Tips for Photographing National Parks

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Photographed during the hike through the Subway at Zion National Park, UT.

Photographed during the hike through the Subway at Zion National Park, UT.

I’m the first to admit that I hadn’t been to many National Parks or Monuments until I started to travel full-time. Now that I’m on the road 24/7 living out of an RV, I am for the first time hitting many locations I only dreamed of visiting before. Sure there are oodles of images out there of these iconic places, but people will always want to take their own photos. There is a reason they are so popular, they are gorgeous destinations.

Bryce Canyon State Park, UT

Bryce Canyon State Park, UT

Whether you are new to photography or you’ve been a weekend warrior and you’ve just not had the time to visit many National Parks, keep in mind these tips to help you get started in planning your trip.

  • Get Your Park Pass – I recommend purchasing an annual pass if you plan on visiting several parks or plan to stay longer than a week. Just visiting Zion National Park for the first time last fall made the annual pass worth it for me. My husband and I ended up staying a month near the park and I made several trips in during that time.
  • Research – Chances are there is a lot of great information online you can find out about any National Park you are interested in. There are also some great books and eBook guides you can purchase from photographers that have spent a great deal of time exploring the area. These will generally give you specific details about locations and what to expect.
  • Avoid Holidays or Spring Break – The worst time to visit a National Park is during a holiday or spring break. There are already a lot of people anytime you go but it’s unreal if school is out! The month of March is generally completely full of people on spring break from somewhere. Various states and even countries do not coordinate with each other on the week to have theirs!
  • Arrive Early for Sunrise or Sunset – As a photographer; you’ll already want to get there early for the best light from sunrise or sunset. Just keep in mind you won’t be the only one at your chosen location; many photographers will be there too, sometimes lined up. But at least the tourists will most likely still be sleeping at sunrise.
  • Pay Attention to Park Hours – I’ve noticed that many National Monuments may have opening and closing times. That means that you might not be able to get in early for sunrise or stay as late as you want. I was recently at White Sands National Monument and that was the case. I had arrived after Daylight Savings Time (DST) had taken place and there was no way to get in the park for sunrise since the park is gated and opened at 7:00am. Ask a Park Ranger about their rules for photography. There are some that let you pay a fee to have a ranger let you in early by filling out an application.
  • Follow Park Rules – While many parks have lots of trails that you can explore on your own, some may have specific rules about not getting off trail or climbing on landmarks. Though I personally haven’t seen a photographer disrespecting the park rules this way, I have read about many.
  • Get Creative – Since there are already a lot of images out there of these iconic spots, try and put your own creative spin on it. You can often do this by going off on your own and finding unique compositions.
  • Enjoy Your Surroundings – Remember to slow down and enjoy the beauty that is around you. I remember when I first stepped foot in Yosemite I was in complete awe. I often feel that way when venturing in and photographing America’s national treasures.
The Crack within the Subway hike in Zion National Park, Utah.

The Crack within the Subway hike in Zion National Park, Utah.

About Author Patricia Davidson

Patricia Davidson is an award-winning outdoor photographer, specializing in landscape, commercial and editorial assignments, and travel photography. Patricia has spent the last 20 years living on the beautiful Southern Oregon Coast where she developed her landscape photography skills. Currently, she and her husband live nomadically, traveling in their RV throughout the western United States. With a background in the visual arts and web development, she sets out to produce images that express her artistic vision and passion for photography, as well as her love of nature and the outdoors.