Winter Photography in Bryce Canyon National Park: Part 1

Bryce Canyon in Winter with snow drifts and hoodoos on a sunny day.

Bryce Canyon National Park in Southern Utah sits at a high elevation around 8000 feet above sea level and receives ample snow during most winters.  This magical landscape of sculpted hoodoos and canyons glows in sunlight throughout the year and especially comes alive in the winter when covered in snow.  Without snow, this landscape is amazing and can be overwhelming to those visiting for the first time and when it’s blanketed by snow it becomes a landscape which borders the surreal.  Light, sky, fog and wind all come together to create amazing displays throughout the winter months here, making Bryce Canyon a true Winter Wonderland to photograph and experience.

Clearing Winter storm (8 image stitched panoramic)
Bryce Canyon Winter Sunrise with fog and snow
Sunrise with fog and snow – Ektar 100 Film (2016) – Bryce Canyon National Park

I’m breaking this post into 2 sections to allow sharing of more information and details about photography here than I can share in a single post. Bryce Canyon is a complex landscape with special requirements for the photographer who wishes to capture its magic in a comfortable way. Firstly and most importantly in Bryce Canyon, it’s cold. And when I say it’s cold I mean it’s often colder than you think or are used to. I don’t mean to deter you from experiencing this landscape but to prepare you for it, you must be aware that it’s so many times colder than you imagine or prepare for. There are days and times when it’s pleasant during the winter but from all my experience here, I’ve been cold more than I’ve been warm and it’s best to be prepared. Shooting when you’re cold isn’t enjoyable no matter the landscape or conditions. Luckily, there are ways to prepare for this and allow yourself the chance to capture and witness Bryce Canyon’s magic in the winter.

Snow and shadows in Bryce Canyon in Winter
Shadow designs on snow

Gear & Clothing are important to consider when shooting here in winter.  Gear can include traction devices for your hiking boots, hiking poles with baskets, snow boots, gaiters, hand warmers and a backpack cover (or waterproof backpack).  Not all of these are required or even necessary for every trip but it helps to be aware that you may need these depending on your activity and conditions for the day.  Traction devices such as microspikes can help when the trails are icy or snow packed, especially if you’re not accustomed to walking on snow and ice.  Hiking poles with baskets also aid in stability when hiking on snow and ice.  Snow boots have the added benefit of being insulated while providing a deeper lug for traction in fresh or deeper snow.  When it’s snowy and the snow is fresh, micro spikes and traction devices can be unnecessary and cumbersome so snow boots will be a better option.  When trails are more packed down, snow boots alone may not give enough traction on the snow and ice on the trails.  Gaiters can help when there is much fresh snow to keep your feet dry but these are usually more of a personal choice.  Hand warmers are a MUST in winter.  Cold hands will limit your photography no matter your camera or experience.  A waterproof backpack or cover will help for the days where you’re there in heavy snow or wet snow and further protect your gear while keeping any extra layers or food dry.  Click on any of the links in this paragraph to see more examples of such products if you’re unfamiliar with them or perhaps need to purchase any of these items.

Bryce Canyon Sunrise in Winter with snow and clouds
Sunrise after a storm – 10 image stitched panoramic

Experience in cold weather photography is also a helpful hint.  Many people might not have experience in cold weather photography which is understandable.  This is one of the benefits of our 1-day or multiple day Winter Wonderland Workshop which we’ll cover and practice.  Preparing for cold weather, paying attention to specific practices while in the field and gaining more experience in cold weather will help ensure better images whether in Bryce Canyon or other cold weather locations you visit in the future.  With proper preparation, practices and experience, you’ll be able to better enjoy the Winter Wonderland and all the amazing light it brings.

Tree shadows on snow in Bryce Canyon in Winter
Tree shadows on snow

For winter clothing, layers are the best option since temperatures can vary throughout the day and can depend on your activity level. For instance, shooting from the rim of Bryce Canyon is not physically challenging so your body won’t produce extra heat as you move around or stand still. In this case, warmer layers underneath a warm winter coat are the best option and an additional layer will often be helpful. An example from a recent day in Bryce Canyon where the temperature was 10-15 degrees F, I wore a base layer, a 2nd thicker base layer, a fleece jacket, a thin down jacket and a warm synthetic insulated jacket. I was too warm for hiking but when standing and walking along the rim with no sun, this was appropriate for staying warm. The day prior was 0 degrees F and I wore less layers (no thin down coat and a waterproof shell instead of the synthetic jacket) and was equally as warm while hiking. Planning according to conditions and activity level are also skills which come with experience and practice. Dressing in layers allows adjustability when hiking and then stopping as is often the case in Landscape Photography.

Snow and Sun in Bryce Canyon National Park in Winter
Ice crystals in the air after a dusting of snow in October. (10 degrees F)

Gloves/mittens are usually essential during the winter with the rare exception of sunny and (relatively) warm days.  There are many options for gloves which work while shooting and the main thing to consider is if they allow enough dexterity on your right hand to operate the camera.  I’ve found medium weight liners under a mitten shell can work great in the cold and allow your right hand to be fully protected while still being able to operate controls and touch screen functions.  This again is a personal preference which comes with experience and practice.  The main point is to find a glove system which allows camera operation without being directly exposed to the cold air, wind or metal of cameras or tripods.

Fresh snow and 0 degrees F along a trail in Bryce Canyon

Once gear and clothing are taken care of, you can comfortably and safely venture out into the landscape in winter conditions to make great images.  There are many other tips and tricks to help with this comfort and to gain experience in the field which we cover in our Winter Wonderland Workshop and 1-Day workshops in winter months.

Pockets of trees in snow on a cold winter morning

Part 2 of this blog will discuss camera handling and location considerations for Bryce Canyon during Winter. With proper technique, preparation and decision making, Bryce Canyon can be a wonderful landscape to explore and photograph in the Winter. It’s the best time to photograph here with low light angles and atmospheric conditions and few people. It can also be uncomfortable if unprepared, frustrating without proper cold weather technique and experience and overwhelming for compositions. We want to help you get the most of your trip to Bryce Canyon and learn/practice new skills to carry with you to future destinations.

<span class="uppercase">Horizon Photo Tours</span>
Horizon Photo Tours

We hope to see you in Winter Wonderland soon!

Eric – Horizon Photo Tours

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