Photography in Patagonia
The Complete Guide
Patagonia might be the best place on earth to practice landscape photography, with incredible peaks, rolling hills, lakes and hillsides full of interesting features. You can spend months in Patagonia with a camera, uncovering new locations and compositions, while the constantly changing conditions mean that everywhere you go looks different each time you visit.
This is the complete guide to photography in Patagonia, which includes all the articles and tutorials I've written from my experience capturing the region. You'll find free articles about where to visit and how to travel, step-by-step guides to some of my best images, and a photography travel guide and map to help plan your trip.
When to Visit Patagonia for Landscape Photography
Autumn in Patagonia comes between March and May and is the most popular time to visit for landscape photography. The weather is changeable and dramatic, autumn colours cover the landscape, and the hiking trails are mostly accessible.
However, there are advantages and disadvantages to every season in Patagonia, and everyone has different requirements. Here's a summary of what to expect at various times of year.
Spring (September - November)
Photography in Patagonia in the spring is all about wildflowers and colour. The climate is mild (50°F-65°F / 10°C-18°C), and the weather is changeable, but you'll find the trails starting to open up and spring colours in the landscape. This is the time when you'll find young wildlife in the hills. Spring is shoulder season for hiking but not as popular as autumn for photographers, so it might be quieter than at other times of year.
The disadvantage is that you get some of the features of autumn without the colours across the landscape when the leaves turn. Some of the longer routes for hiking may not be open, depending on the timing of your visit.
Summer (December - February)
Summer is the peak season in Patagonia when the most facilities and tours are available. The climate in summer is warm but variable (55°F-75°F / 13°C-24°C), and there are always opportunities for interesting skies in a place where the weather is so changeable. The real advantage of Summer is the chance to explore longer hiking trails into the mountains and capture some of the landscape that is ordinarily harder to reach. If you are a serious hiker and photographer, this is the time to take more unusual images of remote places.
If you are not planning to hike far, the shoulder seasons are better for photography in Patagonia. In summer, the sunrise is very early, and the sunset is late; most of the day consists of harsh midday light. Being peak season for hikers, you won't get the advantage of solitude, though you might find the popular spots quieter for the very early sunrise.
Autumn (March - May)
The coverage of trees in the landscape makes autumn in Patagonia an amazing sight, and there are plenty of reasons why this is the most popular time for photography in the region. The climate is generally mild (45°F-65°F / 7°C-18°C) but very variable, and you'll need plenty of layers. The skies are dramatic, the light is beautiful (especially at sunrise), and the landscape is bursting with colour. You can do all but the longest hiking trails, and the best photography spots are easily accessible.
You may find some popular spots busy with photographers at peak times in autumn (though Patagonia is still very remote, so it's rarely a crowd). You'll also need to plan your trip carefully to not miss the peak of the colour. El Chaltén can look very different even a week after the autumn peak, as the high winds of Patagonia quickly strip the trees of their leaves.
Winter (June - August)
Winter is the quietest time of year in Patagonia, with colder conditions (45°F-65°F / 7°C-18°C) but also lots of variation and microclimates. You are more likely to get the landscape to yourself in winter and capture unusual images of Patagonia. There are also new opportunities for activities, like winter sports in the mountains when the snow arrives.
Winter will be more of an adventure, with parts of Patagonia more difficult and slower to access. There will be fewer tours and facilities, and the longer hiking routes are less accessible (and refugios closed). You may find that the different atmosphere of winter suits your photography better, although there are no guarantees with the weather in Patagonia.
How to Get Around Patagonia as a Photographer
The biggest challenge for photographing Patagonia is its size. At more than one million square kilometres, it can take 40 hours of driving to get from the top to the bottom, so there is a lot of landscape to capture. However, despite its remote location and sparse population, getting around Patagonia can be fairly easy with the right plan.
Driving in Patagonia
The best way of travelling for photography is renting a car, which will allow you to arrive at or stay on location at unusual times of day needed for the best light. Patagonia is well connected by road, with long straight highways covering the plains and gravel tracks reaching into the accessible parts of the mountains.
However, the roads are not all in good condition, and you'll find yourself either dodging potholes or navigating hundreds of kilometres of gravel tracks at times. This is particularly true in Torres del Paine, where the roads are unpaved and flat tires are common.
