Where to Photograph the Mountains That Inspired Avatar

tianzi mountains

If you’re not a newcomer to our humble blog, you probably already know that photographing Chinese scenery can be quite the adventure. Nothing that we’ve covered thus far has been as adventurous as exploring the Tianzi Mountains.

We know. You’re likely scratching your head right now and wondering just what the Tianzi Mountains are. Why exactly are they of any interest to you, as a photographer?

There are several reasons for you to care about these particular mountains. Stick around for a while. You’ll find out just why you should keep your eye on these peaks during your next stint in China.


Before we go into detail about the aesthetic value of photographing the Tianzi Mountains, we’ll provide you with a brief history lesson.

A location’s historical value does, after all, influence a photographer’s approach to photographing at that location. That said, we’ll start with a lesson about China’s Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.

The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, established in 1982, is China’s first national forest park. Despite its historical significance,  the park and the surrounding area were not always a popular destination for travelers. They would only see an increase in popularity after the incredibly successful movie Avatar took inspiration from one of the park’s attractions known as the “Heavenly Pillar.”

Needless to say, the Heavenly Pillar, which inspired some of the film’s scenery, is not the only attraction Zhangjiajie boasts. It is also home to “the world’s longest and highest glass bridge, Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge” and Tianmen Mountain, which is said to be “one of the best mountains to visit in China.”

Note that Tianmen Mountain is not to be confused with the Tianzi Mountains which are also located in Zhangjiajie. While they’re both popular attractions, the latter come with their own unique experiences for photographers, the first of which is the provided by the Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve. The reserve, situated in the Hunan Province, has a cable car service which allows visitors to get a nice look at the mountain’s peaks.

The second experience these mountains afford visitors has much to do with mountains’ history. These can greatly influence a photographer’s artistic endeavors.

To be brief, Tianmen Mountain is named after a leader of China’s Tu ethnic group who went by the name of Xiang Dakun. Dakun led a revolution some 700 to 800 years ago and deemed himself “Tianzi,” which translates to “Son of Heaven.”

Regardless of whether or not you’re a history buff, you might have the desire to incorporate this history into your shoots.

Photographing The Tianzi Mountains

Now we’ve covered the history and significance of the mountains. Let’s discuss a few things that will affect your experience with photographing the peaks.

The first thing you’ll want to keep an eye out for is the weather. As a photographer, you no doubt know that you can only get certain shots when the time is right. Just as shots that are obtained during the day differ from those that are obtained at night, shots that are obtained during the colder seasons differ from those that are taken during the warmer seasons.

Further still, the weather dictates your attire and affects your safety as a traveler.

In other words, there are some seasonal differences that you’ll want to take note of. We’ll briefly walk you through some of these differences:


The weather in Zhangjiajie during the spring will be tolerable (with a light jacket and a pair of jeans) for you if you’re from a place that has similar weather conditions. The “average temperature in Zhangjiajie during the spring” is somewhere around 65° F, or 18° C.

Not only is the weather relatively nice, but you can reportedly get some of the best shots (with little risk) during this season. They say, “in spring the best month for photography in Zhangjiajie is April.” According to China Highlights, the “leaves are verdant,” the “buds are tender,” and “misty landscapes are likely to show after rains.”

If you are a photographer who wants your photographs to come alive with color, the spring might be an ideal time for you to visit the Tianzi Mountains.


Some sources liken the summer’s scenery to the spring’s. There is a difference, even if it’s a more subtle difference than the one between the fall and the spring.

The scenic differences are not as concerning as the changes in the weather. Zhangjiajie experiences hot summer days and cool summer days. These extremes can make your experiences photographing the surrounding mountains challenging.

You’ll need to stay hydrated and have the proper attire if you want to make the most out of your trip. Your extra supplies might just weigh you down a bit.


China Highlight suggests that autumn is “the best time to visit Zhangjiajie” because the temperatures aren’t as extreme.

While the site also indicates that capturing photos of colorful, autumnal foliage is difficult, it highlights Wolongling, located in the Tianzi Mountains, as one of the best locations to get a glimpse of fallen leaves.


You aren’t going to be surprised to hear that winter is not the safest season for photographers to try to capture photos of the mountains.

If you’ve ever been in a mountainous region, you know how dangerous traversing the trails can be. Adding snow and ice to the mix just reeks of danger.

Even so, if you’re determined to see the mountains during the winter, we can’t stop you. We also can’t deny that you’ll get some fine shots of snow-capped mountains if you choose to go during the colder time of year.

Just remember to keep yourself warm by bundling up. We’d also recommend traveling with someone (such as a guide) in order to ensure your safety.


Well, we’ve reached the end, but, hopefully, your journey is only just beginning.

That said, when you’ve finished up mountain photography, head straight to the city for your street photography projects in China’s markets (if you’re into that sort of thing). You’re sure to stumble upon some astounding shots.

Oh, and before you go on your adventure, make sure that you know when certain attractions will be open to the public. You don’t want to waste a trip to China.

Then again, when is a trip to China ever a waste?

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