A Few Tips for Photographing Your Next Park Visit

Canyonlands and PhotographerProbably my favorite activity when visiting the is to take photos. Between the coastal landscapes, the mountains, the arches, and the desert southwest, there are more opportunities for photos than I'll get to in my life. These are a few things that I think about before taking off to shoot. This list is only a start, I hope you find it helpful.

1) Scout Locations
If you've never been to a particular park before, how would you know what to shoot? What are the best subjects? A trick I've learned is to see what other photographers have had success with in that area. Books that focus on the park you're visiting will usually have some pretty great shots. Study those pictures. What time of day were they taken, and what season? Is there easy access to that place, or will it require a hike (cross check on a map)? If you can't find a good book about the area, drop into the Visitors Center when you arrive. Scope out the postcards. Ask the Park Ranger or clerk where the photos were taken. They might tell you exactly how to get to the best spot for your photo.

2) Take Multiple Shots
Think you've taken an awesome shot? Nice! Wait a second, recompose and shoot again. Try a different angle. Zoom in a little more. What would the shot look like if you used a flash? The scene may have changed a little between shots, giving you more light, richer contrast, better clouds, or some other great magic. Besides, if you are shooting digital, there is no additional cost to snapping more pictures (except space on your storage card). As you know, if you hate one of those other shots, you can delete it immediately anyway. What you will may find with this exercise is that as you take more shots, you'll be expanding the limits of your creativity. By the time you show off your photos to friends, their favorite may be one of these "extra shots".

3) Be Prepared to Spend Some Time
You may have heard of the "magic hour". It is the time when the sun is low on the horizon, usually right after sunrise, and just before sunset. When the weather is mostly clear, just like "magic", the colors rendered by your camera will be very rich, making for a more pleasing photo. But, for you to be set for the magic hour means that you've probably got to spend the night in or near the park. It is nearly impossible to take that "best shot ever" in a 20 minute visit to an area. Besides, if you spend the night in the park, you'll have the opportunity to take some wonderful night shots. The moon and stars are a lot more interesting when there is no light pollution from nearby cities.

4) There is no Substitute for Practice
The best teacher is experience. And, if taking photos of our natural and historic wonders is the subject that you enjoy the most, there is only so much you can learn by reading blogs! Practice the technical stuff at home (learn your camera functions inside and out in the warm dry environment of your house). Try to get out into our great park system with that camera when you can. That one-in-a-million shot is out there waiting for you. Go grab it!
In my mind's eye, I visualize how a particular... sight and feeling will appear on a print. If it excites me, there is a good chance it will make a good photograph. It is an intuitive sense, an ability that comes from a lot of practice.

~Ansel Adams