I recently returned from a trip to Page, AZ where I shot at Lower Antelope Canyon. Thanks again to those who responded to my inquiry for information a few months ago, it was a wonderful trip.
There apparently have been some changes for photographers to be aware of that were instituted around May 1st of this year from what I can gather:
1) A "photo pass" now has a 2 hour limit on it (as opposed to the 4 hour time frame previously). If you go over this, it's an extra 20 bucks for another hour. I'm not sure you can go beyond 3 hours total.
2) If you intend to use any image you take for commercial gain including selling a print, publishing in a book, you *must* get permission from the tribal office first prior to doing any shooting. Apparently this is not specific to the slot canyon but rather a new regulation from the governing body for the tribal lands. I saw someone at the booth have to pull out of line and contact the person at the tribal office prior to them letting her enter the canyon.
On to my "review" if you wish to continue reading...
That being said, this was my first trip to these obviously very famous slot canyons. A disclaimer first: I'm a bit analytical, a bit critical and skeptical in nature - and that applies both to experiences and most definitely to customer service. However, given that disclaimer, I was simply blown away with both the lower canyon as well as the truly excellent customer service by everyone involved at the lower canyon. I can not emphasize strongly enough how pleasant, helpful, friendly and wonderful the folks at the booth and the guides I encountered were. Give em five stars out of five. Any new regulations are not put in place by the folks who run the canyon, but rather, from what I understand, the governing tribal body.
As for the canyon itself, it was one of those times were I was left with my jaw hanging open. I haven't had such feelings of joy and amazement since my first trip to Glacier NP in '92, my first trip to Dead Horse Point (and later, Zion) in '96, or my first stare at the sea stacks during dusk at Bandon Beach, Oregon in '08. I was seriously impressed. Has the canyon been shot to death? Sure. Am I going to or did I get some amazingly unique "never seen this before" image that no other photographer has gotten? No. Do I care about either of those two questions? Absolutely not. Photography is sometimes about the joy of "working" an area while experiencing the land - irrespective of whether one is breaking new photographic ground or creating the worlds singular most amazing image - it's joyous, therapeutic, and just plain fun. And I had a blast down there. And I found it challenging and a learning experience as well. I never even made it to the end (and given the story of the final stairs from others who were there, it was better to turn around and head back the way I came). My intent was to try it at two times of the day - once in the morning when they opened, and once again in the middle of the afternoon (around 2pm give or take), and then repeat each time of the day again order to give myself a second experience where I could fine tune what I saw the first time.
I ended up challenging myself and shooting mostly with a 35/1.4 prime on the Nikon D700, very rarely with the 24/1.4 or the 60/2.8, and leaving the zoom lenses behind. I might bring a mid range zoom the next time I go down, but I felt that by restricting myself to a single focal length that I was very comfortable with forced me to become more creative and pay attention to what I was shooting. For some reason that focal length and the way I was "seeing" just seemed to fit. I was surely the only one shooting primes down there, and the laugh of it is I'm never the "I only shoot primes because they are pure" kind of guy - I use the heck out of the zooms I own, particularly for studio work as I view lenses as tools, not "statements of how I work". But this time, I went simple and light. The biggest laugh from a few photogs down there, however, was when we saw a gentleman with a Canon 500/4 down there - what on earth he was going to do with *that* lens down there I don't know - given the constrictive nature of the slot in the middle of the layout, a big heavy exotic piece of glass hanging on a strap is about the last thing I'd want down there, but whatever, I digress...
In terms of times, the morning is a bit more "rushed": if you get down there around 8:15 you've got about 15 minutes before the first guided group comes through at 8:30, and it's usually a sizable group. I never felt like I was horribly rushed and hurried at all - but I was aware, in the morning shoots, that I needed to keep moving and that at some point I would be pressed against the side of the walls as the group made their way by me. The 2pm window, while "supposedly" not the best light, for me was magical in that at that hour, mid week, the guided groups were very small and less plentiful. I found much more solitary time at that time where I could relax a bit and take my time looking for and setting up a shot. It wasn't that the morning session was a zoo at all - it was, IMO, still quite manageable, but there was a really nice, slower paced vibe from the 2pm (2-4, or 1:30 - 3:30) time slot that I really liked and I honestly didn't have any "complaints" about the light not being as good.
Overall, while there are obviously more restrictions this year than in the past, I still had an excellent time, and will do it again, even if it is not new or unique territory. I had fun and got to exercise my eye down there, while having a blast, and that right there was worth the price of the trip.
ps: Never even made it to upper - too many tour groups piling in, truck load after truck load, even at the supposed "slower" 4pm time. I believe in staying with a groove that is working for you, so I'll worry about upper (or one of the other more "exclusive/expensive" canyons) on the next trip.