My Antelope Canyon Experience

Your humble host poses for a tripod selfie at Waterholes Canyon near Page, Arizona in May 2012.
Your humble host poses for a tripod selfie at Waterholes Canyon near Page, Arizona in May 2012.

Shuffling across the web for a column idea, I came across this headline:

“Antelope Canyon is Shutting Down Its Photo Tours Due to Overcrowding and Negative Reviews”

I took that very photo tour in May 2012. It was a photographic opportunity I wanted to cross off of my to-do list, but after the experience, I felt sure I never wanted to do it again.

Antelope Canyon is a spectacular, narrow, short, easily-traversed slot canyon in far northern Arizona. It is close to the town of Page. A huge industry has built up around touring this feature.

The article includes, “According to Navajo National Parks, they have made the decision to stop running photo tours in Upper Antelope Canyon following the negative reviews and feedback from many attendees.”

I can assure you this assessment of the experience is accurate. Even seven years ago, this feature had been discovered and became overwhelmingly crowded.

The tour is phony and commercialized as well.

  • The guides rush you through, almost bullying you to get the shot and get out in a hurry.
  • At one point about halfway through my tour in 2012, a nice lady in our group put away her camera. When I asked her why, she said, “This just isn’t relaxing.”
  • The magical “shaft of sunlight” and the magical “falling sand” we see in so many images from this feature are both the result of a tour guide throwing a ladle of sand in the air.
  • There were many times in that two hour tour during which my fellow photographers and I had to turn sideways and inhale to let 30 tourists pass through the narrow passages.

On the same trip as the Antelope Canyon tour, I found and photographed a much smaller canyon, which I had entirely to myself, and which not only made much better pictures, was relaxing and fun.

The Antelope Canyon “photo tour” costs more and offers more, but by this point in history, it’s definitely not worth it to me. Not only are all the images from this feature essentially the same, they are too prevalent. I have these shots. Every photographer I know has these shots. Every photographer in the country has these shots. Every photographer in the world has these shots.

It’s a hard wheel to reinvent.

Saying that implies that most photography is repetitive, and that’s true in a lot of ways. The trick to keeping your own imaging fresh is to give it a unique narrative. Make your images tell your story instead of the story everyone is telling. Yes, Antelope Canyon is beautiful, and yes, maybe your Antelope Canyon photos are beautiful, but an eight second web search can find images that are better. Always.

So, I’ve circled back to the point where a lot of my columns start: storytelling. I need to tell my stories. You need to tell yours. If you are true to that mission, your images will be unique and beautiful on their own.

Okay, it's a double shaft of light. This might have been neat the first time it was discovered and photographed, but at this point in history, it's been done to death.
Okay, it’s a double shaft of light. This might have been neat the first time it was discovered and photographed, but at this point in history, it’s been done to death.

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