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national-parks-2 Tips & Tricks

Photographer Tips For Shooting At National Parks

By Michelle Bird on August 7th 2014


Photo by: Julie Falk

Since America’s heyday, come summer, everyone heads out to the National Parks. There’s no better way to spend your vacation than climbing through enormous rocks with your gear, capturing the sand dunes on golden hour, or the coastline forests at dawn.

As a photographer, whether you like capturing wildlife or landscapes, National Parks offer so much diversity and ample room to be creative, which will bring me to my first tip!

1. Get Yourself An Annual Pass

It’s a lot cheaper than Disneyland, and you won’t regret it. Instead, you’ll be saving yourself some money. For $80 a year, not only are you helping maintain the US National Parks and Wildlife Refuges, you get access to 2,000 federal recreation areas year-round. If you don’t have the pass, some National Parks have a daily entrance fee of $10-$15, others charge an entrance fee plus a per-person fee as well.

2. Don’t Bring Your Drone To The Park

Back in June, the National Park Service banned the use of drones, for safety and noise reasons. There were drone-crashes, there were visitors getting annoyed by drones flying close to their faces, there were photographers harassing wildlife. Until the most appropriate policy is set in place for their usage by the NPS, there is no droning-around in National Parks.


For example, people like the fellow who just this past week visited Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park, brought in his drone to the park illegally after the ban, and it ended-up crashing in the 160-degree Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, and sank. Not only did he potentially damage the geothermal feature in the spring– which is the largest in the park, and third largest in the world– the park is still trying to see how to get the thing out of there, without creating a damage.

3. Respect Wildlife

While you’re at National Parks, you are in their territory, their home. These are wild animals, which need their space to be just that, wild. So make sure you keep your distance, not only for their safety and well-being but also for yours. Or you can just be this guy.


[REWIND: Tips For Shooting Underwater Photographs]

4. Polarizing Filter

If you don’t have one yet, make sure you add a polarizing filter to your gear. A polarizing filter will give your images more contrast, help out with the haze, and minimizes the reflection off water.


5. Get Up Early

Make sure you wake up before dawn, and hit those hiking trails. Not only will wild animals be out and about, but you also might be able to catch some morning fog, plus the wind will be calm around that time making it perfect to capture macro images.

6. Take A Photography Tour

If you’re limited on time and can’t find all the good spots, you can always sign up for a photography tour. Many parks offer their own. You can check their website, or AAA guides.


Photo by: Loren Kerns

7. Black And White

Channel your inner Ansel Adams, and give black and white a try. I’m sure the colors are amazing, vibrant and mind-blowing, but push yourself to do something different. Without the distraction of color, people looking at your images might be able to see the elements and depth with a whole new perspective.

8. Add Some Folk In Your Shot

Experiment a little with your photos, perhaps try adding people in a few of them, but in a non-cheesy way, I mean. Capture spontaneous and unplanned moments of people interacting with nature. There’s a different essence to those moments, a new story will arise from your photographs.


Photo by: Loren Kerns

9. Plan Ahead

Make sure you research well -where you’re going, what you’re doing for the day, perhaps a list of places you want to check out, and where they’re located in the map. National Parks are huge, I mean huge, so it will be hard to see everything that’s truly worth while, and might get a bit overwhelming if you don’t plan ahead. Read blogs, guidebooks, magazines, forums, etc. Those can give you some advice as to where you can capture the best shots.

10. The Smaller The Better

Some National Parks require a lot of driving, others a flight or two, or a combo of flight and drive. If you’re flying, book your flight going to smaller regional airports near the National Parks, that way your drive will only be an hour, vs. 3-5 if you fly into a larger airports. Not only that, but you’ll avoid a bombardment of people, and you can take some smaller scenic highways for more picture opportunities– always take backroads, they have tons of undiscovered treasures– plus saves you time.

If you want more info on passes and a list to US National Parks, visit their website, here.

What other tips do you recommend for your fellow photogs? Any specific National Parks that you love shooting at? Leave it in the comments section below!

CREDIT: All images are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artists.





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Michelle Bird is a Southern California based freelance photographer and writer, with a strong focus on music, editorial and portrait photography. She is the founder and creative force behind the music+culture online blog Black Vinyl Magazine, and can often be found in the photo-pit shooting the latest concerts in town. She has a strong passion for art, exploring, vintage finds and most of all animals. Connect with her through Email,
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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Nur Sharlin

    Nice article, already knew some of the tips..

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  2. Aidyn Chen

    Always wanted to get out there and take some wild life shots

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  3. James Matthews

    I had no idea an annual pass was ~$80. That’s incredible value!

    11. If you want to shoot in the golden hour at Tunnel View in Yosemite NP. Get there reaaalllllyyyyyyy early. I have never seen such a concentration of tripods and lenses as I did at Yosemite.

    12. Try shooting in winter as there’s less people and depending on your location, snow!

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  4. J. Cassario

    Great stuff!

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  5. Austin Swenson

    I am really going to try and get some good landscape photo work in here soon, I really want to just have some cool life experience like this…

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  6. Jason Switzer

    Here’s my tip (and it applies to travel photography as well): Only bring what you need. Nothing is more of a buzzkill than walking around in pain because you’re carrying several pounds of gear that you’re unlikely to use. Leave your 70-200 behind if you’ll rarely use it. Consider lightweight cheap primes. These are just some suggestions.

    Tip #2: bring an ultra lightweight tripod. I have a Mefoto tripod that I purchased for my trip to Europe, and I can honestly say that the little guy was invaluable. It weighs like 2 pounds and allows you to shoot low ISO shots at night or get in the frame with your family/friends.

    Tip #3 (I haven’t been able to take advantage of this tip myself b/c I simply don’t have the disposable cash at the moment): if you can get into a mirrorless system, do it. I shoot Canon and am heavily invested in Canon glass, so I haven’t popped for a mirrorless system yet (waiting for the Fuji XPro-2 to come out). I love the idea of a lightweight camera system though. You can bring more glass while keeping your weight down.

    Bottom line, less weight leads to a more enjoyable experience when out in the woods. Don’t forget to get your face away from the camera and actually look around.

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    • Michelle Bird

      Great tips there Jason, thanks for the contribution! Tripod is definitely essential, especially for those night shots, time-lapse, and long-exposure captures by the water.

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  7. Steven Pellegrino

    And don’t feed the bears.

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  8. Brandon Dewey

    Great tips!

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