My Favorite American National Parks For Photography

My Favorite American National Parks For Photography

Bucket List

My recent travels have taken me to some amazing places around the world (Iceland, Patagonia, Myanmar, Tanzania, and others) but many of my all-time favorite photography locations are the National Parks of the United States. Most of these parks are beyond beautiful, easily accessible for recreational activities, and are preserved as sanctuaries for pristine mountains, deserts, forests, seashores, tundra, and the wild creatures that inhabit them.

The writer, historian, and environmentalist Wallace Stegner is credited with coined the phrase America’s Best Idea when referring to the National Park System. Here’s what he said in 1983: “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

At the time of this writing, there are 59 National Parks in the United States. By my last count, I have photographed in 32 of them. Here – in no particular order – are my 5 favorite parks, with a few honorable mentions as well. If you have a favorite that American National Park that didn’t make my list, let me know which is your favorite in the comment section, including why.

Yosemite National Park

No other place in the world inspires photographers quite like Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Iconic landmarks such as El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls are burned into the psyche of landscape photographers in both name and visage. Spring, particularly the month of May when the waterfalls have the highest flows and the dogwoods along the Merced River are in bloom, is the most popular season for photographers. The summer months, with bumper-to-bumper traffic in Yosemite Valley, should probably be avoided but any season will produce fantastic images, including winter. Regardless of the month, Yosemite is always a good idea!

(Top) The Yosemite Valley floor and Bridalveil Falls with ground fog. (Bottom Left) A stand of Giant sequoia trees in the snow. (Bottom Right) Last light on Half Dome.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

It’s the most visited of all the national parks in the United States as well as one of the most ecologically diverse. Often dubbed “Wildflower National Park” because of the profuse blooms each spring (mid to late April is best) the Smokies have so much more to offer than flowers. There is spectacular autumn colors in late October, stacked mountain ridges, and wildlife too, including the highest density of black bears in the world. The Smoky Mountains National Park is also my “home park” and the place where I honed my photography skills many years ago.

(Top) Rolling clouds through the mountains from Clingmans Dome. (Bottom Left) Splendid autumn colors on the ridge lines. (Bottom Right) Trillium wildflowers in bloom near a spring cascade.

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park in Maine is one of the few places in the US where you can capture both deciduous autumn color (second to third week in October) and dramatic seascapes in the same frame. Favorite photography locations within the first national park east of the Mississippi River include Jordan Pond, Jordan Stream, Otter Cliffs, Monument Cove, Cadillac Mountain, Duck Brook, and Hunter Beach Cove. Nearby Bass Head Lighthouse can be crowded with other photographers at sunrise or sunset but it’s certainly worth a visit anyway.

(Top) A vivid sunset at Hunters Beach Cove. (Bottom Left) Autumn reflections and lily pads in The Tarn. (Bottom Right) Twilight at Jordon Pond and The Bubbles.

Arches National Park

Delicate Arch is the most famous landmark in Arches National Park (it’s featured on Utah’s license plate) but it’s certainly not the only shooting location. All in all, there are more than 2000 sandstone arches in the park as well as many other geological formations, windows and fins that make superb photo subjects. With Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park nearby, the town of Moab, Utah makes a great location for a week or two of landscape photography and you still won’t scratch the surface of the available locations.

(Top Left) Rainbow and Balanced Rock. (Top Right) A sunstar peaks through Delicate Arch. (Bottom Left) Shadow and light on the sandstone wall at Skyline Arch. (Bottom Right) Light painting and star trails at Double Arch.

Yellowstone National Park

As America’s first national park established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is best known by photographers for its wildlife and the many geothermal features found within its 3,468.4 square miles (8,983 km2). I’ve been traveling to Yellowstone for wildlife for more than 20 years and it never disappoints for the wildlife opportunities or the geysers, mud pots and fumaroles. Lamar Valley is often referred to as “America’s Serengeti” because of the sheer abundance of wild animals and is one of those places no wildlife photographer should miss during their lifetime. My favorite seasons for visiting for photography are spring, autumn, and winter while summer is a bit too crowded for my personal taste.

(Top) Fountain Geyser with dramatic evening light. (Bottom Left) Bison in harsh winter weather at Midway Geyser Basin. (Bottom Right) Pine tree skeletons on a foggy morning.

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer is the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.

