Nature photographer Ian Plant shares his favorite barren locations.
Mysterious Slot Canyons
When water and sandstone collide, slot canyons form. These narrow canyons, some barely big enough to squeeze though, make great photographic subjects—if you don’t mind a little claustrophobia and perhaps scraped elbows.
Before heading in, however, check the weather forecast. If it rains in the area while you are exploring a slot, you might get trapped in a sudden, dangerous flash flood. Even rainstorms hundreds of miles away can send a flash flood your way, so only go if sunny skies generally prevail in the region.
The sunny days that minimize your risk of a flash flood also offer the best light for photographing slots. Strong light striking the rocks at the top of the slot will reflect down into the interior, creating a beautiful, soft glow. Direct beams of light striking the canyon floor can add drama to your images—try throwing a handful of sand into the light to accentuate the beam.
If possible, plan to spend several hours in a slot canyon during the middle of the day, to watch the light change and to ensure you catch the peak glow.
While some slots require technical canyoneering skills to reach, there are many easily accessible—and extremely photogenic—slot canyons in the southwestern desert.
Try Grand Staircaseescalante National Monument (UT), with several beautiful slots including Zebra, Spooky, and Peek-A-Boo Canyons.
Perhaps the most famous slot canyon in the world is Antelope Canyon (AZ), on Navajo Nation tribal land. For a fee, you can explore its many twists and turns, and shoot its famous glowing sandstone features and arches.