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Horseshoe Bend and Lower Antelope Canyon

My kids started school last week after a summer vacation filled with epic trips.  Okay, it was more like epic trip for a week and then Netflix and soda for two weeks on repeat from beginning to end.  It was definitely time for them to get back to book learnin’.  One of our awesome trips was to Page, Arizona.  We’ve driven through Page and the Lake Powell area many times, but never stopped to enjoy its beauty.  So I decided that all I wanted for my birthday was to drive to Page and check out two places I’ve been pinning on Pinterest for years: Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon.  They were both amazing!  If you’re planning a visit to either of these locations, I have some wisdom to share.  (I’m older now, so I’m super wise.)

Horseshoe Bend is located about four miles southwest of Page, Arizona.  There’s a large parking lot for you to park and hike to the edge of the cliff overlooking Horseshoe Bend.  I read online that it was 1.2 miles and took approximately 30 minute to hike.  That was not my experience.  It was more like 10 minutes.  However, I referred to this journey as a “short, easy hike” on Instagram and my friend responded: “It is not a short easy hike when it’s 200 degrees outside, you have 3 kids who don’t want to be there and a baby who’s screaming.  It’s the longest hike in the world.”  Ha!  So . . . keep that in mind.  The initial incline is pretty steep and it’s all in loose sand.  Hiking shoes, hats, and water are strongly recommended.  Once you get to the top of the initial hill, this will be your view:

Hike to Horseshoe Bend near Page, AZ.

You will then hike to the edge of a cliff with absolutely no safety features.  The view will be incredible and your mind will be blown.

Horseshoe Bend, ArizonaGirl at Horseshoe Bend, AZ.Photographers at Horseshoe Bend, AZ.

People around us were getting dangerously close to the edge just to get a good picture.  I brought my Sigma 10-20mm f/4.5 super wide angle lens with me, so I didn’t have to risk my life like some of those jaboneys.  Though I was even able to get the whole river in the frame using my phone.

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona

“The Cliffs of Insanity!”Horseshoe Bend near Page, AZ.

If you’re wondering what time of day to visit, I can’t imagine it gets much better than sunset.  (Especially during monsoon season.)

Man with tripod photographing Horseshoe Bend.Woman in white dress at Horseshoe Bend.

This beautiful woman was kind enough to let me photograph her.  It may look as though we were all alone, but we were there with about 150 visitors from around the world.

Horseshoe Bend at sunset photographed by Melissa Maxwell of Gilbert, AZ.

The next morning we woke up bright and early to visit Antelope Canyon.  If you’re planning a visit, here’s what you need to know:

First of all, there are two canyons: Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon.  The one you see photographed most often is the Upper Canyon.  It has those beautiful light shafts and is much easier to enter.  Lower Antelope Canyon requires climbing ladders and has several tight turns.  Both canyons are on Navajo land and you are required to make an appointment with a Navajo guide to tour the canyons.  There are two types of tours for both canyons: a photography tour and a general tour.  Photography tours cost about twice as much and last about twice as long.  Children are not allowed on the photography tours, which is why my family and I took the general tour.  Even without the extra time and the use of a tripod, we were able to get some great photos of Lower Antelope Canyon.  Most of the cool views are higher up, anyway, so just shoot over everyone else and you will be fine.  (Don’t get me wrong, I’m so coming back for the photography tour someday.)

Lower Antelope Canyon is about 2 miles Northeast of Page.  We used Ken’s Tours and booked a 7:40am tour.  We were told over and over again by our guide that we were flippin’ geniuses for getting there early in the morning.  There can be a wait anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours during the late morning/early afternoon tour times.  Did I mention you’re waiting outside in the Arizona heat?  Well, you are and that’s the worst.  Because we came early, we got straight into the canyon without a wait.  Here’s what the entrance looks like:

Entrance to Lower Antelope Canyon.

