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Tips for Doing Nature Photography at Your Local Parks

For myself and many other photographers, probably you included, one of the more difficult parts of the hobby is figuring out where to shoot things like nature photography.

If you have a big trip or a vacation planned, whether it be an exotic location or somewhere not so far away, then that question is answered for you. But for evening shoots after work, spontaneous sessions or weekend outings, a bit of planning is necessary. Enter the wonders of your local parks!

A park can take many forms and can exist in any location, and almost any country. It is generally defined as a “large public green area, used for recreation”. They come in all sizes, and each features their own unique variety of plants, animals, and landscapes.

Parks can be as small as a local city or county park, a larger state park, all the way up to a massive national park. Their common thread is that they have been well-defined and set aside for public use, and are perfect areas to practice nature photography.

Why shoot at a park?

Parks are unique and useful to us photographers because they can be a testing ground for new equipment, a safe practice area for new techniques, or a fully-realized background for your real work.

Parks are attractive because they are a (usually) safe, well-defined area, a miniature representation of the local environment. They give you a small, diverse biosphere of flora and fauna, all wrapped up in one package.

Parks are also numerous, and you have a lot to choose from, regardless of size or classification. Even national parks, with the fewest number of all the types, are plentiful. Over 100 countries worldwide have lands designated as national parks, including 59 in the United States alone. This doesn’t even count other sites in the national registry, such as forests, seashores, and historic sites.

The bottom line is you’ll never have a lack of subject matter when visiting one of these areas.

Preparing for the Photo Shoot

Preparing for a photo shoot in a park isn’t really any different than most other outdoor environments. You’ll want to pack and check all of your normal gear, including:

  • Camera body – If you’re hiking to a location, you’ll probably want to keep the number of bodies down to one; otherwise, maybe bring a film or instant camera as well for backup.
  • Lenses – Again, you don’t want to weigh yourself down too much, but always bring lenses to cover most of the situations you’ll find yourself in. If you’re shooting landscapes, bring a wide-angle prime lens, or at least a zoom that covers focal lengths down to 18 to 24 mm.
  • Tripod – Some camera bags and backpacks have holders for your tripod. Otherwise, take this into consideration as tripods are often not heavy, but bulky and unwieldy to carry while tromping through the park with your other gear.

Since you’re shooting outside, you also need to be prepared for events and conditions outside your control, such as the weather. Depending on the size of the park, there may be hiking and long walking involved. So, you’ll also need to plan ahead and consider items such as:

  • Appropriate clothing – Long sleeves and long pants for mosquito-prone environments, hats, extra dry socks for long hikes.
  • Items to protect against the sun – Sunscreen and sunglasses.
  • Defensive items to keep yourself safe – A knife, or bear spray, if you’re traveling into areas where bears are known to live.
  • Location tools – To help identify where you are and where you’re going, such as a GPS receiver, paper maps (absolutely the best idea), and a compass.

Safety

As with any outdoor excursions, you’ll need to plan ahead a little, both physically and mentally, when venturing out into a park, especially a state or national park or forest.

First, just make sure you know what you’re getting into. If you’re going to a large, sprawling national park and have never been to the area before, then it’s pretty tough to physically scout the location before your shoot. The best you can do in that situation is to do as much research as you can online, or talk to friends or co-workers that have been to the area before.

Since you’re shooting outside, you also need to be prepared for events and conditions outside your control, such as the weather. Depending on the size of the park, there may be hiking and long walking involved. So, you’ll also need to plan ahead and consider items such as:

  • Appropriate clothing – Long sleeves and long pants for mosquito-prone environments, hats, extra dry socks for long hikes.
  • Items to protect against the sun – Sunscreen and sunglasses.
  • Defensive items to keep yourself safe – A knife, or bear spray, if you’re traveling into areas where bears are known to live.
  • Location tools – To help identify where you are and where you’re going, such as a GPS receiver, paper maps (absolutely the best idea), and a compass.

Environmental Awareness

Finally, we need to address an overall importance when discussing capturing images of our beautiful environment; we as photographers need to be nature’s greatest champions.

I would suspect that most of us who love to be outdoors, already have a desire to be careful when enjoying our parks. But as we’ve seen recently in the news, not all of us take that into consideration. The commonly heard phrase, “leave nothing but footprints” may sound cliche, but it really is a best-case scenario of what we should strive for as we enjoy the great outdoors.

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