A Landscape Photographer’s Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

The National Parks of the United States are home to some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world. The argument could be made that the collection of National Parks in Southern Utah is the crown jewel of the parks system. Bryce Canyon, part of the Southern Utah National Parks, is home to some of the most unique landscapes you will ever see, and an absolute bucket list landscape photography location. I was fortunate enough to visit Bryce this past winter and experience the incredible landscape with a rare blanket of snow. An experience I won’t soon forget. Now that I’ve been to Bryce Canyon (and plan on returning in the near future) I thought it might be fun to share some thoughts and tips that could help you plan your photography adventure to Bryce.

General Tips

  1. Prepare for some early mornings. Bryce Canyon is an interesting place in the way that the entire formation of hoodoos is east facing. This means that the spectacular rock formations only receive that golden hour light in the mornings just after sunrise. That’s not to say a sunset won’t be spectacular, but the hoodoos will most definitely be completely in shade. In the early morning hours, the sun ignites the canyon with a surreal orange glow that you won’t want to miss.
  2. Bring a headlamp and Tripod. The best moments to photograph Bryce Canyon are often early in the morning, or even in the dead of night for some amazing dark sky astrophotography. This means low-light situations. For safety reasons, bring a headlamp. Bryce Canyon is spectacular and dramatic and has some rather impressive cliff edges that you’ll want to be aware of in the dark. These low-light situations also mean that there is the potential to be using a slower shutter speed. Slow shutter speeds are not a problem in Bryce because the stone hoodoos have no chance of blowing in the wind; however, without a tripod, it might be difficult to capture a sharp image.
  3. A circular polarizer could come in handy. The east-facing nature of the canyon means that during the hours after sunrise (which I believe to be the best time to photograph Bryce) the sun will often be positioned at a 90 degree angle to your lens when a circular polarizer will have its greatest effect. The stone hoodoos have a slight glare that could potentially benefit from a polarizer. If there’s snow on the ground this provides even greater potential for the use of a polarizer. Like anything in landscape photography, the use of a filter comes down to personal preference, but it might not be a bad thing to have at Bryce.
  4. Go for a hike. The viewpoints at Bryce are absolutely spectacular, and in all honesty, are some of my favorite images. That being said, hiking down into the canyon provides you with a completely different perspective, and the opportunity to create some more unique compositions. On top of that, some of the more classic compositions require a short hike into the canyon.

Favorite Locations

  1. Inspiration Point. This is a can’t miss sunrise location and my favorite viewpoint in the park. The viewpoint is only about 50 yards from the parking lot, with additional views to the left and right by making a short walk along the rim trail. I believe this spot provides the best view of the hoodoos as the rising sun ignites them with a surreal glow.
  2. Sunset Point. Don’t be fooled by the name. Like I mentioned above, Bryce was made for sunrises and not sunsets. This is another one of my favorite sunrise locations. This viewpoint is at a slightly lower elevation than Inspiration Point and provides the reverse view across the same cluster of spectacular hoodoos.
  3. Bryce Point. You would think that the overlook with the name of the park would be a good one, and you’d be right. This viewpoint provides the largest, sweeping view of the entire park. If there was a sunset location at Bryce, this is it. From this location, you can appreciate the vastness of the entire canyon, and even try to pick out the locations and trails that you visited during the day.
  4. Thor’s Hammer. An absolute classic, and an image that I couldn’t quite get right during my time in Bryce. Thor’s Hammer is an incredible stand-alone hoodoo with a larger rock formation precariously balance on top, like a hammer. During certain times of the year, the sun will rise and catch the top of the hammer, resulting in a dramatic sunstar. To reach this great sunrise location you need to take a quick stroll down the Navajo Loop trail off the top of Sunset Point.
  5. The Navajo Loop Trail. This trail winds its way from the rim of the canyon, down through the narrow canyons and scattered trees. The trail itself is quite photogenic as it snakes down into the canyon. Along the trail, there are countless places to stop and take pictures of interesting rock formations and otherworldly compositions. It’s not a long hike, but well worth the walk into the canyon.
  6. Anywhere in the canyon. To point out significant rock formations and interesting locations in Bryce almost seems silly. There is no end to dramatic rock formations and unique compositions as you make your way through one of the many trails that wind through the canyon. Down in the canyon is a great way to spend the middle part of the day when the light is a little harsher. The towering rock formations provide a fair amount of shade and an opportunity to capture a great shot in midday reflected light.

As a location for landscape photography, Bryce Canyon will not disappoint. The uniqueness of the rock formations and the grandeur of the vistas will result in some of the best photographs you have ever taken. Be sure to take some time, go for a hike, and enjoy the canyon. I spent three days in Bryce and wished I had more time. Good luck, and enjoy your time at Bryce National Park!

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Fine Art Landscape Photographer in Charlotte, NC mattgashley.com

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