The steps are steep and scary, but then you get inside and it looks like this:Lower Antelope CanyonLower Antelope CanyonHalf-pipe at Lower Antelope Canyon

This rock formation is called the “half-pipe”.  Another piece of advice: make friends with your tour guide.  Ours was the best!  Before we got in the canyon, she helped us with our camera and phone settings and then once we were inside, she would take our cameras and photograph anything we might have missed.  Every once in a while she would stop and tell us to look at a rock formation and tell us what they call it and why.  Then we would all nod like we totally saw it, too.  She may have been making it all up.

Here’s a shot of our guide with my kids.  My kids got some amazing pictures on their phones!
Lower Antelope CanyonLower Antelope CanyonLady in the Wind, Lower Antelope Canyon

This rock formation is called “The Lady in the Wind”.  You see it, right?

Lower Antelope Canyon

This is a shot my daughter took with my phone.  She said she liked it because it looked like fire.  Totally.

Lower Antelope Canyon from above.

Here’s what the canyon looks like from above.  Just a slot in the earth.  (Hence the name “slot canyon”, duh.)  We were in the canyon for about an hour.  Two minutes in, my son said he had to go to the bathroom.

A few more tips:

  • There are only port-o-potties at the tour office.  You’ve been warned.
  • There’s an $8 per person charge that must be paid in cash to the Navajo nation in addition to the cost of the tour.
  • Lower Antelope Canyon is on Arizona time (no Daylight Savings Time), however, because it’s so close to the Utah border, Utah cell phone towers will often change the time on your phone.  This happened to me several times, so I never knew what time it was when we were in Page.  Wear a watch.
  • Wear hiking clothes, a hat, and sunscreen.
  • Bring water.
  • Tip your guide if they’re awesome.
  • Don’t go to the dam visitors center to check out the dam view after seeing Lower Antelope Canyon because absolutely nothing will impress you after this.  However, it is fun to make dam jokes on the way to the dam visitors center because it makes kids laugh.

Lower Antelope Canyon

I hope you found this helpful for planning a trip to this beautiful part of the country.  Let me know if you have any questions or tips of your own!

  • Carrie YH - Excellent photos and great information!ReplyCancel

    • melissa@jubileefamilyphotography.com - Thanks, Carrie! Happy to help.ReplyCancel

  • Patti Maxwell - I read your blog all the time without commenting, but this post was so incredibly informative and fun, with jaw-dropping pictures, I just had to say something. Bravo!ReplyCancel

    • melissa@jubileefamilyphotography.com - Thanks, Patti! I appreciate the feedback.ReplyCancel

The great philosopher Ree Drummond (AKA The Pioneer Woman) once gave me a great piece of advice that I will now pass on to you.  Back in the days before her cooking show and her magazine and her hair product line (that last one I may have made up), she was a woman with a blog that included photography tips.  Coming from the world of film photography, I was grateful to have someone take me by the virtual hand and lead me into the land of DSLR’s.  The best advice she shared on her blog was to buy the camera body that suits your needs and the lens you want separately.  In other words, don’t buy the camera kit that comes with the kit lens.  So many of my friends express frustration at having purchased an expensive DSLR, but not seen the results that they expected.  Usually those friends are using a kit lens and have their DSLR permanently on Auto mode.  And that expensive DSLR usually sits at home in a closet while these friends take better photos with their phones.  The other piece of advice that PW shared was to wait until you have completely mastered your current camera before upgrading to a new one.  If you use an expensive camera on Auto, buying a more expensive camera and using it on Auto will not yield different results.

So I took the woman’s advice and bought the camera body I wanted and have been adding lenses to my lens family over the years.  If you’re looking to upgrade or wondering how certain looks are achieved in my portraits, read on!  To give you a better understanding of how wide or tight these lenses shoot, I have enlisted some friends from the Hundred Acre Wood as models.  Each picture of Pooh and his buddies was taken while standing in the exact same spot with the exact same camera but a different lens.  Starting from widest to tightest, here are my lenses and when I use them:

The Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 is a wide angle lens.  I purchased it because there were many times when I wished I could include more of the background in a shot.  I don’t use it for portraits very often because sometimes a slight lens distortion occurs on the edges of the image, but it’s great for landscape photography.

