Tips and Inspiration for Photographing National Parks

I am going to tell you what you need to know about shooting in National Parks, including what gear to bring, composing your shots, and travel tips. Getting outdoors and adjusting to new shooting environments is equal parts exhilarating and challenging and photographing in National Parks can be a great opportunity to unwind.

Picking Gear for Success

When packing my gear I usually like to go as light as possible, especially if I’m traveling internationally. There have been times when my drone gets questioned but I’ve noticed it’s more accepted now than ever! When you’re in unknown territories it’s good to practice discretion as often as possible. I shoot with some of the most economical lenses available for the Sony E mount lens series because of their zooming capabilities that give me a versatile range to shoot both wide landscapes and telephoto close-ups. I’m a firm believer that you don’t need the absolute best gear to shoot the best photos. You just need to be prepared to shoot in any situation.

What’s in My Bag:

a7R II
Sony 16-50
Sony 18-200
Canon 16-35 f/2.8 + Metabones EF Adapter
Joby Gorillapod
7 x Sony batteries
4 x SD cards
DJI Osmo
DJI Phantom 4
2 x microSD cards
4 x DJI Batteries


Photographing the Story

My particular style is predominately lifestyle and capturing fleeting moments. The Sony a7R II lets me seamlessly toggle between shooting stills and video. I’ll use a 16-50mm to shoot landscapes and vlog myself talking to the camera while using the telephoto 18-200mm lens to shoot close-ups for a more cinematic view.

I have found that fall is one of the best times of years to photograph National Parks due to the decrease in crowds that the summer brings, the leaves are beginning the turn, and the daylight hours are still long enough to have a full day outdoors!


On Packing Gear

I usually wear my camera with a camera strap and leave everything else in my backpack. I will organize the pack to make changing lenses, batteries, and memory cards as seamless as possible. I’ll prep the camera with one lens and keep the front and back caps someplace I know they won’t go missing. I’ll also keep a hard case for my memory cards that I’ll have mentally organized the used cards from the empty and the same goes for batteries. When making these kinds of changes you won’t want to miss the shot by accidentally grabbing a dead battery or full memory card.

I’ll always bring almonds and water to stay hydrated and protect myself from altitude change that can cause low-level headaches and nausea which could potentially affect my creative process. I also have on hand a small emergency case with aspirin and antacids just in case the impact is greater. These items have a small footprint, are lightweight, and can coexist in my backpack so it’s worth it to include them in my pack. The convenient thing about visiting National Parks is that you usually have access to your car before and after your hike so you can always leave an extra pair of clothes or some heavier items behind to lighten your load, but make sure they are hidden to avoid your car being broken into.


Getting the Shot

Composing the shot is one of the most important aspects of being a photographer after getting your settings right. I believe in capturing raw moments and focus on the idea that we each experience things differently and in our own way. When you are are in a situation where there may be several photographers shooting in the same area or the same thing as you, remember what story you are trying to tell and you will certainly walk away with an image that is unique to you. Some other tips if you are in a popular shooting location are to photograph more than the iconic landmark by pointing your lens in a different direction then everyone else or conversely try including the mass of photographers in your frame in a compelling way. With digital photography, there is never a reason to not try taking some risks in your work with new angles, over and underexposed frames, or try including unexpected elements into your image.

My favorite time of day to shoot is at sunrise. Planning to be out early allows you to avoid the majority of crowds as well as take advantage of beautiful light quality. If early mornings aren’t realistic for you then taking advantage of golden hour just before sunset is your second chance at similar light quality. There have been times in the past when I was first starting off where I would set up at a location and the sun would be setting on the opposite side! Don’t be me, do a little research before you plan your trip. Look for geotags to see which popular spots you’d like to photograph are sunrise or sunset locations.


Inspired By Nature

Be prepared to unplug. I call this my kind of work my “digital detox”. What I know for a fact is that traveling to National Parks almost never has reception. If you’ve noticed that you’re on your mobile device more often than you prefer and need to get back in touch with the natural world, making a trip to a National Park will help you from digital distractions and lets you have peace with yourself and the others around you.

I’ve always been a little introverted and photography has given me the voice to tell my story through images. Being in the outdoors allows me to keep to myself as it’s usually a more secluded environment. Finding this type of creating was a life changer for me, especially coming from a background where there wasn’t a big exploring community and through the years I’ve compiled many experiences and photography tips that help me improve my craft.


Leaving the Park as You Found It

At the end of the day, you have to remember to have fun. Enjoy the fresh air and the outdoors. Don’t vandalize and let’s try our best to preserve nature’s beauties. We want these parks to exist for the future generations to come.

Keep up the great work, I hope that you’re able to walk away from this article with the urge to shoot something. Go, pack your bags and make a trip. I can’t wait to see where you explore next and I’m sure you can’t either!

Andy To, social media influencer, filmmaker, and photographer based in the Bay Area, has a way of inspiring major wanderlust. He’s carved out a niche for himself working with the likes of American Airlines, Citibank, and Sandisk and works in situations that push him outside of his comfort zone. Whether it’s new people, different languages, or grand landscapes, Andy has a strong point of view and way of of evoking emotion from fleeting moments.

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