Welcome to "Photographing The World 4" Behind the Scenes episode 2. In this episode, we visit one of the most crowded photography locations in the world, Antelope Canyon.
Even if you've never heard of Antelope Canyon, you've probably seen identical shots posted on Instagram for years: the sand pouring down a shelf on the wall, a sunbeam perfectly illuminating the dust in the canyon. Peter Lik actually sold the most expensive photograph in history in a canyon just like this for $6.5 million dollars (allegedly).
The truth about these locations can be pretty shocking. Although they appear to be remote, they are owned and operated by an individual family. To get access, you must stand in line and buy tickets, and if you want to take the cliche shots without anyone in the frame, you'll have to pay extra for the "photography tour." The photography tour takes place with hundreds of other tourists jammed into this extremely tight canyon. When it's time for a photograph, our guide would push the non-photo tour ticket holders back so that we would have 60 seconds to all take the same shot. The guide threw sand at the wall to get it to create a waterfall effect for the first shot. I'm not sure what I expected, but I guess it doesn't make sense that sand would be flowing like water without human intervention. It still felt pretty lame.
When it came time for the sun to create a beam in the canyon, our guide had everything perfectly planned to the second. He once again pushed back around 100 tourists, and we all tried to set up our tripods without blocking each other. The guide then started throwing dirt in our direction to create a cloud that could be lit by the sunbeam. Once again, we had about 60 seconds to grab the shot before the sun moved and the crowds were allowed to jump in front of us again.
This experience was crazy, but I have to admit that the photos did look good. The canyon was incredible, but the magic was quickly lost with the crowds.
Elia ended up submitting his photo of the sunbeam and many others he had taken around the world to FujiFilm, and they actually chose to print the canyon shot over the others.
I'm very torn in this situation. One part of me wants to say nothing matters but the image. If the image is compelling and the market wants to pay for it, then it doesn't matter how the image was taken. Another part of me feels like taking identical photographs alongside other photographers is cheating, especially when you are given 60 seconds to shoot. But, what if we had hired a guide and we were the only ones in the canyon? Would that make the photograph any more original or valuable? Unless you discover the location, it's very difficult to produce a totally unique landscape photo.
Obviously, this "lesson" didn't make it into "Photographing the World 4," because there really wasn't anything to teach, and there really wasn't anywhere to film either. But it was such a unique experience that we thought it should make the BTS series.
After this failure, I'm happy to say that we were able to knock out a great lesson at Monument Valley. Elia shot through sunset and was able to blend car trails at night into a dusk shot of the landscape.