For most photographers, a trip to Patagonia is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and when planning such a trip, one wants to be sure to choose the very best moment to be there. Unfortunately, choosing when is the very best time is not quite so simple. Each season in Patagonia has its own unique advantages and disadvantages, and it really depends on your main photography goals and passions.
When considering the best time to go, we will mainly consider the two iconic locations of Torres del Paine in Chile and the Fitzroy Massif in Argentina, the two “must-see” destinations in Patagonia for any outdoor photographer. The good news is that these mountain regions are so incredibly beautiful that no matter when you can visit, it’s a given you will return home with some truly spectacular images.
Most photographers choose the autumn season as perhaps the best time for photography in Patagonia. The autumn peak occurs in mid to late April, and this can be a great time because of the wonderful colors of the Southern Beech forests that surround the iconic mountains. This time of year can also be the most “user-friendly” time to visit as the famous Patagonian winds tend to be tamer at this time of year. However, this is only a generalization as Patagonia’s crazy, wild weather is anything but predictable. If you enjoy photographing reflections, though, autumn is perhaps your very best bet for encountering calm enough conditions. In autumn, one must consider that the peak colors in Patagonia take place just weeks before the winter season begins. The weather is typically quite cool, and the possibility of waking up to find a dusting of fresh snow on the ground is not out of the question.
Another significant “user-friendly” aspect of the fall season is the shorter days. Typically, sunrise takes place around 8:30 a.m., so one can reasonably get in a full eight hours of sleep, get in a good breakfast and still make it to your chosen location in time to catch first light on the granite spires. Sunsets are also much earlier and you can typically conclude your shooting day sometime before dinner. Another advantage of the autumn season is that the generally lower sun angle creates less harsh mid-day lighting conditions and one can reasonably shoot throughout the day with nice lighting.
One disadvantage of the Autumn season is the more northerly angle of the sun at sunrise, and conditions for shooting the iconic “Horns” in Torres del Paine are not ideal for the best illumination of this most representative of all Patagonian scenes. November presents perhaps the very best lighting conditions for photographing the Horns. However, for the famous “Towers” of Torres del Paine on the eastern side of the massif, autumn presents perhaps the very best lighting conditions for photography.
Overall, autumn presents the very best conditions for scenic photography in Patagonia. However, for those with a passion for wildlife photography, it is in the Patagonian springtime when things really come alive and when you should consider planning your trip. Late November to early December may be the very best window to consider when the birds and mammals can be found caring for their newborn young, providing for endless photo opportunities. This is the calving season for Patagonia’s emblematic mammal the Guanaco. Not only are the young “Chulengos” incredibly cute, but they are also prime prey for the Puma or Mountain Lion and when it is most likely you may have the opportunity to witness a puma make an attack. Surely an experience you will never forget.
Nevertheless, springtime can also be a spectacular time for scenic photography as this is when the Patagonian pampas explode with a profusion of blooming shrubs and wildflowers. It is also a time when more winter snow remains on the high peaks adding the “icing on the cake” so to speak.
Another important facet of the Patagonian spring that can help in creating some amazing scenic photographs is the clouds! The wild Patagonian weather can often produce some incredible and truly unique cloud formations, namely the “lenticulars,” the elongated “lens” shaped clouds produced by high winds at altitude. These are a common sight during the Patagonian spring and can create some truly dramatic mountain scenes, especially at sunrise.
This is also one of the main disadvantages of the Patagonian springtime—the typically strong, often violent windy conditions one is likely to encounter can present some challenges. However, it is precisely these windy conditions that help produce the otherworldly lenticular clouds, so one must consider the positive side of the equation. Encountering high winds is pretty much a given no matter when you visit Patagonia, but if you come in the springtime, you can consider yourself blessed if you experience a day without gale-force winds.
As mentioned earlier, springtime can be an advantage for certain mountain scenes with regards to the lighting. One of Patagonia’s most iconic peaks is Cerro Torre, perhaps the planet’s most perfect granite spire and a much sought-after prize among the world’s most skilled mountaineers. This amazing summit sits adjacent to the Southern Patagonian Icefield in the shadow of Cerro Fitzroy, and it is in the springtime when the angle of the sun is just right for it to be fully illuminated at morning’s first light.
In both the spring and autumn seasons, Torres del Paine and the Fitzroy areas tend to be much less crowded than during the high season months of January and February, and Patagoniaphoto.com typically plans their trips to avoid the hectic high season months.
No matter what time of year you choose to visit Patagonia, you can’t help but return home with spectacular images, so if your schedule dictates when you can make a trip happen, don’t let it worry you too much. Rest assured a plethora of spectacular photo opportunities await you there.
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