With more wildlife, more vertical mountain landscapes, more waterfalls, more wild rivers and more glaciers than you will find in the lower 48 states, the national parks of the Canadian Rockies are one of the most popular destinations of nature photographers from all over the world. There are enough easily—accessible scenic locations and wildlife that can be spotted everywhere along the park roads, that most visiting photographers will be busy with their cameras from sunrise until sunset. Medium and large—format photographers will find many spectacular compositions without packing heavy equipment on long hikes into the mountains. A two—hour hike away from most roads will take you up into the alpine environment of the mountain goats. A few hours in a rented canoe will take you and your camera across lakes where you can experience the solitude of nature. These parks are only a few hours drive from the U.S.—Canadian border. With a photo workshop group traveling north from California, we crossed the border after a week in Glacier National Park and encountered a killer storm at Fort Macleod.
If you are planning to take an African safari to photograph wildlife in Kenya, Tanzania, or Botswana, start by applying for or updating your passport and then getting in a few days of practice at your local zoo. A trip to a zoo will give you the opportunity to learn how to operate your camera properly so that you can capture the best possible photos of all the creatures you will find in the wild. Even if you have no plans for international travel, a photo trip to the zoo can be interesting and enjoyable. Caged animals, like these tortoises at the Sacramento Zoo, usually move slowly so aperture priority mode is my favorite setting for zoos. When you are out in the wild, the animals you’ll be looking for will probably be moving, like the millions of wildebeest migrating across the Mara River. That’s when you’ll want to use the shutter priority mode on your camera. Pick the shutter speed you’ll need to freeze the action and your camera will automatically set the aperture to give you the proper exposure.
Driving south on the Golden Gate Bridge stay in the right lane and take the first right, just a hundred feet beyond the toll plaza. Drive up the hill to the first intersection and turn right onto Lincoln Blvd. Turn left at Washington Avenue and continue to the small parking lot on the right, above Baker Beach. Across the road, this large grove of tall cypress is a wonderful place for photography on a foggy day. A multitude of vertical tree trunks disappear into the mists. Arrive mid-morning, wait for the sun to burn through the top of the fog banks, and you’ll see long rays of sunlight streaming down through the forest, a magical sight.
Point Lobos State Reserve is a great place to visit on a foggy day. Cold mists add a dreamy atmospheric effect to dense cypress groves and pine forests on rocky headlands. The entrance gate is four miles south of Rio Road. This reserve has a limited number of parking spaces. On a busy summer weekend, you may have to wait at the gate for someone to leave. You can park outside along the highway and walk in to save the entry fee. New trails have been added and old trails have been improved, but the landscapes across this State Reserve have not changed at all. Everything looks as it did thirty years ago. Pick up a free map at the entrance gate, drive out to the parking area at the Information Station. Along the Cypress Grove Trail use your wide-angle lens to include wind-sculpted cypress trees framing a rugged coastline of cliffs receding for miles into the hazy distance. From the Information Station, head northwest on the North Shore Trail. Take a short side trip to photograph the Old Veteran Cypress still clinging to the granite cliffs above Cypress Cove. The North Shore Trail passes through some ancient cypress groves and skirts the edge of rocky cliffs for views of offshore rocks and Blue Fish Cove.
I found this image at Gulf Islands National Seashore Visitor Center, across the bay from Pensacola, Florida. Route 399 heads south over the Santa Rosa Sound. A long toll bridge connects the mainland to Santa Rosa Island. On the island, turn right at the traffic light and head west. Pay the entry fee or show your National Park Pass at the gate and drive six miles farther to Gulf Islands National Seashore at the western tip of this island.
During the earliest years of America’s history, military forts were necessary to protect this country’s harbors from foreign invaders. Fort Pickens was the largest of four forts built to protect Pensacola and its navy yards. The fort was begun in 1829, completed in 1834, and used until 1947. Follow the signs to Fort Pickens, park in the lot and walk through the entrance at the Visitor Center. Pick up a free tour guide and map of Fort Pickens. To find the best photo locations, continue out through the Visitor Center and bear right to walk through the long western bastion to photograph a long row of ancient and weathered brick archways that supported massive cannon emplacements.
In the middle of the western bastions are stairs to the top where you will find a huge 15” (bore) cast iron cannon pointing toward the narrow opening from the Gulf into Pensacola Bay and the harbor that was protected for over a hundred years by Fort Pickens. Brick arches and very thick walls supported the weight of many cannons along the parapets. Thick exterior walls also protected the fort from enemy fire. The only time Fort Pickens was under fire was during the Civil War. There are many gun ports but no windows in the soldier’s quarters. Some daylight filters into most parts of the fort. A tripod will allow you to use a small aperture and low ISO for greatest sharpness when you are photographing repeating patterns of arches extending into the distance.
