Winter Photography in Bryce Canyon National Park: Part 2

Part 1 of this blog shared information about gear and clothing to consider while photographing in Bryce Canyon National Park in Winter.  Part 2 will discuss logistics and other considerations during the Winter.  I’ll also share some recommendations for locations as well as some tips for techniques and practices for cold weather shooting.  Of course all of this information is meant to be a guide and a starting point and you will learn so much more about shooting comfortably in Winter after actually shooting in the Winter.  There is NOTHING better than experience for learning.  Reading blogs or watching YouTube and IG videos will only tell you so much, the rest you’ll have to go outside and learn through experience.

Cool tree at Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon in the Winter is generally more restricted due to snow and road/trail closures.  Despite this, the potential vantage points and compositions will overwhelm you, especially in the early morning.  Bryce Canyon is one of those places where you’ll get a pretty good picture no matter where you point your camera.  This approach works great for phone snapshots but I have a feeling you purchased a camera and a lens for more than what your phone can do.  Composition in Bryce Canyon photos can be achieved in 2 different ways: Above the Rim and Below the Rim.  In the Winter, the Rim Trail is open between Inspiration Point (higher elevation) and Fairyland Point (lower elevation).  All compositions from the Rim Trail are generally looking out and down as the hoodoos are below you.  Other trails within the canyon are open during the Winter (depending on conditions) and generally offer compositions which are more engaging and surrounding.  Seeing the sunrise over the sea of hoodoos is truly incredible and being among the hoodoos below the rim at sunrise, will literally leave you speechless. No particular compositional style is better than the other but you’ll likely be able to make a more unique composition and image from below the rim.

Another often overlooked consideration for Bryce Canyon photography in the Winter is public restrooms.  Sunset Point has restrooms but the other viewpoints do NOT.  The other option in the early morning for sunrise is at Ruby’s Inn (outside the park) so plan accordingly.  Bryce, Inspiration and Sunrise Points do NOT have restrooms in the Winter.

Another overlooked detail in Bryce Canyon for early mornings is coffee.  If you’re a coffee drinker, plan ahead because there is NO PLACE to get coffee at 6AM in Bryce Canyon.  Preparing for this the night before can go a long way to making the next morning better!

So now that you’re prepared with clothing, gear, restrooms, coffee and general locations, what’s next?  You show up to Bryce Canyon in the early morning and it’s ice cold, windy, the sky has some clouds and some fog and it’s quickly becoming light.  Where are you going to shoot from?  Are you ready to get out of your warm car and face the elements?  Is your camera ok in these conditions?

There is a lot to consider when shooting in Winter conditions which we don’t have to consider as much in the Summer.  Camera batteries, lenses fogging, precipitation, discomfort and gear malfunctions are all possible complications which affect Photography more so in the Winter.  Camera batteries can often be an issue when the temperature nears 0 degrees F. Some camera batteries handle cold better than others so it’s best to simply carry spare batteries and put them in an inside pocket of your jacket to keep them warm.  I’ve used Nikon batteries for a long time and I’ve always been ok to keep them in the backpack and found they handle cold well but different batteries respond differently.

Lenses and viewfinders/LED/LCD screens fogging and icing can be another concern when shooting in drifting snow or during precipitation.  One solution is to carry lens cloths, a lot of them.  This will help more so when it’s snowing or from condensation on the back of your camera from your breath.  If you’re using lens cloths to clear fog from your lens, a better solution is to prevent your camera/lens from fogging in the first place.  One way is to start with your camera cold/cool and keep it cold.  Letting it “chill” in your backpack will often work fine.  Once it’s cold, keep it cold.  Don’t put the camera or a lens in your pocket as the cold lens/camera will fog when in a warmer environment.  Change lenses and keep the other lens cold and it’ll remain fog free.  If you stop for lunch or need to go inside somewhere warm for a while, another trick is a large ziplock or airtight bag.  Wrap your camera/lens inside this and it’ll help prevent fogging, but the best option is to not go from cold to warm to cold in a short period of time.  Lastly, when it’s below zero, breathing near your camera can cause icing too.  At -15F, your breath will ice the viewfinder and even the lens if you’re not careful.  Just refrain from breathing directly on/towards your camera during these exceptionally cold times and you’ll be fine.

While it’s cold, another consideration mentioned above is gear malfunctions.  Simply put, when it’s cold things break.  Things get ice and snow in and on them and get stuck.  Everything is more difficult when wearing gloves and when it’s cold.  The only suggestion I can make is to go slow when handling equipment or adjusting knobs/tripods.  Know your camera and operations of lenses and changing lenses because it’s much more difficult when it’s cold.

Bottom line with all these preparations, logistics, tips and tricks is to help you spend LESS time on worrying about gear and equipment when out in the field and MORE time focusing on your photography.  If you’re out for sunrise in stunning conditions but it’s cold and you’re struggling with gear, conditions and camera operations, you’ll likely miss the opportunity or be rushed into shooting.  There could be the most amazing light but if you’re not prepared or are uncomfortable, you likely won’t get the image you’re capable of.  I’ve had this happen so many times to myself and experienced it many times with others.  Through many misses and much experience, I’m able to feel comfortable outside in the Winter while shooting and am able to focus on Photography.  This blog series is a start to getting you comfortable outside in the Winter but again, there’s no better way to learn than through experience.  You simply have to go outside and learn.

If you’re interested in practicing or learning more about Winter Photography, our 1-Day workshop is available on demand in Bryce Canyon and the Winter Wonderland Workshop in Feb & March 2021 (& 2022 TBD) are both great opportunities.  Being comfortable outside in the winter among a breathtaking landscape is one part of making great images of Bryce Canyon. The other part is exploring and learning which are only possible if you’re comfortable.  Hopefully this information helps some people and feel free to contact us with any questions about Winter Photography.