National Parks Are Photographers Classroom October 31 2009, 0 Comments

One of the United States greatest treasures is our National Park system. It may be the only system run by the federal government that isn’t flawed. Granted, the goal is to change NOTHING and that may be why the government hasn’t made a mess of the park system, but never the less, it is an absolute treasure. For photographers, beginning and seasoned, it is one of the largest classrooms in the world!

Our national park system is truly a system. The visitors centers employ knowledgeable people who also happen to be friendly. I have found this to be true no matter what national park I have been in. This is important because the visitors center is the first place you want to go to get the lay of the land so to speak. If you only have a few days in a particular place, you want to be able to find the right points of interest and know the right time of day to get your photographs taken. The park people are crucial if your time is limited. On my most recent trip to Arches National Park, I had only four days. I needed to know when and where to be from the day I arrived. Happily, an intern named Rachel helped me layout my stay and had some really fine suggestions about some of the more popular photographic stops. The folks that work in the parks have seen the sights day in and day out and at all hours. They can be your best friends!

Generally, a map of the park with points of interest will be given to you when you enter a national park but the visitors center will have additional information. Be sure to ask when sunrise is and when sunset is. Ask about the types of wildlife you should expect to encounter and what are the best trails to hike on with your camera equipment. Keep in mind that carrying a 40lb pack of equipment can get heavy in a hurry on some primitive trails but, also may well worth it when seeking out specific photographs. Again, plan your time. Ask if GPS systems and cell phones work in the park and where. You could get so lost in your work that you get lost in the park. Safety should be as much a priority as getting your images.

The parks are a tool for learning how to shoot in specific kinds of light. Given that your subject matter does not move, it is a wonderful opportunity to put that camera in the manual mode and set the shutter speed at 125, while bracketing your exposure and setting different ISO speeds. This is also a great time to get the feel of using a tripod. A tripod will give you clearer photographs, reducing tremendously the possibility of having camera shake. Digital photography is inherently less sharp than film. Therefore, knowing how to use a tripod well can add fine quality to your work, even if you have very steady hands.

National parks are a terrific place to work in the early morning light and as the sun is going down. While one seems to have a great deal of time working in the morning light, the end of day light sinks quickly. This will help you learn to shoot quickly. There may come a time when you are capturing a scene in which you have but seconds to do it. Working with sinking light is a tool to that end.

Our national parks are a place to learn to isolate your subject. In the vastness of the land, a land so grand that it often makes a better photograph capturing it in parts because capturing the whole is impossible and couldn’t do it justice. These beautiful lands protected by the fine rangers who watch over thousands of acres are a place to explore and let your creative self loose gathering in images what your spirit can see and what your soul can feel but cannot express in the confines of the day to day.