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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Plan A National Park Road Trip

A seasoned pro shows you how to plan, research and pack for an efficient photo weekend

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Exploring a national park in a weekend requires good planning to make the most of your photography time. One of the very best things you can do is ask park staff about some of the areas you're planning to visit. They're dedicated people who know these places intimately, and they can be a huge help when you're there. All of the photos in this article were taken during Larry Lindahl's voyages in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.

Road trip!
Just about the sweetest two words you can hear if you're a photographer. Add in national parks, and you're talking about the official playgrounds for readers of Outdoor Photographer. They range in size, scope and variety and, of course, geographically they're dispersed throughout the country. Most of us have significant time pressure, and we try to pack a lot into weekends (long weekends, if we're lucky), so before we head on down the highway, a little prep time will make the "looking for adventure" part go down a whole lot better.

Research is key to versatile and nimble travel in and around national parks. Be a geek for a few hours and get your facts. Research your subject on Google images, Flickr and iStock. Get to know what's been done and what's available, and start conceptualizing your own approach. Saturate yourself with information: mileage, travel time, current multiday weather forecast, sunrise/sunset times, moon phase and road conditions. The Photographer's Ephemeris is a popular app that you can consult when planning from home and when you're on the road on your smartphone or tablet.

Gather together maps of the region. Calculate mileage and drive time between your destinations from a site such as MapQuest. Explore the region in Google Earth virtual reality. Get a feel for the territory.

Read the guidebooks. Photographer Laurent Martrés has an award-winning series of guidebooks tailored just to photographers. The books cover the national parks within the various regions, as well as locations outside of the park boundaries. If his books don't cover your region, look for other photographer-related guidebooks. Give your local bookstore some business, or use Amazon.

Log images into your phone camera. Shoot photos off the computer screen, and from magazines and books. These portable images can serve as planning notes when you're looking for a particular spot. When you're in the park, try the visitor center or ask rangers at campgrounds and other facilities. Most employees of the National Park Service are passionate about these places and they're often not just willing, but eager to share information and help photographers. Every so often there's a story about a photographer being hassled in a park, but such tales are the exception, and we seldom get the whole story about what caused the unpleasant encounter.


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