The Magic of Snow at Bryce Canyon
Snow at Bryce Canyon
While driving to Phoenix from Idaho, I heard the weather forecast for Bryce Canyon while driving a little south of Salt Lake City, Utah. Snow had fallen at Bryce Canyon! That is on my bucket list, so I detoured a little and drove to Bryce City where I stayed at the Bryce Canyon Resort Hotel.
Over the next week, I got periods of snow and a huge variety of weather. I went from white-out snow conditions to mostly clear skies. My photo opportunities at Bryce were superb, and nearby Red Canyon too. I have photographed Bryce Canyon during the summer and autumn, but never with winter snow on the gorgeous hoodoos and red cliffs. I can tell you that snow at Bryce Canyon is the best time to photograph the park.
I photographed at most of the viewpoints during the week, and along the rim trails. Many of the best shots are along the trails, and not at the viewpoints, though, all are superb. Bryce Canyon and Red Canyon are a photographer’s delight with abundant compositions. Indeed, it was hard to walk very far down a trail due to stopping so often to make another shot. The photo opportunities were over-the-top! And in a weeks’ time, I feel I barely touched all the possibilities.
My photo strategies worked perfectly. I was ready to shoot every sunrise and always stayed out for sunset. Though, some sunrises or sunsets failed to materialize in terms of color, others were exquisite beyond belief.
I used a Canon 5D Mark IV, a Gitzo tripod with Kirk BH-1 ballhead, and mostly two lenses. They included the Canon 16-35mm and 24-70mm. Mostly the slightly wider 24-70mm lens worked the best. That isn’t surprising because shooting from the viewpoints or along the rim trail usually meant the nearest foreground was rather far away, though, at times I did find close trees, bushes, or grass growing along the rim trail that I included in the foreground and then I needed a wider lens.
Here are my shooting methods that worked perfectly.
Not one to use any extra glass in the optical path, I avoid filters, but polarizers do useful things at times that can’t be done with processing. When I had a blue sky to work with, I normally used a B + W polarizer to darken the sky. When no sky is present, I saw little to no change in the scene with the polarizer, so I took it off.
Easy. I used full manual exposure and simply added light until the first blinkies appeared, usually in the snow, and used that exposure. Since I shoot only RAW images, I know the first blinkies do not really indicate areas are overexposed, only getting close to that. Once I had the ideal exposure set, I had the ideal exposure for all compositions unless the ambient light got brighter or darker. I used manual exposure because that avoids the problem of changing compositions and having the amount of snow in the scene vary too, causing an autoexposure problem.
I find autofocus varies a little too much in accuracy, so I prefer to manually focus the lens using a magnified live view image that appears on the camera’s LCD.
I leave the camera on Auto WB and let the camera get me close. I always adjust the colors anyway when I develop the image with Canon’s DPP4.7.1 software.
Naturally, since I shoot on a tripod, I have image-stabilization set to off. I always shoot with live view on to eliminate vibrations from both a moving mirror and shutter curtains. I find this is important to get the best sharpness.
Firing the camera
With the camera set to live view, I have the Touch Shutter active and set to Sensitive. By barely touching the camera’s LCD, the camera fires the shot. Of course, in case there are any vibrations, I have the camera also set to 2-second self-timer, allowing any vibrations to dissipate.
Depth of Field
When shooting down at the hoodoos from the canyon rim trail or the viewpoints, most of the time the nearest object is at or close to infinity, so focus stacking is not necessary and neither must you stop the lens down that much. Normally, in this case, I used f/11 or thereabouts to get better sharpness. When a foreground is much closer than infinity, then I used f/8 and focused stacked my way to the background. It is easy. Manually focus on the foreground and set the exposure. Take a photo of my hand to mark the beginning of the stack. Shoot the first image and then manually rotate the lens a little to focus a little further into the scene and shoot another. Keep that up until you reach infinity focus and shoot the last image. Now photograph your hand again to mark the end of the stack. Run the images through Helicon Focus to combine all the sharp parts of the images to make a final sharp image throughout.
How Gorgeous is Bryce Canyon in Winter?
I was amazed by how wonderful it is for photography. The views are simply stunning. While watching the other tourists at Bryce, never had I seen such a favorable reaction to what they were seeing in a national park. The magic of Bryce is overwhelming in winter. For every landscape photographer, Bryce and Red Canyon should be on their bucket list.