Tips for Photographing National Parks

National parks, along with being natural treasures, are a gift to photographers of all levels

Home to inspiring sights, like the rugged hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park, the big trees of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, and the natural stone arches and other landforms of Arches National Park, national parks offer some of the most captivating locations around the world for photographers.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before heading to a national park, consider the following tips to ensure your photos are as striking as America’s breathtaking backdrops.

Few places across the U.S. and Canada can rival the picturesque combination of majestic wildlife and dramatic landscapes found in national parks.

Ask a Park Ranger for Ideal Vantage Points

Sugarlands Visitor Center, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When it comes to finding the perfect angles inside the national parks, a park ranger can be your greatest friend. Not only do rangers know where to find scenic spots, they know where and when the animals are most active and the location of the best vantage points for sunrise and sunset photos. This information is particularly beneficial when visiting the mountain parks of the West.

Park rangers can also offer insider tips on the park’s lesser known hidden treasures, which will provide you with unique perspectives.

Start Early: Get Out Before Sunrise

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is when most people are still sleeping, and the animals are up and out. The morning mist still lingers, and, if lucky, some ground fog may add to the atmosphere. In addition, the wind is usually calm at this time, making for easy great reflections macro shooting.

Plus, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful natural light and gorgeous colors.

Stay Out Late

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The same applies for shooting at sunset. The best light for photography can be found as the sun is low along the horizon (golden hour) when the light is like butter and everything looks great.

At this time, abundant wildlife can often be found roaming and grazing.

Stay Until Dark for Low-Light Scenes

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the new digital cameras, we can just about shoot in the dark. Animals come out as darkness approaches, and we can get these shots of them by turning our ISO up, making the cameras more sensitive to light.

Enjoy Your Surroundings

Canyon de Chelly Nationa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved l Monument

Take time to enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of the park. During the middle part of the day, when the quality of light is poor, put your camera away, and get out and hike. Keep in mind future compositions, but mostly enjoy your majestic surroundings.

Stray off the Beaten Path

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead of staying in your toad or tow vehicle or on a ranger guided tour, hit the trails on your own. The countries’ national parks offer thousands of miles of maintained hiking trails that take you into the mountains, forests, valleys, and canyons that make each one unique. You’ll not only get away from hordes of visitors, but will also have a better travel experience— and in turn, will take better photos.

Try a Polarizing Filter

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A polarizing filter increases contrast, takes haze out of the atmosphere, and takes reflections off water surfaces. The filter needs to be turned while you look through the camera to see the effects. It takes away almost two stops of light, but you can always turn up the ISO to compensate.

Be Creative

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National parks contain some of the most photographed landmarks in the U.S. and Canada which can be both a blessing and a curse. With a myriad of impressive photos capturing iconic landscapes, it’s easy to find inspiration. However, it also becomes difficult to find distinctive angles when shooting the same scenes as millions of other photographers.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

When photographing, turn around, your best picture might be behind you.

—David Huffines