Renting a car can be very expensive, with one-way fees incredibly high, which means you'll likely be planning a circular route. Prices vary between locations, especially between Argentina and Chile: so much that you'll want to factor in rental car prices when choosing your flights to ensure you don't choose a cheaper route to get to Patagonia only to find the rental car makes up the difference in cost.
You'll also need to be organised to take your car across the border between Chile and Argentina. Rental car agencies sometimes need 7 days' notice to provide the documentation you need at the crossing, and cross-border rentals often come with an extra fee and requirement for premium insurance.
Buses in Patagonia
Like everywhere in South America, buses in Patagonia are cheap and frequent. Most towns have a bustling transportation centre where you'll find buses from dozens of companies offering routes to the next village or the other end of the country. Buses are the cheapest way to travel around Patagonia, but they will limit your flexibility and only get you to the next town, not necessarily out into the landscape for photography.
Around El Chaltén, the photography locations are mostly a hike away, and you won't miss having a car while staying in the town. Similarly, Perito Moreno Glacier is easy to reach on a day trip from El Calafate without driving yourself. In both of these places, there are only a few advantages to having your own car.
However, Torres del Paine is almost impossible to photograph well without your own vehicle. Photography spots that are only a short drive apart would be very inconvenient to reach without a car. Tierra del Fuego and other more remote areas are also not served well by buses, and you'd need to find alternative options (like hitchhiking) to get where you need to go.
Flying in Patagonia
Since Patagonia is so huge, flying between locations should save a lot of time. However, direct flights between Patagonian towns are rare, and many journeys within Chile or Argentina will connect you back through the capital cities far to the north.
However, with some planning, flights can make your itinerary more efficient. The best approach is to first identify direct flights between two points in Patagonia (for example, Punta Arenas connects directly to Puerto Montt) before planning the rest of your journey. Draw the direct connections between towns you want to visit and build the rest of your trip around them.
For longer hops with direct flights, you may save yourself 30 hours. For connecting journeys via Santiago or Buenos Aires, you may find it quicker and easier to take the bus.
Patagonia Travel Itineraries for Photographers
Patagonia is the ultimate landscape photography destination and a long journey for many people. You'll want to make the most of the time available, but you may need to make some compromises to get the most out of photography in such an enormous area.
Most photography tours focus on Torres del Paine and El Chaltén, usually with a stop at Perito Moreno Glacier in between. There is plenty more to see in Patagonia, and you may want to get more off the beaten track, but if you have a limited amount of time and want to spend as much of it as possible capturing the most striking landscapes, this is the path to follow.
Photography tours typically spend 3-5 days in each of Torres del Paine and El Chaltén, with a day at Perito Moreno Glacier. The advantage of this approach is that it will fit neatly into a 10-15 day trip once you allow for arrival and travel between locations. However, there are some disadvantages to spending only a short time in each place.
The weather in Patagonia is very changeable, and it's possible to lose several days to bad conditions. If you are on a once-in-a-lifetime journey for the best landscape photography in the world, missing out due to poor weather would be quite a blow to your photography experience.
Many of the best locations around El Chaltén require long hikes or overnight camping. It's a beautiful - but inefficient - place to photograph, and you'll spend some days mostly hiking for only one or two images. Less time in this area reduces your options for camping or long day hikes.
I recommend spending as long as possible in Torres del Paine, with 3 days being an absolute minimum and 10 days being enough time to thoroughly enjoy the landscape and take one or two longer hikes. If you spend more than 5 days, you might consider staying in the centre of the park near Lago Pehoe (or Rio Serrano) and another location in the east of the park near Hotel Las Torres (to make hiking to Base Las Torres easier).
In El Chaltén, 3 days is the least you'll need to get a sense of the landscape and capture some good images, with anything more than 5 days ideal for a more full experience. You'll only need one place to stay as the town is small, but to visit some of the more distant spots, especially to capture them at sunrise, requires camping in the hills. For a 5+ day stay, you'll also need to be reasonably fit or carefully manage your energy, as the hiking is steep and relentless. Most of the photography spots around El Chaltén involve at least an hour of uphill hiking, and a long stay will be a challenge if you are not used to days of walking.
Perito Moreno Glacier is an incredible attraction, popular with general tourists and eager photographers. However, the area you access is not particularly large, and there are few photography spots, so you do not need to visit more than once.
