National Park Images: What do you focus on?

When it comes to National Park images, I shoot the full spectrum of subjects.

I love to shoot the epic landscapes, the local wildlife, and those amazing natural features that seem to individually define each park.  Unknowingly, I’ve also captured, to the best of my abilities, the story that dead trees tell.  I have countless shots of those sentries that seem to stand guard in every Park, unwilling to give into the Mother Nature herself.

Finding the essence of each National Park

The Narrows of Zion National ParkSome National Parks are defined by water. Yosemite has an unrivaled offering of waterfalls and the countless bends of the Merced River as it meanders through the Valley.  There are also a few iconic landscapes that anchor countless images from a multitude of angles.

Zion National Park wouldn’t be the same if the Virgin River didn’t cut through valley constantly changing the banks with every flood. The Narrows and the Subway exist because of the power and relentless flow of the river.  Add in natural light and high canyon walls and Zion delivers a truly unique setting for any photo nut.

Wind and rain shape the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park. Arches National Park, and of course Canyonlands National Park, were also carved by the slow and relentless effort of the natural elements.

Yellowstone, well known for all the geothermal features, has always struck me as the heaven on earth for wildlife.  From bison to the yellow-bellied marmot, Yellowstone National Park is a showcase of wildlife in action.

And it must be mentioned that a handful of our National Parks are defined by their harsh environments.  Denali National Park perfectly demonstrates that wilderness can be both unforgiving and tremendously beautiful at the same time.

So what do you focus on?

What types of National Park images do you seem to shoot most often?  Now, I know that we all shoot everything from landscapes to critters, from water features to sunsets.

But what do you think best represents the National Parks in the images you take?  Is it different for each Park?

Do you form a plan for how you will shoot each National Park trip?  I do and I find that it changes with each Park.  I’d like to know what your approach is.


  1. John Soltys says:

    Someone once told me that my pictures of mountains were great and all, but when I get older I’m going to want pictures of the important people in my life. They were so right. Now I shoot pictures of mountains, but almost always with the people I care about. My most frequent subjects are my kids, then my wife, then my dog (dogs *are* people, too), and if none of them are around I’ll take pictures of my hiking buddies.

    • It’s funny that you shared this. I just had this conversation with my wife. I tend to shoot the people I am hiking with. I like to frame the shot around them more than the scene itself. It’s great advise too. It really helps to cement the story in my mind too. Thanks John!

  2. If there is climbing, I mostly shoot climbing. But if there aren’t any rocks being scaled, I’m all about the little details. I love taking shots of bugs, flowers, and unique flora!

    • You follow John’s advice below. The images mean more if there is a loved one in them. We used the macros setting on our visit to Devils Tower and Tater loved it! There is so much to explore in the tiny details. Great point Katie! And thanks for the comment.

  3. Wilderness Dave says:

    What do I tend to shoot? Well, I tend to shoot the big stuff…panoramic landscapes and massive features. But really what it boils down to, and what I think defines a National Park, are the moments that make you say “WOAH!”.

    In places like the Grand Canyon it might be the sheer magnitude of the view that does it, in Yellowstone maybe it’s a wildlife scene of a Wolf or a Buffalo that make you stop and say “Woah!”

    In Arches, there were certain angles viewing some of the arches that were certainly more impressive than others and literally made me stop and say “woah”…

    That’s what I think defines a park’s personality, and what I try to capture. Sometimes it’s little things like delicate flowers, or gnarled old junipers…other times it might be Summer storms shooting lighting across an epic backdrop. But without fail, there is always that moment of “Woah”…

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