How I Got the Shot: Troy Shinn on Looking Up


Every now and then, we will give the spotlight to select photos from our awesome fans posted on our Facebook. Troy Shinn's photo above was recently selected, and it received an outpouring of love from amongst our other followers.

We were so awe-struck by it, that we asked Troy to share with us how he shot it. Here's Troy's story.

Gear Used:

- Nikon D300s

- Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 lens

- Bogan Manfrotto 3228 Wilderness Tripod with a Manfrotto 229 Super-Pro Head

- Nikon ML-3 Modulite Remote Control Set

- Minolta Auto meter IV F, with 5-degree spot attachment.

Original Concept

I have been taking pictures in Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon for over 16 years now, and one image has always failed me. Either you get the inside of the canyon exposed correctly and the sky blasted, or you get the sky exposed and the canyon under. This was in the film days—sure, you could expose 9 to15 images to get the overall image exposed correctly, and then try to put everything together with Photoshop. But my skill level at that time wasn’t up to speed, so I just stuck with shooting the inside of the Canyons.

When I was introduced to Photomatix, an HDR program, this changed the way I would look at photography. Images that I thought were impossible, were now going to be achievable. So before I went to Antelope Canyon, I started to envision how I could compose the sky and the canyon into an abstract photograph, and make it look different then everyone else’s.

The only spot that I knew to achieve this effect was by Hole-in-the-Rock in Lower Antelope Canyon. I had shot a lot of abstract images around Hole-in-the-Rock over the last 16 years, and I knew that the swirling rock in this area would give me the sky and the colors I was looking for.

I went to Lower Antelope at 8:00am on Thursday morning, the day before my Antelope Canyon Workshop. I started to survey for the image in question, and to see if there were any interesting light areas that I could add to my workshop, which was starting on Friday. I was the first person in—nobody would be coming behind me for at least 30 minutes, and that would be a tour. I walked to the place of the photo above and looked straight up, to make sure that there was no sunlight hitting the canyon walls, as this would mean that there would be no detail in the spots that the sun was hitting, and I would have to wait until later in the day for the sun to be on the other side of the canyon before I could try for another image. There was only sunlight filtering into the canyon at this time.

I then took my Bogen 3228 Tripod, which I had modified by cutting the center post shorter and adding 3 straps just under the head, so that I could hang my Tamrac backpack off the bottom with a carabineer. That would keep my equipment off the sand-covered floor, and help to weigh down the tripod for a long exposure. I had to attach the camera to the tripod head backwards, so that I could get the camera to look straight up at the sky. I composed the image and blew all the sand off the lens. I knew that at some point I was going to have an exposure of 60 at f/16, due to the sky—I wanted it to be blue and I knew that the Sunny 16 rule would come into play for the color, so I set the f-stop to 16 for all my shots. Next, I took out my Minolta auto meter IV F with the 5-degree spot attachment. I started taking readings off the walls. My first exposure was 3 sec at f/16 and ISO 100. I shot nine images varying in 1/2 stops and 1/3 stops.

I also looked at my camera meter, and I started taking some of the shots 2 stops underexposed for my 9 series, then I also did 1 stop under. After I had the underexposed images all set, I started shooting the series overexposed, to get closer to the 60-at-16 rule. This is how I made sure that I had a good range of images to put together the final image.

You also have to remember that I had to keep blowing the sand off the lens, otherwise you would have these little speckles of sand causing lens flair everywhere.           

Troy's Vision

The first image I produced from the series of images was the one I composed of the original image, and it looked good. But it was missing something. So I revisited the image and started rotating it. When I rotated the image to the 90°-clockwise position, it popped out at me. It didn’t look unreal, and people who have been to Antelope Canyon would still see this as a real image. 

Troy's Technique

I took several different images and exposures to achieve the final image. Even in the post production of the HDR, I mixed and matched exposures from different series of the bracketed shots, in order to make the image come together.


The post production was a bit complicated. I had to go through all the images and make sure that the ones I was going to use didn’t have any lens flair or sand spots. I needed a good range of exposures to put the HDR into play that would give me both my blue sky, and the canyon properly exposed. I went through several different scenarios with different files, trying to get the exposure with the sky and the canyon correctly. The final HDR image was 12 images, and the sky was still not the blue you see. After I tone-mapped the image, I brought it into CS 5, and I color-corrected the image with levels and curves, letting the sky go out into the cyan side of things. After the canyon colors looked good, I made a selection of just the sky, and brought the blues out with color-selection layers and levels. Here is the original, before I fixed the sky and rotated it.

The image at the opening of this story is my final result.

Troy's website features more of his images. But if you want to learn more from him, we encourage you to check out his workshops and follow him on Facebook.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of B&H Photo Video Pro Audio


Very good and compelling image.

Both images are striking, but what was "wrong" with the first one?

I don't know much about the art of photography but I do understand what went into this photo. I just think that the original photo was still very cool. :)

I have attended 2 workshops with Troy, one in Page and one in Jackson Wyoming.  I also highly recommend his workshops.  My photography is basically broken into 2 groups before Troy Shinn and after.  The before shots sit on my external hard drive, the after shots are proudly displayed in my home  Troy I can't thank you enough!  His trips are affordable, educational and a lot of fun.  Hope to see you some time in the future Troy!


Eh not a good shot the sky is too blue. It looks fake.

Wonderful image and the explanation is great.

But . . . it's len "flare," not "flair."

Small thing, but hey -- correct word is correct word.

I was with Troy on one of his workshops in Page AZ, I had a blast learn so much about taking photos, the class room is in the field so it makes it even more fun. he is a great Teacher. I would recomed any workshop he does no matter what skill level you are.

James Shoemaker