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Heavenly Beam, Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 5 May 2009 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

Today's image is from last week's trip to Northern Arizona. I leave for Yosemite tomorrow morning and won't be able to get to my Arizona images in earnest until I return on Saturday, but I'm so excited about the trip that I just couldn't resist posting something.

The first thing I want to say is that Upper Antelope Canyon is every bit as spectacular as the pictures you've seen—it's one of those places that feels like there's nowhere else in the world quite like it. Unfortunately, this uniqueness isn't lost on others, and Antelope Canyon at midday is probably the most densely populated patch of real estate in Arizona. The Navajo tribe that oversees the canyon has a real money-maker and they certainly leverage it to the max. Unfortunately, their unbridled capitalism is to the detriment of the visitors’ experience—the crowds during the brief midday “light-shaft window” would make a coal miner claustrophobic, and make quality photography difficult-to-impossible.

During the midday flood (maybe not the best word to use given the history here) of tourists our group spent most of our time jostling each other and others for position. Imagine trying to photograph, with a tripod, in the aisle commute-hour subway train.

Fortunately our group was the daily photo tour, which meant we arrived about five minutes before the rest of the tours, and left an hour after they left (and also an hour after the shafts left, but the light was still beautiful). We also had a fabulous guide who not only knew the canyon, she understood photography and photographers (thank you Angie!).

One other thought: I use the word “cliché” a lot, and it’s time that I elaborate a bit on what cliché means to me (lest the word itself becomes a cliché). By my definition, today’s Antelope Canyon image is a cliché. That doesn’t mean it’s not a beautiful image (I think it is), or that I regret taking it (I absolutely don’t); it means only that thousands of others probably have something similar in their portfolio. Beautiful as it is, as a professional photographer I can’t make my living with images like this. My goal in the field is to find unique images, subjects, conditions, and/or compositions.

A kinder word for cliché would be “classic.” We all have and love them. I find that leading workshops in places like Yosemite (or Antelope Canyon), many of my students come with the objective of getting classic images just like today’s, the beautiful images they’ve seen in books and calendars for years, and are prepared to be satisfied with just that. My goal as a workshop leader is to get my students these classic images they crave, but then to help them understand that the classics should be the starting point, not the ultimate goal.

With that thought in mind, I have to say that one of the most rewarding aspects of last week’s Northern Arizona workshop was our image review session. Don Smith and I co-lead eight to ten workshops each year—I assist Don in all of his workshops and he assists about half of mine (right now I do more workshops than Don, though he's rapidly catching up), and it’s approaching the point where the majority of our participants are repeat customers. In this workshop 11 of the 13 participants had been in at least one of our workshops. In the image review Don and I were thrilled to see the growth in our returning participants—without exception they all seem to “get” this concept of finding their own vision. They too captured the classics (clichés) like this, but some of the best images were uniquely their own.

So how does one consistently avoid clichés in a heavily photographed location like Antelope Canyon? It starts with an intimate familiarity that enables you to respond to whatever conditions arise, and a critical evaluation of your previous experience that helps you anticipate the opportunities and refine your approach. I don't know whether my next visit will be the time it happens for me, but I'm already planning the shots.

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

Moridi from Tehran, Iran

reat shot.
Good light ans frame.
Thank you.

5 May 2009 5:19am

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France

Great shot Beautiful colors and beautiful ray of light

5 May 2009 5:20am

Ashely from San Francisco, United States

I was so surprised to hear you call this a "cliche" image - I've never seen anything like it. I love it.

5 May 2009 6:48am

Zahai from Berlin, Germany

a wonderful image...glorious light and textures. however, i get your point about taking cliché/classic pictures, and the craving for more than that, not only to make a living with photography, but also to satisfy my own creative standards.

5 May 2009 1:52pm

B. Thomas from Arlington, Texas, United States

Beautiful shot.

5 May 2009 2:48pm

Abraham Siloé from Puebla, Mexico

wow, awesome shot, really like it, great job!!!! excellent picture!!!

