There are few better places to take pictures than in a National Park. And, if you’ve been to a park recently you many have seen a lot of people taking a lot of pictures! However, quantity does not equal quality. With a little thoughtfulness around how you approach the art and technique of photography you will be surprised not only with the quality of your shots but also with your relations with other park visitors, the animals that live in the park, and the feeling you may develop for your subject matter.
Here are a few tips to improve your experience and your pictures.
1. Share the Trail
Step to the side of the trail when you are taking pictures and always be considerate of other park visitors. Also at times you may find yourself at a crowded lookout or somewhere with limited space. Take a few pictures and step aside to share with others. This gesture will make you feel just as good as the person who gets to step forward and take their picture from a better perspective.
2. Respect the Wildlife
Be a polite visitor and don’t disturb the animals. This is their home. If they keep looking at you or start to move away from you then it is likely they feel nervous about your presence. If you do not have a long zoom lens to get a good picture, then consider including the environment as part of your composition to show the animal’s habitat or use a setting on your camera that will tighten up the pixels (like a painting) and capture an unusual aspect.
3. Turn the Flash Off
Make sure you turn off your flash. Animals and people do not like to be flashed. And most people never keep outdoor pictures they took with a flash. Your best bet in low light is a small tripod which will fit in your pack or the use of the camera timer. When you use the timer it is like having a tripod if you place the camera on a rock or a bench. It will be still when the shutter opens and closes. This tripod is a good rental option as it is lighter and enables you to walk farther into the park.
4. Return the Shot
It is OK to ask strangers to take a picture of you with your group, and it is also polite to offer to take a picture of them in return. Some international travelers are shy about asking Americans to take their picture, so it is an easy gesture of international peace to offer to take their picture.
5. Check the Permit
In general, you do not need a permit for still photography or personal filming; you do need a permit for commercial filming and still photography that uses models, props, or sets. Many parks have an assigned park official who handles the commercial filming and photography permits. They are usually in the department with CUAs (Commercial Use Authorizations). If you are still concerned or confused, call your local land management agency, park administration or National Park visitor center, who can transfer you to the right person.
Tips for Better Pictures in National Parks
1. Read the Manual
If you do not know where it is anymore almost all cameras have their manuals uploaded to the web and most likely you can download a PDF to read on your computer or tablet (or even your phone!). I’ve guided many trips in National Parks and see incredible cameras all the time. Some people simply don’t know how to use them.
2. Chase the Light
In National Parks, the best pictures are generally taken early in the morning or in the low-angle sun afternoon hours around sunset.
3. Explore Your Settings
When you confront the splendor and really want to save the image, don’t just take one shot. Take three, five, or 15 shots on different settings. I personally like to explore the painting and panorama settings, or the macro setting for taking close-up shots of tiny things. The extra digital images can be easily discarded and usually one picture easily emerges as the ‘best’ shot!
Figure out what the HDR setting is on your camera or phone. It is great for landscape shots. As long as your subject matter is not moving, using this setting will vastly improve the range of light that your camera will capture…and the resulting pictures will be closer to what your eye sees than what a camera usually records.
4. Have Fun with Your Camera!
Try long exposures, full moon shots, set the timer and put the camera on the ground or a fence, find a new setting and experiment. While you’re experimenting with your camera you may see lots of things in the park that you otherwise may have missed.