Sigma 10-20mm lens

1/400 sec., f/5.0, ISO 200

This is the Sigma lens at 10mm.  As you can see, you can get the entire Hundred Acre Wood gang, a field of corn, and some silos all in the same shot.

Sigma 10-20mm lens

1/1600 sec., f/ 5.6, ISO 200

Here is the Sigma at 20mm.  The whole gang is here, and the background, too.

Photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.I used the Sigma lens for this cute girl’s baptism photos because I wanted to get the entire Gilbert Temple in the photo.  I paired it with a portrait lens for close-up shots.
Photographed by Jubilee Family Photography

A wide-angle lens is essential when your husband is falling off a cliff at the Grand Canyon.  Silly old bear.

I purchased the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 because I needed a good all-around lens and there weren’t enough pennies in my piggy bank for the NIKKOR 24-70mm lens.  It’s much better than a kit lens, but still not quite as shiny as the 24-70mm.  If I’m going on vacation and I can only take one lens, I bring this one because it offers the most flexibility of all my lenses.

Tamron 28-75mm lens

1/1000 sec., f/5.0, ISO 200

Here’s the Tamron lens at 28mm.

Tamron 28-75mm lens

1/1000 sec., f/5.0 ISO 200

Tamron lens at 48mm.

Tamron 28-75mm lens

1/1000 sec., f/5.0, ISO 200

Tamron lens at 75mm.

Photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.

This is the lens I go to when I want to include the whole setting in a family portrait, such as this shot from the Farm at Agritopia.

Nakalele Blowhole in Maui, HI

I took the Tamron lens to Maui earlier this year and was happy to get a shot of the Nakalele Blowhole without having to get as close as that jabroni on the cliff.  Didn’t he watch the safety video on the hotel T.V. channel?  Danger, dude!

When I finally purchased my first DSLR, the NIkon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm 1.8 was my first lens.  (Ahhh.  Memories . . .)  This lens is often called the “Nifty Fifty”.  For a pretty great price (as far as lenses go) you can achieve that beautiful blurry background known as bokeh.  The aperture is super wide and lets in all the light, making photos look light and airy and pretty pretty pretty.  This is what’s known as a prime lens.  That means it has a fixed focal length, so you can’t zoom in or out.  This is my go-to lens for indoor shots and group shots.

Nikon 50mm lens

1/1000 sec., f/5.0, ISO 200

As you can see, you can get a nice shot of the group, but not much of the background.

Photographed bu Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.

Usually I can get just enough of the background with my 50mm to make it interesting.

I saved the best for last!  The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm 1.8 is my absolute favorite lens for portraits.  It’s also a prime lens and the bokeh is even better than with the 50mm.  It’s my go-to lens for all of my portrait sessions.  I find it’s a little too tight for photographing people indoors, though.

Nikon Nikkor 85mm lens

1/400 sec., f/5.0, ISO 200

As you can see, the 85mm is so tight, only a few of the Hundred Acre Wood friends can fit in the photo.  Which is fine if Rabbit is being annoying (always).

Photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.Photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.Photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.

The key to getting handsome photos of this young man in downtown Gilbert was my magical 85mm.  Also, it was 115 degrees outside, so the streets were empty.  What am I doing in Arizona in the summer?

For more photography basics, check out my Pinterest board Photography 101!


Congratulations!  Today is the day I do you a solid and make family pictures a little bit easier.  The other day a friend of mine said to me, “I love the look of coordinated clothes in family pictures and I would love to be able to do that, but I don’t know where to start.”  This can be a major source of stress for clients and I get it.  Okay, no I don’t.  I secretly LOVE finding coordinating clothes for my family to wear for family portraits.  To me it’s like a fun clothing version of Master Chef.  “Take these three colors and find coordinating outfits for your whole family in 30 minutes!  Ready: GO!”  I would kill it in that competition.  Hopefully, by the end of this blog post you will have the tools you need to kill it on Master Wardrobe Coordinator Season 1 (Working title.), too.  Here are my four simple steps for finding your perfect portrait wardrobe:

Step 1: Pick a Style  (Consider the setting.  Consider the season.  Consider the reason.)

