Every photographer knows that timing is crucial when planning a big trip and that is just as true with Patagonia as it is with any other great destination. However, the answer to the age-old question of “when is the very best time?” is not quite so simple. Each season has it’s own advantages and disadvantages and it really comes down to what you are specifically interested in going after.
Photographers with a strong interest in wildlife should definitely lean towards coming in the springtime when many of the birds and mammals will be with newborns and when the apex predators can be especially active.
Nevertheless, springtime can also be a fantastic time for scenics. The more southerly angle of the sun at this time of year can produce better lighting on some of the iconic peaks the region is most famous for, however, other times of the year may provide better lighting depending on what side of the mountain range you happen to be shooting on.
Also, in springtime, there are wildflowers and colorful blooming shrubs that can add a special accent to foregrounds in your scenic shots.
Nevertheless, springtime can have its disadvantages as well. Perhaps the biggest one is the very thing that Patagonia is most renowned for, the wind! Although the wind can be relentless at just about any time in Patagonia, it is in the spring when it routinely demonstrates its full fury.
The wide open pampas where one will often find themselves shooting, typically offers very little in the way of protected places to hide, making shooting long exposures especially challenging. A stout heavy tripod is essential and getting down as low as possible to the ground is also very helpful. One also has to consider removing lens hoods or anything else that may catch the wind in order to reduce shake and obtain sharp images.
There is one factor where Patagonia’s famous winds can actually be a plus, that being ”lenticulars”. Lenticulars are surreal looking flattened out clouds that have a distinct lens shape to them and are produced by very high wind conditions at altitude. These and other wild cloud formations are particularly prevalent during the Patagonian spring and can help in producing truly unique and dramatic landscape images. Lenticulars often form in multiple layers creating truly bizarre flowing shapes and lovely colors, especially during sunrises and sunsets.
Summer is also a great time for photography in Patagonia, however, it is also the high season for the most famous national parks, often making for crowded conditions on the roadways and more popular trails. The long summer days can also mean one needs to be up and going as early as perhaps 4:30 AM in order to be on location for the all-important “magic hour.” Patagonia’s famous winds typically blow throughout the summer months as well.
For the scenic photographer, autumn is perhaps the very best. The stunning colors of the Southern Beech forest during autumn’s peak can make for truly wonderful imagery. Another advantage in autumn is that the ferocious Patagonian winds tend to let up some at times. One may even be so lucky as to be blessed with totally dead calm conditions presenting the possibility for wonderful reflection shots.
For those looking for complete solitude, winter can be also a time to consider. There are now a couple of hotels in Torres del Paine that remain open year round. There are typically very few visitors and you are likely to have every location you visit all to yourself. The winds are typically calmest during winter also which can make for relatively comfortable conditions most days, although typically there is a higher chance of precipitation. However, snow on the ground can facilitate spotting wildlife, such as the elusive Puma that Torres del Paine is renowned for.
Any time of the year has the potential to present cold and miserable conditions in Patagonia. It goes with the territory and is all part of what makes it the wild place that it is. No matter when you go, you will want to have warm clothing, long underwear, a good wind/rain shell, warm hats and gloves and a stout pair of waterproof hiking boots for the rugged terrain.
Another thing you may want to study when planning a trip to Patagonia is to see if there will be a full moon or partially full moon when you will be there. There can be wonderful opportunities for capturing spectacular images of the amazing peaks under moonlight conditions as well.
The bottom line, however, is that no matter when you ultimately choose to visit Patagonia, you will inevitably return home with some of the most spectacular images you’ve ever captured in your entire life.