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.

Winter Photography in Bryce Canyon National Park: Part 1

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