Namibia: 8 Stunning Locations Photographers Must Visit

Namibia: 8 Stunning Locations Photographers Must Visit

Bucket List

Namibia Photography Hotspots

Simply put, Namibia is a photographer’s dream. It’s also a big, sparsely populated country so knowing where to go when you arrive can save you lots of time and money while optimizing your photography output. Namibia has the planet’s oldest desert, largest sand dunes, world-class wildlife viewing and many more attractions that you probably didn’t know about but should. If you have the opportunity to visit Namibia, here are 8 must-see locations that will make your photography trip a sure-fire success.

Etosha National Park

Etosha National Park in the north-central part of Namibia is renown for its amazing wildlife viewing and photography. It’s the most important wildlife sanctuary in Namibia and one of the largest savannah conservation areas in all of Africa. Elephants, zebras, black and white rhinoceros, lions, leopards, cheetahs, herds of springbok, giraffe, and wildebeest all call Etosha home in plentiful numbers.

The Park is at its prime during the dry months, which is approximately May through November, when the water holes draw the greatest concentration of animals, especially early and late in the day. The gates into and out of the Park are closed and locked at sunrise and sunset (to help thwart the pervasive wildlife poaching) so the holes nearest to the Okaukuejo, Namutoni, and Halali base camps are where you have the chance to work with the best light of the day.

This is one of the easiest wildlife parks to drive yourself, hopping waterhole to waterhole to find the best wildlife activity. You are not allowed to exit your vehicle at any time. Gates open at sunrise and close at sunset.

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(Clockwise from Top Right) Giraffe silhouettes reflected in Okaukuejo water hole at sunset, Etosha National Park; zebras lining up for a late afternoon drink, Etosha National Park; a stately male lion in Etosha National Park; two elephants greet each other at the evening water hole, Etosha National Park; A parade of elephants in sunset light, Etosha National Park; a giraffe at sunset, Etosha National Park.  All Images © Richard Bernabe

Namib-Naukluft National Park

Namib-Naukluft is a large National Park that stretches across much of Namibia’s southern coast. Within its boundaries are the world’s oldest desert and largest sand dunes. Sossusvlei, an area in the southern Namib, is characterized by enormous red sand dunes – the largest in the world. The dune complex is often referred to as Sosusvlei, although the name specifically applies to a hard clay pan located in the center of this region as well as one particularly large dune.

Deadvlei is another clay pan near Sossusvlei with dozens of stark looking camel thorn trees entirely surrounded by giant red sand dunes. The early morning and late evening light is best for photography when the warm, low-angled sunlight intensifies the dunes’ bright orange and red hues.

Access to the Sosusvlei and Deadvlei area is via the Sesriem gate with a forty-mile drive to the dunes. The final 3 miles (which includes immediate access to both Sosusvlei and Deadvlei) are accessable with a 4WD vehicle with high clearance only. The gate at Sesriem opens at sunrise and closes at sunset.

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(Top Left) Tree art at Deadvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park. (Upper Right) The enormous dunes at sunset, Namib-Naukluft National Park. (Middle Left) A dunescape in Sossusvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park. (Middle Middle) A lone acacia tree is dwarfed by the edge of a giant sand dune, Namib-Naukluft National Park. (Middle Right) Shadows are cast across the clay pan at Deadvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park. (Bottom Left) An oryx crests the edge of a sand dune and into the light, Namib-Naukluft National Park. (Bottom Right) Tree art during intense dune light at Deadvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park. All images © Richard Bernabe

Quiver Tree Forest and Giant’s Playground

Near the southern Namibia town of Keetmanshoop sits a unique forest of “quiver trees”, one of the most fascinating photography destinations in Namibia. These are not actually real trees, but rather several different species of Aloe, which are large enough to be referred to as “quiver trees” by the locals, since bushmen once used the branches to make quivers for their arrows.

The plant’s distinctive candelabra-like shape creates ideal silhouettes against a colorful sunrise or sunset sky. The forest is also the perfect locale for night photography with static starscapes, star trails, and streaking clouds through a moonlit sky.

The Giant’s Playground is only a few miles from the quiver tree forest (and contains a respectable number of quiver trees as well) but In the surroundings of the forest there is another site of geological interest (itself a tourist attraction), the Giant’s Playground, a vast pile of large dolerite rocks.

