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.”

William Rugen

Five Tips for Photographing National Parks in a New Way — Follow the Tone of the Day

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.

Pro Tip:

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.

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2. “Make sure to bring a wide-angle lens with a polarization filter for extra vibrancy and fewer reflections.”

Dennis van de Water

Five Tips for Photographing National Parks in a New Way — Plan Ahead of Time

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.

Dennis van de Water.
Dennis van de Water.

Pictured: [1] Dennis van de Water. [2] Dennis van de Water.

Pro Tip:

Plan your trip by researching the highlights so you know where to go. You don’t want to miss the best spots in the park. Make smart use of the conditions. Arrive early for beautiful, quiet conditions (and no other people) at sunrise, or look for a nice viewpoint to watch the sunset a bit later in the afternoon/evening. Also, keep the seasons in mind. For example, the forest is at its most beautiful in autumn with its vibrant, colored leaves, but waterfalls are more impressive in spring. Make sure to bring a wide-angle lens with a polarization filter for extra vibrancy and fewer reflections. When going into the forest, bring a tripod because it is often dark under the trees.

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3. “Just pick a route and look for things to see along the way. It’s that simple. Everywhere has something.”

Zack Frank

Five Tips for Photographing National Parks in a New Way — Travel Deeper than Others

Image by Zack Frank. Gear: Nikon D70 camera, Nikkor 18-70mm kit lens. Settings: Focal length 18mm; exposure 1/200 sec; f7.1; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Oregon is well-known as one of the most beautiful states, but few people know it’s home to one of the best painted deserts on the planet. This image was captured at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in the Painted Hills district. I like to take at least one major journey every year, and this trip started in Seattle and ended two weeks later in San Francisco. During those fourteen days, I visited and photographed nine National Parks and seven other NPS sites. On trips, I work from sunrise to sunset, driving and photographing as much as I can until I collapse into bed at the end of the day. While the trip included locations as famous as Yosemite, Crater Lake, and the Redwoods, nothing had the impact of the Painted Hills. Few tourists make their way out beyond the mountains into the sparsely populated high desert scrubland.

Five Tips for Photographing National Parks in a New Way — Everywhere Has Something

Image by Zack Frank.

Pro Tip:

When I begin researching, I look at anything and everything: Google Earth, websites, books, articles, terrain maps, and any other source I can find. My work specializes in the National Park Service and the incredible lands they protect, but I will photograph anything historic or beautiful. The best places to visit aren’t the most popular. Everyone goes to Manhattan, Yellowstone, Disneyworld. Yes, they’re all worth visiting, but why do people feel the need to continuously flock to the most crowded spots?

I just completed a cross-country road trip from Seattle to Upstate New York that went as far south as Santa Fe, New Mexico. My wife and I stopped and photographed a Japanese Internment Camp in Idaho, the spot where the continental railroad met for the first time in Utah, Bent’s Old Fort in Colorado, and the Monument Rocks in Kansas. None of these sites are top tourist destinations, especially in January, but the trip was worthwhile, and the photos were excellent. Just pick a route and look for things to see along the way. It’s that simple. Everywhere has something.

4. “Keep your camera turned off and in the shade when you’re not shooting.”

Gail Johnson

Five Tips for Photographing National Parks in a New Way — Protect Your Gear from the Elements

Image by Gail Johnson. – Gear: Sony a7RII camera, 16–35mm lens. Settings: Focal length 16mm; exposure 1/250 sec; f9; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I live on a small Caribbean Island, but we have two national parks, one of which is Shete Boka National Park on our rough north coast. You currently have to walk to get to Boka Pistol (this location), and few people manage it in our heat, so I am normally on my own. When the wave action is right, it explodes upon meeting the rock. We have consistent trade winds, so you can get in front of the action and keep free of spraying water.

Gail Johnson.
Gail Johnson.
Gail Johnson.

Pictured: [1] Gail Johnson. [2] Gail Johnson. [3] Gail Johnson.

Pro Tip:

In a hot climate national park, bring plenty of water, good shoes, and a hat. Keep your camera turned off and in the shade when you’re not shooting. Be prepared to walk. As we are a small island, the sea/salt spray is always present. I always have lens wipes, and I wash my camera down after each trip with a damp flannel, and still, the average working life is only two years.

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5. “Do not avoid gloomy weather! In the mountains, it becomes foggy, which helps create magical shots.”

Lilly Trott

Five Tips for Photographing National Parks in a New Way — Embrace Bad Weather

Image by Lilly Trott. Gear: Nikon D7100 camera, Nikkor 35mm f1.8 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/160 sec; f5.6; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

It was raining every day during my trip to the Lake District, although I was lucky enough to get a half-day rain free! The weather is unpredictable in the mountains, but the rain and fog are probably as nice as the sun there. They change the pictures completely. I love taking different routes, and sometimes the landscape makes you stop because it takes your breath away. We were driving around when I saw a beautiful background formed by the mountains. Only then did I notice the animals, and I couldn’t resist stopping and taking a few shots!

Five Tips for Photographing National Parks in a New Way — Travel on Foot Whenever Possible

Image by Lilly Trott.

Pro Tip:

If you want to capture a great shot in a national park without people in your photographs, it’s best to come as early as possible. I like going out exploring not only when it’s sunny but also in the rain. Do not avoid gloomy weather! In the mountains, it becomes foggy, which helps create magical shots. It’s also nice to include people or animals in your photos, as they change the picture and give you an idea of the scale. I tend to walk a lot because I want to see as much as possible and find the best places.

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Top image by Zack Frank.