and the bottom is 0 EV. You can see a difference in both noise and color (although I didn't work very hard to bring them together with regards to color).

Domo enjoyed the canyon. 

This last photo I show to illustrate the end of our day. That afternoon I was pretty tired: a little sore from our outing of the previous two days, and all the bending and flexing to get shots in this canyon. These stairs were really nice except that they were quite steep, and the tread surface was really not a good match for my hiking shoes (they would catch). I had turned around to go down this like a ladder in the morning, but in the afternoon I just decided to descend like the person here, walking straight down. Tripod in one hand, camera around neck, bag at other side. Well, about 2/3  from the bottom my boot stuck in the tread, and I pitched forward. My reflexes worked to grab the railing with my hands, and I basically 'slid' in a freefall to the bottom, slanted back to the ladder. I landed right on my right foot (heel actually), which concerned me. It hurt—I'm fortunate not to have ankle ligaments any more, so no sprain—but I was worried about a bruise to the bone. I have one, and it's still something that I'm feeling now. I also pitched backward as I landed, and smacked my elbow against the metal treads of the stair. That left a nice big gash  that really bled nicely. Not an even cut, I scooped out a nice chunk of flesh. I took off my shirt and wrapped the elbow so as not to bleed all over the place, and we hiked back up the stairs and out to the stand (a little after closing time, which no doubt pissed off our hosts who were ready to close the place up). Kendall and Rick dropped me off at the motel and went out to get bandages and antibiotic ointment. I'm happy to say that its healing up nicely, but my days as an elbow model are completely over...

This was our only 'trip mishap', so not so bad. And it turned out my foot didn't slow us down too much.

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