Landscape photography and national parks go hand-in-hand. Learn how to bring something new to your photos of these beloved locations with tips from pro photographers.
For more than a century, photographers have been the champions of national parks. In the United States, for instance, Carleton Watkins and Ansel Adams photographed and raised public awareness for Yosemite. Similarly, George Masa contributed to the preservation of the Great Smoky Mountains. Other historic photographer-park pairings include Thomas Moran and Yellowstone, Edward Weston and Death Valley, the Kolb Brothers and the Grand Canyon. Photographs of national parks aren’t just beautiful; they’re crucial to the continued protection of our lands.
You might think it would be hard to make a national park picture no one’s seen before, but you’d be wrong. These sites are vast and full of details waiting to be discovered. It would take at least another 150 years to photograph everything they have to offer.
We asked five outstanding photographers to tell us about their experiences in national parks around the world. Below, they offer their best tips for making unforgettable images. And always remember: we must be especially careful to photograph national parks without interfering with wildlife, leaving an environmental footprint, littering, or otherwise polluting the area.
1. “It is okay to have a few destinations in mind, but let the day and mood take you where you want.”
Image by William Rugen. Gear: Canon 5D Mark III camera, Canon EF24mm f/1.4L II USM lens. Settings: Exposure 1/2000 sec; f4; ISO 320.
What’s the story behind this photo?
This is a current favorite of mine from a very famous spot, the Grand Canyon. I was on the road and had to divert to help with a family matter that took a large chunk out of my available time. Luckily, this took me by the Grand Canyon. I have been there a number of times before, but this time, I was more interested in the people there and how they were interacting with the park.
I am not alone when it comes to a fascination with selfies; it is just that I am more fascinated by other people taking them. I wandered around people watching and then saw this scene. I loved the way the bright colored clothes (especially the phone color and the color of the crocs!) popped out from the muted earthy tones of the canyon. And I, of course, loved the hands-on art direction. It only lasted a moment, but I was lucky enough to be there for that moment.
Do not over-plan your trip. It is okay to have a few destinations in mind, but let the day and mood take you where you want. Don’t feel you have to use a certain camera. Stop anytime something catches your interest. You don’t need a reason to take the photo other than you feel like it. Who knows what you’ll find when you look where others don’t. I have loads of pictures from famous places, and I am always looking for a new way to show my experience there. No one really needs to see my copy of the same photo they have seen a hundred times before.
2. “Make sure to bring a wide-angle lens with a polarization filter for extra vibrancy and fewer reflections.”
Dennis van de Water
Image by Dennis van de Water. Gear: Canon 7D camera, 15-85mm lens. Settings: Focal length 15mm; exposure 1/125 sec; f7.1; ISO 100.
What’s the story behind this photo?
This is the Alley of the Baobabs in Madagascar. When you go to Madagascar, you have to plan ahead because getting around is not easy. To get this image, we planned to be at the alley right before sunset after an eleven-hour ride over bumpy dirt roads. Luckily, it all worked out. We arrived just in time, and I had to act fast to get the running kids in the shot before they reached us to get some candy.