Over the holiday season, we were privileged to spend some time in snow-covered Flagstaff, Arizona (elevation 6,910 feet, 2016m). This has become a favorite annual family trip: a time to unwind, recharge and mentally prepare for another busy year ahead.
Capture My Arizona Photo of the Day, NIKON D800E,f/20 @ 24 mm, 1/160, ISO 640
The truth be told, having relocated from the mid-west (Michigan and Illinois) to the High Sonoran Desert (Phoenix), we always felt a sense of guilt about our “kids” – now young adults – missing the change of seasons. We wanted them to experience the wonders of wintertime: snow, icicles and sledding. All these years later, we’ve graduated to snow shoeing, something we never tried back in Michigan. Go figure …
Our most recent visit to Northern Arizona was everything I had hoped for and more, especially for winter landscape photography. The night before our visit, Flagstaff was blanketed with 17 inches of snow. We had fresh snowfall each night, making our drive up a long hillside driveway quite an adventure … shovels and all.
NIKON D800E,f/18 @ 200 mm, 1/80, ISO 200
That said, the biggest photography challenge was the intense cold. I always like to get out early for the wonderful pre-dawn light, seeking to capture a bit of pink Alpenglow on the San Francisco Peaks mountainside (12,635 feet, 3,851 m). Venturing out into “the field” wasn’t really so hard, but it was tough standing in the snow very long with morning temperatures of 3 – 7 degrees F. Add a bit of wind chill factor and the very best weather gear can’t seem to block the cold.
Yes, I ran into all of the winter photography problems you might anticipate: fog on my lenses, frost and condensation on the camera display screen, filters dropped into snow, frozen tripod legs and on and on. Honestly, it was like a comedy of errors at times, all in the midst of winter wonderland. In my defense, it’s kind of tough working small cameral controls with two pairs of gloves, a head lamp affixed to a stocking hat and numb fingers.
NIKON D800E,f/22 @ 50 mm, 1/30, ISO 250
A steaming cup of hot chocolate never tasted so good after returning from my morning photography trek. After hot brunch and some family time, afternoons were a bit better with temperatures in the low to mid 20’s. Still, stepping into shady wooded areas, it certainly seemed a lot colder than that.
Our side trip from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon was much of the same: Incredible photo opportunities with stormy winter skies, but cold to the bone. The bite of cold air was most intense at the open South Rim vista points, especially at sundown - the time which every photographer relishes for that magical "Golden Hour" sunlight.
Despite the freezing weather conditions, it was all so worthwhile given the images and wonderful memories we brought back from Northern Arizona.
NIKON D800E,f/18 @ 135 mm, 0.5s, ISO 200
For some winter photography tips, see Yosemite Winter Landscape: Photography Field Notes and Snow Laced Grand Canyon Winter: A Celebration of Light.
Image from an earlier trip to Flagstaff, near Kendrick Park. NIKON D200,f/20 @ 12 mm, 1/6, ISO 100
Landscape photography techniques, photo expedition travel planning and hiking tips.