Have you ever seen a couple out on a date and it’s clear (based on their wardrobe) that one of them had no idea where they were going on their date?  That person usually looks super annoyed and out of place.  The same thing can happen with your family portraits if everyone in your group isn’t wearing the same style of clothing.  For example, if you’re wearing an evening gown, your daughter will look like a slob in shorts and a t-shirt.  If you’re not sure what style to choose, consider the setting.  Would casual clothing be appropriate in your portrait location?  Consider the season.  Is it sweater weather or sweating weather?  Consider the reason for your portraits.  Do you want them hanging on the wall?  Will your style clash with the decor?  Will the portraits be used for Christmas cards?  Answering these questions will help you narrow down your options very quickly.

Step 2: Pick a Color Scheme

There are several ways to decide a color scheme.  Again I would encourage you to consider the setting, season, and reason.  What colors are popular right now?  What colors might everyone already have in their wardrobe?  It may work best to just pick three colors and go from there.  Or maybe you have an outfit in mind for yourself and you want everyone else to match it.  There are a lot of helpful tools on Pinterest (including my What To Wear For Family Portraits board) and sometimes inspiration can strike when you just type in some colors you like.  If you have a large group, sometimes it’s a good idea to just stick with a wide range of colors like jewel tones, pastels, or primary colors.  One thing to avoid is everyone wearing the exact same outfit.  (For instance, red t-shirts and blue jeans.)  A matchy-matchy wardrobe will create more of a corporate retreat or summer camp look than a family portrait look.

Family photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Topsail Island, NC

3. Pull From What You Have and Fill in the Blanks

Once you have decided on a style and color scheme, raid your closets for anything that fits your criteria.  You may be surprised by what you already have.  Take a close look and figure out what’s missing.  Then the best part: go shopping!  Shopping is much easier when you know exactly what you’re looking for.  It’s a good idea to start this process a couple of weeks out from your portrait session so you have time to have items shipped to you.

Family photographed in Gilbert, AZ by jubilee family photography.

4. Lay Everything Out Together

I like to lay everyone’s wardrobe out on the floor or my bed and see how it looks together.  Sometimes I end up switching things up because it just doesn’t quite mesh.  Don’t forget the shoes!   Take a picture and send it to others who will be in the family portrait (such as extended family or older children no longer in your home).  Have them do the same, if they want.  It’s helpful and reassuring to know that you’re not going to clash with the rest of the group.  At the very least, send it to your photographer so she can start visualizing your session.

Family photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.

Ta-done!  You did it!  Just for fun, I dare you to go try these four steps right now.  I’ll bet you could have the perfect wardrobe picked out in less than a half hour.

Are you ready for a few more tips?  Because I have them.  Tips guaranteed to have you and your family looking your best.

Tip#1: Avoid all logos and words and try to keep prints at a minimum.  Usually a 3 to 1 ratio of those wearing solids to those wearing prints is a good rule of thumb.  Otherwise, the photo could look too messy.  I like to have at least one person in the group wear a print that includes all of the colors in the color scheme.

Family Photo by Jubilee Family Photography.

Tip #2: Grown men look most masculine in fitted pants and close-toed shoes.  Shorts and flip flops are really only appropriate for beach portraits.  Women tend to look more elongated and have better posture in heels.  (Consider the location and whether or not you will be able to walk comfortably in heels.)

Family and dog photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.

Tip #3: Consider your insecurities.  When I see a photo of myself, my eye immediately goes to those areas about which I am most insecure.  Everyone does it.  I know that even if the lighting is great and all of our wardrobe choices are fantastic, I’m not going to print a picture of me looking large and in charge.  So, when you’re choosing your portrait wardrobe, consider your insecurities.  Not a fan of your upper arms?  Avoid sleeveless or capped-sleeve tops that will draw attention to your arms.  Insecure about your belly?  A suit jacket is a nice way to hide your belly and class things up.