(Top Left) Symmetry represented in the Quiver Tree Forest near Keetmanshoop. (Above Right) he sunburst though the fork in a tree near sunset.(Bottom) The Milky Way hangs over the Quiver Tree Forest during a light painting night photography session, Keetmanshoop. All images © Richard Bernabe

Desert Horses at Aus

On the eastern edge of the Namib Desert near the town of Aus is a thriving population of feral desert horses, the only herd of feral horses in all of Africa. This group of about 90 -150 members has captured the imagination of Namibian tourists and photographers for years as they survive in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. Your best chance to see the horses is at the man made watering hole at Garub, early and late in the day.

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(Above Left) Desert horses graze in a rare area of vegetation as the sun rises through the morning fog. (Above Right) A mare and foal in the barren desert landscape near Aus. All images © Richard Bernabe

Kolmanskop Ghost Town

Kolmanskop was once a bustling village built around a productive western Namibian diamond mine. Located just beyond the coastal city of Lüderitz, Kolmanshop is now a surreal ghost town, well preserved by the dry desert climate.

When diamond production ceased in the mid 1950s, the citizens of Kolmanskop abandoned the town and left the remaining structures to fend for themselves against the advancing desert sands. What’s left is well preserved today, if not partly overtaken by the desert in many places. The juxtaposition of the manmade and the visable forces of nature make Kolmanskop a favorite photography destination for visitors.

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(Top Left) The well-preserved, colorful paint on the walls provides an interesting contrast with the overwhelming forces of nature that have overtaken the floor, Kolmanskop. (Top Right) Morning light streams through the doors of an abandoned hospital, Kolmanskop. (Bottom) A bright blue room housing an itinerant sand dune, Kolmanskop. All images © Richard Bernabe

Cape Cross Seal Reserve

Cape Cross Seal Reserve sits along the Southern Atlantic Ocean about 80 miles north of the coastal town of Swakopmund and just south of Namibia’s famed Skeleton Coast. What interests photographers the most is the fact that Cape Cross hosts the largest colony of cape fur seals in the world. Depending on the time of the year, more than 200,000 cape fur seals can be found congregating along the shores of Cape Cross to feed and fight for potential mates.

There is an elevated boardwalk that brings you literally face-to-face with many of the colony’s members. Althoguh your initial impulse might be to grab the longest telephoto lens you can find, there are creative compositional options at many different focal lengths, including a wide-angle perspective.

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(Top Left) A backlit cape fur seal shows off its whiskers, Cape Cross Seal Reserve. (Top Right) A lone cape fur seal seems to pose in front of a back lit crashing wave, Cape Cross Seal Reserve. (Bottom) A wailing cape fur seal caught with electronic flash and a wide-angle lens, Cape Cross Seal Reserve. All images © Richard Bernabe

NAMIBIA IMPRESSIONS

FREE PDF E-Book by Richard Bernabe
Renowned nature, wildlife, and travel photographer, Richard Bernabe takes you on a virtual expedition in Namibia Impressions.

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Spitzkoppe Mountains

The Spitzkoppe Mountains are a group of smooth granite peaks and boulders that rise dramatically from the flat Namib Desert. The Spitzkoppe or Matterhorn of Namibia is the highest peak in the group at 5800 feet (1780 meters) iand can be spotted and recognized from many miles away.

In addition to the formidable mountains, Spitzkoppe is home to boulder fields and natural arches that can be the source of endless compositional variations. Early morning and late evening are the best times when the low angled sunlight lights of the orange rocks with brilliant color. To gain access to the area during the best light, the nearby campsite is the best lodging option.

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(Above Left) Shadows dance across the glowing rocks at sunset, Spitzkoppe. (Above Right) The rock arches can be used to frame the Spitzkoppe Mountains, especially near sunrise and sunset when you experience the best color, Spitzkoppe. All Images © Richard Bernabe 

Walvis Bay

Walvis Bay, a coastal city of 100,000 residents on the Atlantic Ocean, is an important deep-water port for Namibia’s economy. It also attracts an impressive array of wildlife because of it’s plankton rich waters. Southern right whales, pelicans, and two species of flamingos can be found in the area in large numbers.

Both the greater and lesser varieties of flamingos can be easily seen and photographed right from the center of town on the tidal flats. Morning is the best time when the the sun is at your back and it’s not obstructed by the marine layer hovering over the ocean in the west. Longer telephoto lenses are needed for close-ups but catching large flocks of birds with shorter telephoto lenses is also a good strategy as well.

