Guest Post: Canyon De Chelly: Photography Tips

English: Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelly

English: Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Canyon de Chelly is a national monument located in Arizona. It is an amazing destination for both amateur and professional photographers as it offers an amazing landscape and opportunities for great portraits as well. Around 40 Navajo families are the residents of the park and the whole monument belongs to the Navajo Tribal Trust and is collectively managed. Apart from the cultural history of this area, the three canyons – de Chelly, del Muerto, Monument – are monuments of natural beauty and of great interest for geologists and geology enthusiasts.

If you are looking for photo opportunities, you can already start shooting at the beginning of your visit, at the visitor center. The hexagonal hut-like structure near the entrance is a traditional structure used by Navajos as a home and a ceremonial space. The museum inside the visitor’s center presents the canyon’s history and there are specimens worth photographing. As Navajos are famous for their jewelry, the visitors’ center often has a silversmith demonstrating their techniques. Ask for the days and time when he is demonstrating to take some impressive shots.

At the visitors center you can ask about hiring a guide, but if you choose not to, keep in mind that you will only be able to explore the hiking trail down the South Rim Drive. Traveling without a guide allows you to take as much time as you want for your pictures, but you might miss impressive parts of the canyon that the guide would point you to. South Rim Drive offers a great view of Spider Rock and that is certainly something that you want to capture with your camera.

If you are more attracted to the history and cultures that lived and still live in this area, then choose the North Rim Drive. From there you will be able to see many important historical sites in canyon del Muerto. You will need to have a guide with you to explain to you the history of the different sites and to guide you through hiking trails.

Keep in mind that no matter which Drive you choose to follow, if you meet Navajos ask before taking pictures. It is common courtesy and you are also expected to tip them after taking the picture. Do not insist if they refuse to have their picture taken.

Sunrise and sunset are the best times to get great pictures at canyon de Chelly as you will be able to capture amazing skies that will make the huge rocks look even more dramatic, due to the shadows. The formations of the earth however are so impressive that no matter what time of the day it is, if you have a decent camera with you, your pictures will be breathtaking.


Nowadays you can take amazing pictures using your i-phone or android instead of a traditional camera as well. You might find it useful to get equipped with a few apps though, to make sure your pictures will look professional. Camera + (plus) allows you to regulate light by using the LED flash as flashlight and with it you can set the exposure on one part of the image and focus on another part. Another useful app is f/8 DoF calculator, which allows you to calculate the ideal depth of field. There is also a pocket light meter app available for less than $1.

Following are some photo opportunities that you should make sure not to miss:

South Rim Drive

-Tunnel Overlook: where the canyon meets Chinle Wash

-Junction Overlook: where canyon del Muerto meets canyon de Chelly

-White House Overlook: a view of the White House ruin, last inhabited in 1275, with 80 rooms

-Sliding House Overlook: a view of the 50 rooms last inhabited in 1200

North Rim Drive

-Ledge Ruin Overlook: view of a site last inhabited in 1275

-Antelope House Overlook: hiking, antelope drawing on the cliff walls, ruins, rock art and signs of a house from A.D. 693

-Mummy Cave Overlook: caves inhibited back in A.D.1300 for the last time and two mummies discovered in urns

-Massacre Cave Overlook: back in 1805, 115 Navajos got killed at this site by a Spanish expedition

Obviously, you need more than a day to explore and photograph this amazing scenery, loaded with history and the heritage of the indigenous population, so it is a good idea to plan for 2 or 3 days. After you finish your expedition, it can be a good idea to use the conduit app creator to organize and share your images with the world via photo galleries and social media. Pictures taken in this site are a great way to win photography competitions as well!


Jerry Nelson is a freelance photojournalist from America.  The creator of the photographic book, No Indians in Tennessee, he now lives in Argentina while he continues to turn his lens on social justice issues around the globe.  Connect with Jerry on MosaicHub, Facebook or LinkedIn today. Follow this link to read more of his work on Huffington Post and Examiner.  Jerry uses WeOnTech to distribute his images and articles, get your FREE TRIAL today.  Have a story that needs to reach national media?  Email him today.

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Canyon De Chelly: Photography Tips

  1. Pingback: Guest Post: Experiencing The Beauty Of Photography In Denver | JourneyAmerica

  2. I have so many images of Canyon but never seen something like this. This is really jaw-dropping.

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