Family photographed in Litchfield Park by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.

Tip#4: Go neutral.  If the idea of finding the perfect colors to fit your wall at home, your grandmother’s mantel, your Christmas card, and your son’s graduation announcement is too overwhelming, go neutral.  This is an especially good idea if your setting is very colorful.

Family portrait by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.

Tip #5: Go black and white.  The easiest family portrait session we ever had was when we all wore our favorite sweaters and I made the photos black and white.  I stopped after step 1!  It was so freeing!


The truth is that this is not a life or death decision.  Sure, it’s lasting and you’ll be creating memories, but hopefully those memories will be of the joy of being together and not the stress of agreeing on a color scheme.  With my four simple steps, I hope you’ll find it much easier than creating the perfect seven course meal from a mystery box of ingredients.  I believe in you!  Let the games begin!

  • liz - love, love, loved these tips!! Thank you for taking the time to write them down! I especially loves the extra tips, so good!ReplyCancel

I’m so excited to share this next location with you because unlike my previous favorite locations, this one is a secret.  It’s so secret, I can’t even tell you where it is.  I can’t tell you, because I like secrets and also because it’s private property and that’s just bad manners.  Some friends of mine own a pistachio grove and they use the land for bonfires and parties and cub scout meets and such.  It’s like the Room of Requirement.  They have graciously agreed to let me shoot portrait sessions in their lot, provided it’s not filled with cub scouts or on fire.

This is the perfect location if you are looking for something “rustic”.  There’s a large wood pile, a treehouse, random bales of hay in beautifully lit corners, and it’s all lined with pistachio trees.  One word of warning, the lot is irrigated once a month and, therefore, filled with water.  Timing is everything.  Also, it’s pretty barren in the dead of winter so if you want full trees I suggest any other season.

Family in pistachio grove photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.Young girl photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.Child photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.Family in pistachio grove photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.Couple photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.Family photographed in Gilbert, AZ by Jubilee Family Photography.Family photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.Large family by wood pile photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.Father and sons on wood pile photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.Child photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.Boys in rustic setting photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZHappy child photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.Family photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.


Nichols Park (or “the pit behind Walgreens”, as I affectionately call it) is located on the corner of Higley and Guadalupe in Gilbert, Arizona and is a very popular spot for portraits.  VERY popular.  My husband once had a work colleague from Scottsdale say their family was headed to Nichols Park for their family pictures.  That’s a long drive for the pit behind Walgreens, in my opinion, but that’s how popular it is.  Nichols Park is filled with trees and shrubbery and in the late summer is basically one huge field of green grass and that’s hard to come by in this area.  Because it’s a retention basin, you can almost always find shade.  (Also hard to come by in this area.)  The park is fantastic for large families and can even accommodate a multi-family portrait session.

A few warnings about Nichols Park: 1) My daughter and I were once attacked by a huge swarm of mosquitoes during a portrait session there.  It was traumatic.  I don’t want to talk about it.  2) There’s a wonderful grove of trees and shrubbery on the Southern edge of the park that’s great for shooting, unless it’s irrigation time, in which case it’s a disgusting muddy swamp.  If you want to use that grove, check it out a few hours beforehand.  3) Did I mention Nichols Park is popular?  During the month of November there will ALWAYS be at least five other portrait sessions taking place in the park and you will have to throw elbows or have a dance-off to claim the best spots.  I highly recommend this area for literally ANY month but November.

Family Photo by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.Ballerina photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.Ballerina in purple photographed by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.young boy on fatherCloseup of blond little girl in white sweater.Family portrait. Gilbert, AZ. Jubilee Family Photography.Family portrait. Jubilee Family Photography.Child portrait by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.Family photo. Jubilee Family Photography Gilbert, AZ.Child photography by Jubilee Family Photography in Gilbert, AZ.