Planning an itinerary for photography can be different than for general visitors, and you might want to factor in the potential weather conditions, how much you want to capture famous locations or rare sights, and how to be in the right place for the best light. Check out the article below for a breakdown of three different itineraries.
Landscape Photography in Torres del Paine
Approaching Photography in Torres del Paine
Patagonia has become a dream destination for landscape photography, and Torres del Paine is the highlight. Images from Torres del Paine have become so well-known among photographers that the landscape feels quite familiar even when you see it for the first time.
Torres del Paine is a driving location, with most spots accessible only a short walk from the gravel tracks which run through the park. It feels very remote and wild, with the visitor facilities carefully hidden or blended with the landscape, but it's also easy to access if you have your own car.
Torres del Paine is incredibly expensive and fairly remote, and there are no petrol stations or supermarkets nearby. It's a beautiful destination for a luxury trip, and many of the hotels are large, extravagant places with food and tours built into the experience.
If you are on a budget, or want to focus just on photography in the landscape, Rio Serrano is a small community just outside the park with cheaper hotels or self-catering options. Most of the best photography locations are still easy to reach from Rio Serrano (even for sunrise). If you plan to drive and self-cater at Torres del Paine, planning your visit should include collecting supplies from Puerto Natales, the nearest major town.
Photography Locations in Torres del Paine
Many of the best landscape photographs from Patagonia, widely shared and seen across the internet, are taken from spots just by the road in Torres del Paine. It's not a large national park (unless you hike far into the mountains), and most photography locations are clustered around Lago Pehoe in the centre. If you were to spend three sunrises at different points around Lago Pehoe, you could build an incredible set of Patagonia landscape photographs in a very short time.
To the west is Lago Grey, a beautiful location with a large glacier lagoon, though you can only reach the ice with a boat trip. This isn't a brilliant photography location. It has an unusual angle on the mountains and fewer spots with sweeping landscape views. However, it's a great place to visit and explore, interesting for more intimate landscape scenes.
To the south is Rio Serrano and the flat plains, where you'll find horses in front of the mountains for atmospheric views of the remote terrain. Near Rio Serrano is a lookout, just outside the park, with one of the best views of the mountain ranges anywhere in Torres del Paine.
To the east is where you are more likely to find wildlife in the hills. There are still great views of the mountains in this area and a spectacular day hike to Mirador Las Torres, but it's the best chance to take some different images to the grand vistas around Lago Pehoe.
The article below goes into detail on the best photography locations in Torres del Paine, with mapping links and parking information.
Landscape Photography in El Chalten
Approaching Photography in El Chalten
El Chaltén is one of the best hiking destinations in the world. A small village set in a valley below the mountains Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, it's the perfect base from which to explore the surrounding landscape of rivers, mountains, glaciers and vivid blue lakes.
You won't need a car in El Chaltén, although it can make your visit a little easier by simplifying your journey to the town and providing a way to reach some local spots without needing to walk. However, you will need to be able to hike while visiting El Chalten, as the best photography locations require at least an hour's walk up steep slopes to get to the foothills of the mountains.
The most dedicated photographers visiting El Chaltén also camp in the hills. You can reach several major photography areas by hiking from town, and even arrive for sunrise if you are willing to start walking early and in the dark. However, some locations are far easier to photograph if you are camped nearby, especially the ones closest to Fitz Roy.
El Chaltén has a large variety of accommodation to suit any budget and style of travel. It's such a small place that it doesn't particularly matter where you stay in town, though the trailhead up to Fitz Roy is at the north end of El Chalten and staying nearby might save you a valuable few hundred metres if you plan to do a lot of pre-dawn hiking.
Photography Locations in El Chalten
There are only a few precise spots around El Chaltén to visit for photography, and many of the best images of the area involve small, temporary features which you might find anywhere in the landscape. There are incredible images to be made in this area, but the landscape will test your creativity and composition skills, especially given the hiking required even to reach the places where the photography is best.
The best way to approach photography here is to think of the landscape in sections, which will help you factor in how hard it will be to access some areas.
The easiest points are on the road into El Chaltén, where there is a river valley, and you can also use the road as a leading line in compositions. There is a waterfall called Chorillo del Salto, a short drive from town to the north along a gravel road. These spots need no hiking and are popular with tour groups and those taking a rest from the more difficult-to-reach locations.
