Oh Man! Please don't fuel the fire!! I have been intermittently reading the Arizona edition of the book you mention and just ordered the Utah one yesterday. "The Wave" would be awesome!! Don't know much about it but heard it's not an easy hike and even harder to win the the lottery. I'll pm you for more details. Thanks.
My plan was end May but moved it to early August. I think to do this justice I will keep Bryce/Zion for next time.
I am currently planing on two full days in Antelope Canyon. Covering the Upper twice and a night tour as well. Sunrise shoot at the Horseshoe Bend. Lake Powell was a recent addition as it is close, but not an absolute must. Perhaps, I'll forego that for now and focus on Arches and Canyonlands. And do Monument Valley on my way to them.
How are Arches and Canyonlands different? They are pretty close, aren't they? Let me know. Thanks again!
I'm sure the book will be enough for that. "Oh, this place looks awesome. Oh, it's only an hour from this other place...which is only an hour from this other place..." That's why the main loop (often called the Grand Circle) is very popular. Two days in Page definitely gives you more of a chance to get good shots. Especially because when I've gone, for Lower anyway, you get to go ONCE a day. The first time I shot so much I didn't get half way through before my two hours were up; back then you could pay an extra $20 and continue shooting, but 2 or 3 years ago they cracked down. Had to go back the second day to hit the rest of it. Not sure about the current rules.
If you're going to spend at least 2 full days there, the Bigthumbs have access to nearby Owl and Rattlesnake canyons. Not as good as Antelope (so I hear), but then it won't be as crowded either. Hopefully you can get beams inside Upper in August; not sure. Lionel Bigthumb enjoys photography himself and last I talked to him would make custom tours for you, such as possibly taking you out to Gunsite Butte or Dead Horse Point.
Canyonlands - Of course you need to do Mesa Arch at sunrise; there are many obvious pullouts for views. False Kiva is a beautiful location that I've heard the rangers won't help you find, but there are somewhat decent directions in the book. The hike is more difficult than I expected, very steep and rocky/slipper down and then back up to it, and then again back. Hard to describe but it's difficult to see until you're right on it. The most interesting locations in Canyonlands are difficult to get to and very remote, requiring high clearance 4WD vehicles. Assuming you don't do that, many people go through in one day and spend the rest of the time in Arches. Moab will probably be your base for these two parks.
Arches - one of my fav NP's, lots to see and do. If you're not afraid of some scrambling, try the iconic sunrise shot of Turret Arch through one of the Windows Arches. Delicate Arch is a must-do of course (take flashlights/headlamps if you go for sunset; I saw tons of people unprepared, making the long hike back stumbling around with their phones to light up the largely unmarked path); the hike out to Landscape arch is nice.
Speaking of NP's, you may want to invest in an America the Beautiful pass if you don't have one and may visit other NP's in a year. Most charge $20-25 to get in, and the pass is $80 for access to all NP's for a year.
Coyote Buttes North and South - I could be wrong but I'm guessing your chances are better in August than May due to less crowds. It's only $5 or $7 to apply, so not a big loss if you don't win. It does make it difficult to plan though. North is a bit dangerous, and people have died out there, but I think it's generally been due to exposure (not taking enough water) and one guy a few years back stayed out until dark without lights and fell into a canyon. It's fairly safe if you go prepared, but I've paid local guides to make sure.
Anyway, not that I have any control over this. Cali_PH's suggestion about arriving early afternoon and do sunset and sunrise is a good one. Most pictures I have seen are taken from the visitors center itself, is that a good place for the iconic look? Any other suggested places/spots?
The main shot of the 3 buttes is from the hotel parking lot/visitor center. Along the main loop there are many nice shots to be had; there are many obvious pullouts and viewing spots along the route. There are definitely some locations you can only get to from a paid tour.