Tips for Photographing America's National Parks

Learn strategies for shooting pictures of landscapes and wildlife in the country's top parks.

By Claire Volkman, ContributorDec. 21, 2015
By Claire Volkman, ContributorDec. 21, 2015, at 10:57 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

Tips for Photographing America's National Parks

Bryce Canyon

Experiment with shutter speeds, seek out less-trodden areas and snap photos as the sun is low along the horizon to capture sharp shots in America's inspiring parks.(Getty Images)

Home to inspiring sights, like the rugged hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park and the staggering peaks of Grand Teton National Park, the country's top parks offer some of the most captivating locations around the world for photographers. Few places across the U.S. can rival the picturesque combination of majestic wildlife and dramatic landscapes found in America's scenic national parks. So, if you're headed to one of the country's historic parks for an epic photo shoot, read these pro tips to ensure your photos are as striking as America's breathtaking backdrops.

Ask a Ranger for Ideal Vantage Points

When it comes to finding the perfect angles inside America's national parks, a park ranger can be your ally. Not only do rangers know where to find scenic spots, they know where the animals are most active and where unexpected viewing areas are at sunrise and sunset. Plus, they can offer you insider tips on the park's hidden treasures, which will provide you with unique perspectives. Rangers can also help answer any questions you have about photography rules and regulations.

Bring Your Tripod

Most professionals don't leave home without their tripods, and for good reason. Tripods help keep your camera steady, allowing for more detailed shots. In addition, tripods are key to shooting long exposures, a technique that keeps your camera's shutter open for 30 to 60 seconds, enabling you to capture more light and motion in your pictures.

Know the Rules

The last thing you want to do is reach Denali National Park only to find out you need a permit to shoot. Before you go, read the park's rules thoroughly. Although most parks allow photography, many have strict stipulations, such as no video filming without professional permits from park rangers.

Start Early and Stay Late

If you're in the park during prime visiting times (summertime and national holidays), there's a large chance you're going to run into swarms of visitors while you're trying to shoot. To avoid heavy crowds, hit the park during sunrise, which is when the majority of tourists are still asleep. Plus, you'll be rewarded with beautiful natural light and gorgeous colors.

The same applies for shooting at sunset. Most people leave the parks before dinner, giving you more room to shoot. Plus, the best light can be found as the sun is low along the horizon (also known as the golden hour). At this time, abundant wildlife can often be found roaming and grazing, so it's a great time to practice shooting silhouettes.

Remember to Put Down the Camera to Take in Your Surroundings

Even if you have limited time, it's important to put the camera down and soak in your surroundings. Doing so will give your eyes a chance to adjust, and will allow you time to strategically map out your compositions. And sometimes, it's easy to lose the big picture when you're staring through a view finder, so taking a break can help you better conceptualize your shot.

Get Off the Beaten Path

Instead of staying in the car or on a guided tour, hit the trails on your own. The country's national parks offer thousands of miles of preserved hiking trails, which take you deep into the forests, galleys, gorges and rivers that make each one unique. You'll not only get away from hordes of fellow visitors, but will also have a better travel experience (and in turn, will take better photos).

Be Creative

America's national parks contain some of the most photographed landmarks in the U.S., which can be both a blessing and a curse for photographers. On the one hand, with a myriad of impressive photos capturing the country's most jaw-dropping scenes, it's easy to find inspiration. However, it also makes it hard to find distinctive angles when shooting the same scenes as millions of other photographers. To avoid taking a cliché photo, don't shy away from getting creative with your shots. Instead of capturing your subject head on, tilt the camera to get a unique angle. Or, play with polarizing filters to increase the contrast. And when editing, add filters or convert your images to black and white to affect the lighting and mood of your pictures. There are really no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to photography, so have fun while you're out there. 

Claire Volkman, Contributor

Claire Volkman is a social media journalist with a passion for food and travel. She's spent ...  Read more

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

Recommended

The 7 Best San Francisco Bus Tours

Visit the top attractions in this hilly city without breaking a sweat.

Lyn MettlerMay 22, 2019

The 15 Best Washington, D.C., Tours

The nation's capital has more to offer than free museums and tons of history.

Kim Foley MacKinnonMay 22, 2019

10 Amazing Montana Vacations

Breathtaking landscapes and year-round outdoor adventures will inspire you to visit Big Sky Country.

May 20, 2019

The 13 Best Savannah Tours

Experience real southern hospitality when visiting Savannah with these top tours.

John RodwanMay 16, 2019

The 15 Best Boston Tours

Get to know one of America's most historic cities with these tours.

Kim Foley MacKinnonMay 14, 2019

The 18 Best New Orleans Tours

With so much to see and do in New Orleans, these tours will help you maximize your time in the Big Easy.

Claire LawtonMay 10, 2019

The 7 Best Chicago Boat Tours

These low-key tours offer unique views of a city famed for its skyline.

Holly JohnsonMay 9, 2019

30 Cheap Weekend Getaways in the USA

From beach destinations to amusement parks, these vacations are perfect for an affordable and quick trip.

May 9, 2019

The 15 Best Chicago Tours

Foodies, boat enthusiasts and historians alike will appreciate any one of these tours of the Windy City.

John RodwanMay 8, 2019

16 Incredible Midwest Vacations

See which outstanding escapes showcase some of Middle America's top destinations.

April 29, 2019