6 May 2009 3:26am

Bill from Bay Area Northern California, United States

Gary, great shot. You are masterful at light and shadows. Well done. I don't think anything at Antelope Canyon is cliche - it's very special place you captured here.

6 May 2009 6:28am

shoti from Everywhere in the, Philippines

that is a truly magnificent shot right there. thanks for sharing this beauty and the knowledge :)

6 May 2009 12:53pm

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

Wow! This is absolutely amazing! Just breathtaking! Congratulations on the Spotlight! Well deserved. :))

6 May 2009 7:36pm

Onlymehdi from Wayne, United States

WOW, congrats on the spotlight. wow

6 May 2009 8:18pm

Alessandro from Calci (PI), Italy

Gorgeous capture. Congratulations.

6 May 2009 9:42pm

dj.tigersprout from New York City, USA, United States

goodness this is amazing!! so vibrant, so robust and such rich color and splendid detail!! congrats on making the AM3 Spotlight!! bravo!!!

7 May 2009 12:27am

Paco Díaz from Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Fantastic shot of a wonderful place. I like very much the great lightind and detail. Spectacular.

7 May 2009 6:57am

ManuelaR from Hainburg (Frankfurt/Main), Germany

Amazing light , tones and curves!

7 May 2009 8:06am

ManuelaR from Hainburg (Frankfurt/Main), Germany

Almost forgot... congrats on your spotlight ;)

7 May 2009 8:06am

Judy from Brooksville, Florida, United States

BRAVO, Gary, for being in the Spotlight and it's no wonder!
I saw this Tuesday and sent a link to a friend who had just taken an 'album full of photos' out there. I wanted her to read your text, but your photo blew her away! :D
Then I forgot to leave a comment on your PERFECT TIMING, and on your teaching - thank you!

7 May 2009 11:32am

@Judy: Thank you, Judy. And thank you for spreading the word about my photo blog--there's nothing quite like an unsolicited endorsement.

Also, congratulations on your 50 years of marriage and good luck with your surgery--I'm sure all will be fine.

alireza from tehran, Iran

very beautiful pic

7 May 2009 1:26pm

Daniel from Kenmare, United States

a classic upper antelope image. I've only been to lower and enjoyed the experience.

7 May 2009 1:50pm

Jhani from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

amazing colors... unbelivable..

7 May 2009 4:07pm

Fliss from Melbourne Beach, United States

What an awesome shot...

7 May 2009 10:08pm

MMC Photos from THE COLONY, United States

This shot looks familiar, but I bet many shoot at this same sight. The layers of folds are amazing. Congratulations.

8 May 2009 6:16am

Ana Lúcia from Leiria, Portugal

Stunning capture.

8 May 2009 6:38am

chrissy from uk, United Kingdom

this is absolutely awesome, congrats on the spotlight

8 May 2009 6:44am

stormtrooper from Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam

Sharp. Sharp. Sharp. Lovely picture by the way.

9 May 2009 11:48am

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

Congratulations on the spotlight, Gary!

11 May 2009 4:04am

Gary Hart from California, United States

Thank you everybody for your kind words. I'm sorry I don't have time to respond to each comment individually.

11 May 2009 4:37am

Soe from Bangkok, Thailand

Stunning Capture! Great framing and composition! Thanks for sharing!

11 May 2009 11:48am

Mithun from India

Wow!! Heavenly indeed.. Great photo!! Defenitely a spotlight photograph..

12 May 2009 11:12am

ZoomLNZ from Los Angeles Area, United States

Such an awesome image! Excellent in every way.

12 May 2009 5:09pm

Pat from Hong Kong, Hong Kong

amazing shot! beautiful color!

12 May 2009 5:15pm

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

Terrific shot, Gary. I find it hard to believe that I lived in Flagstaff for 6 years (1984-1990) and never got there; I drove by the entrance a number of times.

12 May 2009 5:30pm

sawsengee from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

stunning colours & linework details....the vertical beam is simply inspirational

13 May 2009 12:59pm