Photography workflow of slot canyons
Photography Tips: How to Photograph Slot Canyons
Many guides show how to photograph slot canyons, but in all of my research leading up to my adventure, I never came across what I learned on the go while photographing Arizona's slot canyons. I'll run through the gear and settings you'll need, and then discuss the secrets to the canyons.
- You need a tripod; there is no way around it. Most of my photographs were at .3 seconds or longer. If you start boosting your ISO too high, you'll miss out on the sharp details that make these canyons so stunning.
- As you are shooting with a tripod, bring a remote to fire the shot without touching the camera and make sure you take the camera strap off of the camera. I cannot tell you how essential these two basic things are. The wind can run through the canyon, and any shake is going to destroy your possibly once-in-a-lifetime photograph.
- You need a DSLR and a wide angle lens. I shot the canyons with Canon's 5DSr and their 11-24mm ƒ4 lens, and having the capability to get to 11mm without the fisheye effect made my visit here ridiculously more successful than the last time I visited. I would encourage you to have the ability to get to at least 16mm.
THE LIGHT CHASER WORKFLOW:
I am going to show you my actual thought process and workflow for an individual photograph to try and demonstrate to you how this works.
Light is your biggest factor while in the canyons, but not all light is created equal. The best light is going to come in the early morning and late afternoon. This light is not as harsh nor is it directly overhead, which is where you are going to get the colors that you covet.
When you get into the canyon, let your eyes adjust and walk slowly while scanning from side to side. Eventually, something is going to catch you eye. You will not see the photograph at first, but you have the light that you are looking for. Finding this light is by far the most important step. Some people call it the photographer's eye, but it is just noticing what could be. If something catches your eye but you do not see a photograph, do not discard the thought!
For this photo, I saw these beautiful contrasts combined with the lines etched in the stone. To me, it looked like a stunning gray silk tapestry that was billowing in the wind. I saw the beginning of a photo start taking shape, but I was still unsure of how to capture my vision.
After you find the light, you need to start evolving; angles are your best friend here. Most people will stop after their initial shot, but that isn't how you get your portfolio-changing photograph.
I walked ten feet to the right and ten feet to the left with the belief that the shot could be part of an extreme angle, but I was incorrect.
I walked away to go photograph something else. Never be afraid to walk away and come back with a fresh perspective. I returned ten minutes later and thought that maybe the photograph was up and to the right, still, unfortunately, incorrect.
I recentered myself on the original picture. The angle I hadn't attempted was from the base of the ground up. It isn't an aspect that I usually think to photograph, as I am 6'3". I figured if I could lay on the ground slightly off to the left I could get an angle capturing my gray silk tapestry and include more of the top of the canyon to give it more contrast.
Ah! Getting warm! My first attempt was a bit lazy because I didn't want to lay my face in the sand that thousands of people walk on a day, but after the first shot I realized that I needed to be as flat as humanly possible so that I can focus and get the right angle.
With dust in my hair and grime on my face, I get the shot that I wanted. The capturing of this photograph was a relatively short process, thankfully, but it is one of the reasons that photographers preach patience so often. There are times where you will sit for hours upon hours, especially when shooting wildlife, looking for your unique photograph. If something catches your eye but you don't see a picture, don't give up. Try different angles and perspectives until it reveals itself to you. You never know what might turn up!