Traveling the American West in an RV full time has allowed me to discover incredible landscape photography locations. This is not an extensive list but it includes some of my favorite areas for landscape photography due to their variety of photographic opportunities.
Death Valley National Park
The name of this park does not immediately evoke wanderlust. Many mistakenly believe Death Valley is simply a vast desert with nothing interesting to offer except exceptionally hot temperatures and this could not be further from the truth.
First-time visitors are overwhelmed by the variety of Death Valley, from the salt polygons formed in Badwater Basin, the vast array of sensually rolling sand dunes, mud cracks, the mysterious sailing stones on the Racetrack, to the soaring mountains surrounding the valley.
The best times to photograph Death Valley is December through February when temperatures are pleasant or in March when, approximately once a decade, a super bloom occurs and the vast desert landscape erupts with fields of wildflowers. I highly recommend the eBook Desert Paradise: The Landscape Photographer’s Guide To Death Valley National Park.
Zion National Park
The towering sandstone cliffs, combined with the lush valley below, make this park a must-photograph location. The Virgin River has carved its way through the Navajo Sandstone and the most dramatic display of this is in the Narrows, a wide and tall slot canyon that is the most popular attraction in Zion – and for good reason. The hike in the water can be strenuous and you will likely want to rent canyoneering boots and dry pants from one of the local outfitters for this excursion.
The Virgin River then leads into the Zion Canyon, a lush oasis with endless photographic opportunities. To escape the crowds, a visit to the west side of the park is highly recommended. Although less visited, it is equally spectacular. The hills are literally made of stone, intermixed with trees and bighorn sheep.
The best time to visit the park is in the early spring when the cottonwoods begin budding and turn a vibrant lime green. Fall is equally beautiful when the cottonwoods turn bright yellow, which is generally the first week of November.
Grand Teton National Park
The Tetons are a classic park that needs little introduction – the peaks rise dramatically from the flat plain below and are infinitely photogenic. Although I have been here countless times, I still find myself in awe when I see them.
The best time of year to visit for photography is in mid-June when the wildflowers are blooming. Be sure to look for vast fields of Balsamroot along the Antelope Flats Road. Fall can also be photogenic in the Tetons, where you can find groves of aspen on the north side of the park near Oxbow Bend at the end of September.
The San Juan Mountains in Southern Colorado
By writing about this area, I feel like I am giving away a secret little-known outside of Colorado. This area is often dubbed the Swiss Alps of North America. Lacking any formal national park designation, this area goes largely unnoticed. Dramatic, rugged peaks rise high into the sky but, unlike most other mountain ranges which are older, these mountains are covered in lush green fields of tundra and wildflowers.
The mountains are young in the grand scheme and, therefore, still have large amounts of soil for flora to grow. This area is vast and there is relatively little information out there on it. To get you started, some of the towns in the region are Silverton, Ouray, Ridgway, and Telluride. During summer, my favorite areas are around Silverton and Ouray, where the mountains explode with wildflowers.
Many of the locations are hard to reach and require a four-wheel drive vehicle or long, strenuous hikes to access. Some of my favorite spots are Ice Lakes Basin, American Basin, and Yankee Boy Basin. The wildflowers begin in July in certain areas and can last into mid-August at high elevations.
However, fall is my favorite time to be in the San Juans – the immense stands of aspen trees glow in bright yellow and sometimes red. When contrasted against the snow-covered peaks, the photographic opportunities here are endless. I highly recommend this Colorado Fall Color Resources page.
The dramatic photographs of Antelope Canyon attract droves of photographers to this small Navajo town every year, and for good reason. The swirling patterns carved in the delicate Navajo sandstone inspire awe into every photographer – combine this with the incredible light beams that start in March (but are most dramatic in summer) and you have a photographer’s haven.
Upper Antelope Canyon is where the primary light beams occur and, thus, it is exceptionally busy. There are many other canyons that have their own unique qualities, however. There is Lower Antelope Canyon, which has become quite busy as well, but if you arrive early in the morning you can avoid the hordes of tourists and capture incredible photos. Canyon X is my personal favorite. In portions of the canyon, it is deeper than Upper Antelope and just as dramatic. The tours are limited to one group at a time, so if you’re looking for a less stressful experience, this is it.
Secret Canyon, although small, has beautiful curving lines that are worth seeing. Both Canyon X and Secret Canyon can only be visited using a tour company. A favorite is Rattlesnake Canyon, which can be visited with the company Adventurous Antelope Canyon Tours.
There is much more to Page than the slot canyons. There is also famous Horseshoe Bend, a dramatic bend in the Colorado River, but there are also places like Alstrom Point, which give you an incredible view of Lake Powell from above (4WD required), along with Studhorse Point and Toadstools. Close by is the famous ‘Wave’ formation in Kanab, UT which requires a permit via lottery. Also in this area is White Pocket, a dramatic rock formation prime for photography, plus Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the world. In short, this area is a prime landscape stop.
Camera and Lens Recommendations for American West Landscape Photography
Landscape photography makes use of a variety of lenses, from ultra-wide angle to extreme telephoto. The most common lenses for landscapes are ultra-wide angles and normal (mid-range) zooms. The best bodies for landscape photography at the time of this writing are the Sony a7R II and the Nikon D810. I personally use the Fuji X-T1 with the 10-24mm lens as a departure from the norm. I love having an extremely lightweight system for hiking, plus the dynamic range, color, and detail of the Fuji sensors are incredible.
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