I have been photographing in Patagonia for 5 years, specifically as a resident photographer for EcoCamp Patagonia in the very heart of Torres del Paine National Park. As you may know, this is one of the best places to photograph on Earth, with otherworldly granite peaks, lots of wildlife and landscapes that change constantly.
This for me was a life-changing experience. I started as an amateur (yet passionate) photographer and ended up being a professional photographer. I never went to a photography school : Patagonia was my school (it is still). Its complexity of lights and backgrounds makes it the ultimate place to shoot in South America. And maybe in the world. All photographers will have something to immortalize, whether it is fauna, flora, portraits or landscapes. Patagonia is a photographers’ paradise, but I’ll show you some interesting stuff I’ve learnt if you plan to travel there.
1. The Best Time to Travel to Patagonia
My best advice is “Avoid Peak Season” (December to February). Not only for the crowds: the light is so strong it may “burn” your pictures and simply make them look poor in lights. My favorite month is April. But let’s be more specific.
For Wildlife: come in Winter (May to early September) or Fall (late March to May). There are less crowds and elusive animals like the Puma or the South Andean Deer tend to come closer to the roads and trails. Note : days are shorter and there is a higher probability or rainfall/snowfall (shorter days are in July with about 7 hours of daylight). Note 2 : Spring months (October and November) are also great especially if you plan to shoot mating animals or animals giving birth.
For Reflections: Fall (March to May) or Winter (May to September). There is much less wind than in Summer (in Summer months you may experience windgusts up to 150 km/h). Photographying the Torres del Paine mountain range reflecting in Pehoe Lake or Laguna Amarga is a must for every landscape photographer!
For the Outdoors: Summer (November to February). With up to 17 hours of daylight December, Summer months offer stunning photography opportunities whether you want to shoot hiking, kayaking, horseback riding or fishing. And no need to rush here.
For sunrises and sunsets: late March to May. In Autumn sunrises are intense (if you’re lucky with the weather). While in Summer you may need to sacrifice your whole night to see sunrise (at 4am in late December), you should see this incredible natural event every day in Fall. Also, the colors of both sunrises and sunsets tend to be more unique in Autumn months (red / pink).
For Flora: Spring (mid-October to early December). Spring bloom in Patagonia is Heaven on Earth, with orchids and beautiful endemic flowers blooming everywhere. And you’ve got the best background! If you’re looking for mushrooms, come in Autumn.
For the colors: April. This month (especially mid-April) is by far the most colorful time of the year. If you drive through the Carretera Austral or hike the W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park, you will never believe your eyes. Lenga Trees have a pretty awesome orange, and the mix of green, yellow, orange and red leaves makes it a paradise for tree lovers. Another good choice is November and early December, when the trees turn green.
For stars photography: Autumn, Winter and early Fall have the longest nights. However no one can guarantee you will have a clear sky, and clear nights are actually pretty rare in Patagonia. But if you’re lucky enough and make sure to check the moon calendar before coming, you may be able to capture both the mountains and the Milky Way in one shot.
2. What Lens Should I Bring?
The lens totally depends on the kind of photography you usually perform. But remember that: trails in Patagonia can be tough so you don’t want to have a heavy zoom lens with you if you undertake a trek. No 600mm on the W Trek. However, no problem if you plan to drive around or do short walks.
I recommend a good zoom lens (400 to 600mm) if you want to shoot wildlife, especially for Pumas. You don’t want to get too close to wild animals, both for matters of security and respect.
I recommend a wide angle lens (I use a 10-24mm) for long exposures (Patagonia is a long exposures’ paradise: there are epic waterfalls and starry nights) and landscape photography. I personally also use a 50mm fixed lens for portraits. But there’s no good advice for lens: just take the ones you like!
3. I Want to Shoot Pumas... What Should I do?
The best place to spot pumas is (by far) Torres del Paine National Park. It has the greatest density of both Pumas and guanacos (its favorite prey). That’s a wildlife paradise. These wild animals are easier to spot in Low Season (Autumn & Winter) because they don’t like the crowds (who does?). Also, they are more active at sunrise and sunset, so you may have to wake up early if you want to see them. The best area to spot pumas is in the Patagonian steppe (“pampa”), because they have lots of food (poor guanacos)!
Now, remember you should always keep a security and respect distance to these animals and never leave the trails. If you want to make sure to get the best shots, you can take part in a Puma Tracking program with a professional photographer and puma tracker.
4. What are the Best Spots for Landscape Photography?
Impossible to answer that question. There are incredible places all around the Carretera Austral (Chile), Navarino Island offers epic scenery for hiking pictures while you will find photogenic lakes around Bariloche (Argentina). But if I had to pick the 2 best areas, I would definitely choose Torres del Paine National Park (Chile) and Los Glaciares National Park (Argentina). Here are some more specific spots that will make every landscape photographer go crazy :
- Perito Moreno Glacier (Argentina)
- Pehoe Lake (Chile)
- Baker River area (Chile)
- Queulat Hanging Glacier (Chile)
- Laguna de los Tres (Argentina)
- Laguna Amarga (Chile)
- Grey Glacier (Chile)
- Marble Caves (Chile)
- Cerro Castillo Reserve (Chile)
If you have any recommendation, feel free to leave a comment!
5. How do the Weather Conditions Interfere with Photography?
You can experience 4 seasons in a day while in Patagonia. Southern Patagonia is (in)famous for its strong windgusts, especially in Summer. This means it can be tough if you’re a time-lapse photographer and you should consider a good tripod. Also, beware when you change your lens : I usually have to clean my sensor twice a year. If you want more information on the weather in Patagonia, check this out.
6. What Gear do you Use?
I personally use a Nikon D750 with the following lenses: Nikkor 10-24mm, 70-300mm and 50mm f1/4. I use a ND filter (ND 64 | 77mm) and a Manfrotto tripod for long exposures and timelapse photography.
Questions? Leave a comment!
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