How to Shoot:
The mountains face east, so sunrise will be your best chance for getting light on the peaks. Don’t rule out sunset, however, especially when high clouds appear: When the sun sets behind the mountains, you can often get great light in the sky and clouds above.
Even on crystal-clear days, you’ll often have some attractive clouds clinging to the high Andes. This weather can lend moodiness to images, even at times other than the magic hours of sunrise, sunset, and twilight. Consider converting images taken at less colorful times of day to black-and-white.
Because you’re far from any major cities, on clear, moonless nights you’ll be treated with a magnificent view of the stars. Set your tripod-mounted camera to Bulb, open your aperture to f/4 or f/5.6, and use a remote electronic shutter release with a locking mechanism to trigger long exposures of 15 minutes or more. That way you can record star trails as the Earth spins on its axis. Just make sure your battery is fully charged.
You’ll definitely want a wide-angle zoom (such as a 16–35mm for a full-frame camera, or a 12–24mm for an APS-C model) when photographing Los Glaciares. The park’s many scenic lakes and glacier-fed streams make attractive foreground elements for wide scenic views. A moderate telezoom (such as a 70–200mm) will come in handy for homing in on distant peaks.
Filters? A polarizer will be useful to cut down glare when photographing streams and waterfalls, and to darken blue skies (but beware of uneven polarization in the sky when using a wide-angle lens). Split neutral-density filters will help when balancing the exposure of the sky with that of the land at sunrise and sunset.
And consider using overall neutral-density filters to lengthen exposure times to blur the movement of fast-moving clouds over the mountains for an impressionistic look.
Pack light when hiking in the mountains. Although most of the trails aren’t unduly strenuous, you’ll appreciate lighter equipment when roaming the backcountry. A sturdy carbon-fiber tripod and a good photo backpack will make your experience much more enjoyable.
When to Go:
Our winter is Argentina’s summer. Spring arrives in Patagonia in November. From January through March, high summer temperatures are very comfortably in the 70s F. Early April is the time for peak fall color and the approach of winter.
Be aware that the Andes make their own weather. Although summer temperatures are often comfortable, cold weather can strike at any moment—I’ve experienced 75-degree weather one day and snow the next. Be prepared and bring some winter clothing along, just in case. A down parka packs light and will keep you toasty warm if you need it. Wet weather is not uncommon, so bring some rain gear, including protection for your equipment, as well.
Finally, Patagonia is infamous for its winds, which can make even warm days seem like cold ones. A windproof layer will definitely come in handy.
International flights arrive in Buenos Aires at Ministro Pistarini Airport (airport code EZE), also called Ezeiza Airport. To get to the town of El Chaltén, you need to transfer by cab or bus from Ezeiza to Jorge Newbery Airport (AEP) to catch a flight to El Calafate (FTE). From Calafate, there is regular bus service to Chaltén, or you can rent a car. The drive from Calafate to Chaltén is about three hours over a newly paved highway.
U.S. citizens need only a passport when traveling to Argentina, although you will have to pay a visa fee ($140) when arriving at Ezeiza airport, plus an exit fee of $28 when you leave. Most businesses in Argentina take either Argentine pesos or U.S. dollars, and many take credit cards.
Lodging is typically inexpensive, but nonetheless clean and comfortable. Make sure you have an appropriate international calling plan to use your cell phone—when you can. Although Chaltén doesn’t currently have cellular service, you’ll find many phone/internet shops in town where you can make calls and log onto the web for a relatively low price.
You won’t find a camera store in Chaltén, so bring backup gear. Argentina uses 220–240-volt electrical outlets, which require an adapter for North American plugs (U.S. outlets are 110–120 volts). Most laptops and camera-battery chargers are compatible with 220 volts and won’t need a voltage converter, but check to be sure before plugging anything in!
Professional nature photographer Ian Plant lives in Virginia. He leads several workshops a year, including one in Patagonia this March. For more images, workshops, and instructional e-books, visit ianplant.com.