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(Top Left) A group of lesser flamingos taking flight from the tidal flats, Walvis Bay. (Top Right) Flamingos in the cool light of pre dawn, Walvis Bay. (Bottom) A trio of greater flamingos feeding on the tidal flats in the soft light of early morning, Walvis Bay. All Images © Richard Bernabe

Useful Namibia Links

Wild Namibia Photo Workshop and Tour with Richard Bernabe  https://www.richardbernabe.com/namibia-photography-tour-2019
Namibia Impressions free ebook  https://www.richardbernabe.com/namibia-impressions/
Namibia Tourism Board  http://www.namibiatourism.com.na
Namibia Weather Network http://www.namibiaweather.info
Etosha National Park http://www.etoshanationalpark.org
Hosea Kutako International Airport (Windhoek) http://www.airports.com.na/airports/hosea-kutako-international-airport/12/
Air Namibia http://www.airnamibia.com
Namibia Wildlife Resorts https://www.nwr.com.na
Namibia Travel Guide http://www.namibia-travel.net
Spitzkoppe Campsites http://www.spitzkoppe.com
Sossusvlei.org http://www.sossusvlei.org
Kolmanskop.net http://kolmanskop.net
Quivertree Forest Rest Camp http://quivertreeforest.com

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer is the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.

Five Reasons To Love Iceland in the Winter

Five Reasons To Love Iceland in the Winter

Bucket List

Iceland Winter: Is The Weather Really That Bad?

Iceland is a true four-season photographic destination. As I wrote in a 2013 Popular Photography feature article, the country has often been mistakenly characterized in the past as cold, barren, and probably hostile to visitors. And with a name like Iceland, one can be forgiven for thinking of this small, northern Atlantic island country in such a way. But with tourism on the rise, the perception is quickly changing. It would be harder to find a more comfortable, less barren, and more welcoming country than Iceland anywhere on the planet. It’s also beautiful beyond words, which happens to be a boon to those of us like me who make a living making photos. But even to those who know and love Iceland dearly, the idea of visiting in winter might be a bit too much to bear. But Icelandic winters, for the most part, are no colder than those in New York, London, or Paris. In fact, there are some pretty compelling reasons to visit and photograph Iceland in winter – yes, even on purpose.

1. Fewer Tourists and Photographers

Iceland is becoming more and more popular with every passing year and people are discovering that winter is a great time to see and experience Iceland. But there are still much fewer tourists and photographers during this “off season” than there are during the summer months. Want fewer crowds at the popular Icelandic photography hotspots? Try winter.

2. The Aurora Borealis

Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see and photograph the aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights in the northern hemisphere. Iceland falls at exactly the right latitude in the aurora belt (yes it is possible to go too far north to see the northern lights) so as long as the sky is dark and clear, there’s a high probability that you will see it. During the most popular times to visit Iceland, May through August, the sky never gets dark enough at night to see the aurora. Winter nights in Iceland are long and dark, perfect for aurora photography and watching.

3. Surreal Snowy Landscapes

If you like minimalist landscape and nature images, Iceland in the winter is a target rich environment, particularly after a fresh snowfall. White-on-white scenes with the ubiquitous pewter winter skies can be the perfect canvas for creating some stunning winter landscapes. No color or epic sunrise and sunset lighting needed here. Just throw in some iconic Icelandic horses and you have winter’s understated beauty at its best.

4. Ice Caves

Ice caves are created by rivers and streams carving tunnels under the glaciers during the warm summer months. There are very few experiences as surreal and magical as exploring these sapphire blue caves with a camera and an experienced guide. During the winter season – from approximately November through March – the water freezes and the caves become safe to enter. This is one bucket list experience you do not want to miss.

5. Changing Light

The light in Iceland is phenomenal. In the winter, the sun never rises very high above the horizon so the low-angled light is always soft and warm – the type of light photographers dream about. But even when the weather is bad (and yes, it can be bad) it never seems to last very long. There’s always a break in the clouds somewhere which gives the intrepid photographer hope of something good on the way. Of course, it also makes you appreciate the good weather when you have it. As I said, it’s changeable and highly changebale light is what gives landscape photographers those truly magical moments.

What to Bring?

Bring a warm coat or parka, worn over layers of fleece or wool and warm ski cap; gloves for warm hands comfort but often awkward when doing photography. I like Sealskinz Waterproof, Windproof, and Breathable gloves for Iceland; water and windproof ski or snow pants; waterproof boots are more important than insulated. I prefer Arctic Sport Muck Boots with 2 pairs of wool socks; slip-on micro spikes for the inevitable ice are essential. I use Kahtoola Microspikes.

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer is the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.