Research Your Photo Location BEFORE You Get There July 31 2010, 0 Comments

Running for my life was not what I expected to be doing on my latest photo seeking adventure, but that is exactly what I found myself doing today as I was photographing Antelope Canyon in the Navajo Nation of Arizona.

Antelope Canyon is what is known as a slot canyon, a canyon that has very narrow passage ways that reach up to the heavens. They are stunningly beautiful, particularly around mid-day when streams of light beam down into the canyon exposing the most dramatic reds, tangerines and pinks. Millions of years of erosion have carved out swaying curves, hence the narrow passage ways. Antelope Canyon has been featured in many magazines, including National Geographic. I had been wanting to go there for years.

Because the light can be dark in some places and quite bright in others, it is necessary to shoot with a tripod. You must also meter the light and use your self-timer. Auto bracketing is a must. (There are so many people visiting the canyon that there is really no time to bracket manually.) Just getting the hang of working quickly under these conditions can be a challenge. One must be mindful of time. You are only allowed two hours on the photo tours. (Regular tours run about an hour.)

Antelope was indeed impressive and I was thrilled with the art I was capturing. All I could think about was how fabulous these images were going to look when I printed them on my Epson 9880. I was just taking my last photo, when I heard a voice shouting, “Run! Run! Water! Run!” I knew immediately that raging water had entered the canyon. Like a damn that had burst, water was gushing in, filling up the canyon in a matter of seconds.

I had read that slot canyons could fill almost instantly with flooding waters and that if I was told to run, not to wait a second or attempt to look back. So, I ran! Others were pulled under and swept along with the rushing water.  When it was over, we had accounted for all but one person.

(These flood waters can come from a couple of miles away so you don’t see it coming until it hits. Outside the canyon, the sky was perfectly sunny and blue.)

I spend a great deal of time researching my photo adventures. I want to understand the environments as well as the technical aspects of a photo shoot before I arrive on location. Oddly, I arrived ahead of schedule for the photo tour and one of the guides offered me a slot on an earlier tour. But, I read that the best light was between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm when the sun was directly overhead, so I waited. After all, I had done my research!


Note: The last time flash flooding occurred in Upper Antelope Canyon was two years ago. It does not happen every day. But beware of where you are going and the risks you are taking on when you are traveling.