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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Slot Canyon Photography

How to prepare for shooting excursions to these iconic features of the Southwest’s Colorado Plateau

This Article Features Photo Zoom

GEAR EXAMPLES: Key gear choices for slot canyon photography include a sturdy tripod with a lot of available leg adjustments and polarizers like this B+W circular polarizer and warm-tone polarizer. Roger and Caryn Hill use Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLRs.
Speaking of light from above, the best time for shooting these slot canyons is either in early morning or late afternoon. Direct noontime sunlight shining down into a slot canyon won't produce the desired "glow" that's often sought after with each shot. Direct lighting also will cause the reds, purples and oranges to be washed out and/or look "dirty."

We both have unique things we like to look for in a slot canyon. Roger likes the wider shots, with occasional zooming in and looking up as light bounces off walls and illuminates the canyon and its features. Caryn loves to walk ahead, stop and then look behind her, as she often gets a totally different perspective of the canyon that way. She also enjoys looking for those unique, smaller features and details that are often found in slot canyons. The canyon colors, however, are always the main feature we both try and incorporate into our shots. Slot canyons are full of unusual and beautiful photographic opportunities, and it's always important to search every nook and cranny of the canyon for those places that typically don't catch your eye at first glance.

It's important to be in tune with your DSLR's light meter, as well. You'll find yourself constantly adjusting white balance, exposure, aperture and ISO throughout the canyon. For the sake of simplicity, a lot of photographers will set their white balance on the Cloudy setting. That will allow the deep oranges and reds to appear (based on color temperature). Sometimes by setting your white balance on auto, it will allow your shot to be a bit cooler, and some of the purples and greens will show up. If you manually set your white balance, you can adjust the temperature to fit your needs and style. An aperture of ƒ/4 (on aperture priority) and ISO around 400 allows the shutter speed to be fast enough to render a sharp photo with a tripod. Play with your settings until you find the results you're looking for. We find that the DSLR's Live View feature helps tremendously, as any adjustment we make shows up in the viewfinder even before we take the photo.

Also, we've seen some photographers create HDR images in a slot canyon with as many as nine images composited into one shot. This allows the textures and colors to really stand out. HDR can be overdone, but it's a powerful tool for places like the slot canyons where the contrast range typically exceeds the sensor's capabilities by such a wide margin. Moderation is key to using HDR.

Be Prepared
By following a few simple safety and photography rules, you can make your adventures in slot canyons both rewarding and fun, and can come away with photographs that you'll treasure for a lifetime. Pay attention to conditions, consult with guides and locals, and always pack your gear so you're prepared for each different adventure.

Roger and Caryn Hill run various tours in the Southwest. Learn about their tours and see more of their photography at www.southwestphotographytours.com.

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