The more challenging areas include the landscape around Laguna Capri (near Fitz Roy) and Laguna Cerro Torre (near Cerro Torre). Both of these areas are accessible with about 2-3 hours of hiking and can be reached for sunrise from El Chaltén depending on the timing of your visit and your enthusiasm for early mornings. Loma del Pleigue Tumbado is also an incredible spot for sunrise but a very challenging pre-dawn hike.
The areas near Mount Fitz Roy, around Laguna de los Tres, are still achievable with a day hike, but I would not recommend attempting to reach them for sunrise from El Chaltén. This is where photographers camp to explore some of the more remote hillsides near the mountains and glaciers.
For more details on the hiking and best photography areas around El Chalten, check out the detailed photography locations article below.
Photographing Perito Moreno Glacier
Perito Moreno Glacier is an incredible and accessible glacier and one of the most popular sights in Patagonia. Emerging from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field to the west, Perito Moreno Glacier flows down from a series of peaks towards a hill covered in viewing platforms, where you can explore the 2km wall of ice from every possible angle. This is a busy spot, drawing thousands of visitors every year, but still a fascinating place to spend time with the camera.
Getting to Perito Moreno Glacier
There is no accommodation around the glacier in the national park, and most visitors stay in El Calafate, a little over an hour's drive away. El Calafate is a gateway to Patagonia, with a well-connected airport and dozens of hotels, bars and restaurants. If you start your trip to Patagonia in Argentina, El Calafate is where you'll most likely arrive.
If you are getting around Patagonia by car and have rented your own, you can drive to Perito Moreno glacier in about 1h15m. There are parking areas just next to the glacier, and it's an easy place to access.
However, the national park containing Perito Moreno Glacier has strict opening hours, so driving doesn't offer an advantage for photographers hoping to arrive or stay on location at unusual hours for good light.
A bus tour to the glacier from El Calafate could be a better option, especially if you want to add excursions to your time there. Trips that include transport to the glacier, ice trekking and boat tours can be arranged easily from El Calafate.
Timing your visit to Perito Moreno Glacier
The national park containing the glacier has an impassible barrier outside of opening hours, and you can only be in the park when it is open. Depending on the season of your visit, this means you'll likely not be able to photograph the glacier at sunrise or sunset.
The entrance to the park is a 30-minute drive from the glacier itself, and opening hours vary throughout the year. You'll need about 2-3 hours to photograph the glacier thoroughly.
Photography Locations Near Perito Moreno Glacier
Near the glacier, a series of platforms and walkways cover a hill just across from the ice, and this is where you'll spend the most time with the camera. From this location, you can get lower and closer to pick out details in the face of the glacier or get higher up for wider views of where it emerges from the hills.
This is a busy spot and can feel crowded. However, it is the best place to photograph the ice, and a good approach is to find a secluded area of the walkways and keep out of the way. You can use a tripod, and it's a great location for picking out abstract patterns and textures in the ice.
There is very little to photograph as you enter the national park until you reach Perito Moreno Glacier; the narrow road contains a few stopping areas for pretty views of the valley but no spots to explore in detail with the camera. Closer to the glacier, some pull-ins along the road catch an early view of the ice, and these can be worth exploring if you reach them in the early morning when the light is good.
Digital Travel Guide and Map
My ebook travel guide and interactive map give you access to my private Google MyMaps with over 100 pins and details of dozens of photography spots in Patagonia. The book is a comprehensive travel guide designed for photographers, to help design a trip to Patagonia which makes the most of the photography opportunities.
Travel Guide eBook
The photography travel guide is a downloadable eBook featuring:
85 pages of information, maps and images for planning your photography trip
30+ Patagonia photography spots with detailed advice on capturing the landscape
10+ hikes for great photography spots
Map links for precise locations, trailheads and parking
Logistics, tours and travel advice to get the most out of your trip
Interactive Photography Map
The digital map gives you access to my private Google MyMaps guide to Patagonia, which features:
50+ Patagonia photography spots, separated into an A-list and B-list to help prioritise your shoots
100+ pins in total, marking trailheads, parking areas, logistics information and more
Images from the precise photography locations
Detailed explanations, recommendations and advice with every marker
Patagonia Photography Tutorials
This section explores some of the images I have made in Patagonia, with step-by-step guides that cover finding the image in the landscape, planning and capturing the composition, and processing the results to create a finished photograph.
Each article tells the story of a single image from start to finish, explaining the process I followed and the decisions I made along the way.