On the west side of Parking Area #3 in the Valley of Fire State Park is a trail down a ravine that leads to several arches. Park at the far right end of the #3 parking lot and pull out your gear. Along with the mandatory tripod, you’ll need your shortest wide-angle lens, like a 10 mm, and a zoom lens in the 24-120 mm range. These arches face the west and should be photographed in the morning. During my midwinter trip, I was out there at 7:00 am and found both arches in the shade. Only an overcast day with a sky filled with dramatic clouds would be better. Lock up your car and walk fifteen feet to the west, away from the pavement. Follow the footprints in the sand down the ravine. In three hundred feet, at a point where the ravine begins to widen, you will see the first point where another ravine leaves the one you’ve been following and heads to the right. At that point, you can see a large white formation in the distance on the right side of the trail. Look carefully and you can see the arch called Fire Cave on the left side of the same trail. While you are standing beside the Fire Cave, turn and look in the other direction across the ravine. That canyon wall is white and on the other side of that wall is the next arch you’ll want to find and photograph. Continue downstream to a point where the canyon ends and a high sandy bank covered with sagebrush begins. Turn right here and climb the sand dune. At the top of the dune, head to the right again and make your way up another parallel ravine. You can walk down the other side of the sand dune and head up stream, or you can stay high and walk up the sandstone ridge. By staying on the sandstone, you will walk through this white arch in 50 feet. If you walk up the sandy bottom of this ravine, you will go past the arch where you will find an easy stair step route up and onto the slick rock. It’s hard to get low enough to include much sky in this opening. I was lying on my stomach with my camera on a GorillaPod. Then I backed off and tried a 120 mm lens from a spot on the edge of the wash.
Autumn color moves into southern Vermont, New Hampshire, and along the coast of Maine during the first two weeks of October, a good time for lighthouse photography. Fly in and out of Rochester, NY to photograph New York’s Finger Lakes District from October 5 to October 20. Allow several days to photograph autumn color in Letchworth State Park, not far from the Rochester Airport. Acadia National Park usually sees the peak of fall color by October 10, about the same time New York’s Lake District and Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton reaches the peak of color. Mid-October is the best time to drive the Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. State Parks, like Macedonia Brook, in northern Connecticut see their peak color during the third week of October. Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park also sees the peak of autumn color during the third week of October. Autumn color spreads south, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where the color peaks in late October. Nevada has four great autumn color locations: Rainbow Canyon, Mt. Charleston, Lamoile Canyon, and Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park. Cottonwoods in Arizona’s Canyon del Muerto and Canyon de Chelly are bright yellow during the last week of October. Most of the cottonwoods along the Virgin River through Zion National Park are bright yellow in late October through the first week of November when the river level is usually low enough to safely wade up the Zion Narrows.
Driving to Hoover Dam from Las Vegas, watch for the sign at the entrance to the new Memorial Bridge Parking Plaza where the parking is free. Follow the signs at the parking area to a pedestrian walkway across the bridge. You can climb several flights of stairs or follow a longer but easier ramp up to bridge level. A solid concrete barrier separates the sidewalk from traffic on the bridge. Large trucks crossing the bridge create a vibration. Wait for them to pass before making your exposures. You will see several spectacular views as you walk toward the middle of the bridge. In the middle, a straight-on aerial view of Hoover Dam is what photographers have always wanted. A vertical image with a super-wide lens includes the new road, directly below the bridge, and the cloud-filled sky above the dam. On both sides of Hoover Dam’s base are 17 power generating turbines, eight on the Nevada side and nine on the Arizona side. To avoid morning shadows, the dam is best photographed in the afternoon.
Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley is a crossroads where plants and animals of western grasslands meet the same hardwood forests that cover New England, displaying a riot of autumn color each year around the middle of October. This long, narrow national park follows Ohio’s Cuyahoga River Valley and forested hills to the east and west. South of Cleveland and north of Akron, this park is surrounded by cities, communities, and industrial centers. Like Central Park in Manhattan, it is a peaceful oasis of natural beauty where many people get outside and take a walk in the woods. Reserve a seat to Cleveland on your favorite airline to photograph autumn color in Ohio.
By late October, the vineyards across the Napa and Sonoma Valleys have turned yellow. By the second week of November, the remaining leaves change to shades of red. Here, in the San Francisco Bay Area, you will discover landscapes similar to the rolling hills of the Palouse in southeastern Washington State and autumn color as vivid as New England’s. Intertwine your photography with wine tasting tours through the area’s famous wineries and a few of the best restaurants in America. Newsletter #106 includes directions to my favorite spots for sunsets across the vineyards of Northern California. The grape harvest can begin as early as August, but the picking usually occurs in mid-September. By late October, grape leaves that are still on the vine have turned yellow. By early November, leaves begin to turn red. A ripe bunch of grapes makes a nice close-up subject surrounded by bright red leaves. It’s easy to find a few unpicked clusters of grapes that were missed by the pickers. Stay a week and watch the colors change. If you can’t schedule an autumn visit, mid-summer is almost as good. The vines are bare in winter and early spring. March is the mustard season when the fields are yellow.
Notes and images from Bob Hitchman.