“If you want to be a better photographer stand in front of more interesting stuff!” – Jim Richardson, National Geographic photographer.
Looking for the best scenic locations to create beautiful images? You need good scenic locations guides written by and for photographers. Photographers are much more in tune with what other photographers want to photograph. And for each location, photographers will tell you the best season of the year and time of day to get the best photo.
If you are heading for the national parks, your first and best bet is to get National Park Photography by Tim Fitzharris. This is my favorite guide book to photography in the best of our national parks. Tim gives you the best hot spots for each park and lots of photography advice. It is a great book to take with you when you photograph the parks.
Tim lists the best seasons for doing photography in each park. The underlined seasons are better, and if a season is marked with an asterisk* that is even better yet. The exceptions are Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Zion from Tim’s point of view are equally wonderful all year around.
How good is his advice? Colorado is the state I know best and I have been going to Rocky Mountain National Park for years. Tim’s says it is worth visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in summer, fall, and winter, with summer and fall being the very best seasons. You should skip Rocky Mountain in the spring. From my own experience I agree with Tim’s assessment. Based on other places I have been and comparing them with Tim’s recommendations, I am happy to say his advice is solid. There are two versions of his book, both are out of print, but you can get either version inexpensively via Amazon.com at the links below.
Treasured Lands by Q. T. Luong is far and away the best collection of photos taken in all of our national parks. This isn’t a photo guide book that tells you where to go, when to be there, and how to take pictures when you get there. But it does include the location for every photograph in the book. If you see an amazing photo and want to know where it was taken, you can look up the location in the back of the book.
My favorite guide books for the individual national parks are in the links section below
There are specialized books that cover a specific national park, state, or region of the country in significant detail. The Photographing the Southwest series by Laurent Martes is a truly superb example. He wrote three books covering the desert southwest (they are on the left in the above photo) and they are as good as it gets, not only for deciding on the time of year to show up, but also detailed information on the time of day, how to shoot, how to get there, and more. Each location is rated on a scale of 0 to 5 (using hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs) for Scenic Value, Photographic Interest, Road Difficulty, and Trail Difficulty.
This is one of the ratings pages. Lets look at one example. In Section 13 the first location is Dead Horse Point State Park. The visual and photographic interest is 5 which is as good as it gets. The dashed line for Road Difficulty means it is a paved road to the location that any vehicle can navigate. The Trail Difficulty is 1 which means it is an easy short walk from your vehicle to the viewpoint. You go to the page 237 for specific advice on the best time of day and the best way to photograph the location.
I followed his advice to be there early in the morning and created these image.
If you are going to the desert Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado), these books are an absolute must. They are the gold standard for photography location guides. They provide good coverage for the national parks in each of these states, as you can see in the page above. Martres has also picked photographers to write books in the series for other states (Washington, Oregon, California).
For my home state of Colorado, the guide books by Lee Gregory are first rate. He also rates locations for scenic value, kind of roads, the length and difficulty of the trails to the locations, the best seasons for each location, and the best time of day for photography. Lee’s books are linked here and below: Colorado Scenic Guide: Northern Region. Colorado Scenic Guide: Southern Region.
Photo guides for the rest of the country are linked below, along with all the books listed above.
Photo Guide Purchase Links
These links take you to my Amazon.com powered photography store. You get the same great Amazon prices, service, and guarantee. And you help support my web sites. Thanks! Some of these excellent books are out of print. If you want the book, grab a copy while there are still copies available. After you click on some of the links below you will see a message that looks like this:
Photo Guides to the National Parks
National Audubon Society Guide to Photographing America’s National Parks: Digital Edition by Tim Fitsharris. This is the newer version.
AAA’s National Park Photography by Tim Fitzharris. This is the original version.
Treasured Lands by Q. T. Luong. This is far and away the best collection of photos taken in all of our national parks. This is a big, beautiful, coffee table book. Read this for ideas and inspiration. While this is not a photo guide book, it does give the location for every photograph in the book.
Photographer’s Guide to the Grand Canyon & Northern Arizona by Joseph K. Lange, If you are going to the Grand Canyon, this is the book to get. For all of Arizona get Photographing the Southwest, Vol 2 by Laurent Martres.
Guide to Photography and the Smoky Mountains by John Netherton. My favorite guide to the Great Smoky Mountains, plus an excellent book on nature photography.
Photographer’s Guide to Yellowstone and the Tetons by Joseph K. Lange. If you are heading to Yellowstone and/or the Tetons, this is the book to get. An award wining photographer, Lange is also the author of my favorite introduction to landscape photography.
The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite by Michael Frye. This is one of my two favorite photography guides to Yosemite National Park. If you only have a day or so to spend in Yosemite, get Hudson’s book. He hits the highlights. If you have more time to spend, or if if you already know Yosemite, get this book by Frye. Frye is a photographer’s photographer and he will tell you in a lot more detail what you need to know. This is the book to get if you are serious about spending some quality photo time in YosemiteThis is the more detailed of the two books.
PhotoSecrets Yosemite by Andrew Hudson. This is one of my two favorite photography guides to Yosemite National Park. If you are new to Yosemite or only have a day or two to photograph Yosemite, get this book. Hudson hits the highlights, has photos, maps and diagrams, and suggestions as to where you should be and when. If you have more time to spend, or if you already know Yosemite, get Frye’s book. If you are going to get PhotoSecrets San Franciso and Northern California, don’t by PhotoSecrets Yosemite because all of the Yosemite book is included in the San Francisco/N. California book.
Photographing Acadia National Park: The Essential Guide to When, Where, and How
by Colleen Miniuk-Sperry. This is an award winning five star book. If you are going to Acadia, this is the photo guide to get. Winner, 2014 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards “Travel Book” category and winner of “Best Travel Guide/Essay,” and “Best Interior Design” in the 2014 International Book Awards. Check out the glowing reviews.
Photo Location Guides for the Rest of the Country
Photographing the Southwest, Vol 1 (Southern Utah) by Laurent Martres
Photographing the Southwest, Vol 2 (Arizona) by Laurent Martres
Photographing the Southwest, Vol 3 (Colorado & New Mexico) by Laurent Martres
Photographing California, Vol 1 (Northern California) by Gary Crabbe
Colorado Scenic Guide: Northern Region by Lee Gregory. This is one of two volumes of my favorite photography guide to the beautiful state of Colorado.
Colorado Scenic Guide: Southern Region by Lee Gregory. This is the other volume.
Sometimes it is the journey, not the destination, and there are excellent guides to the best scenic drives in the United States. All of the guides below are for scenic drives that are officially recognized as “National Scenic Byways”.
The National Geographic Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways is an excellent one book guide to the best scenic byways in the Unites States.
National Forest Scenic Byways and National Forest Scenic Byways II, both by Beverly Magley are an excellent two books guide to the best scenic drives throughout the Unites States. This two book set is out of print so grab these books while you can at these Amazon links. Another option is the new replacement series which is also written by Beverly Magley. There are are three books in the new series: the National Forest Scenic Byways – Far West, the National Forest Scenic Byways – Rocky Mountains, and the National Forest Scenic Byways – East and South.
If you want more scenic drives i.n each state, this series is also available in individual books for several states. These books have a lot more scenic drives per state than you will find in the one, two, and three book series that cover the whole country. For example, the one, two, or three book series for the whole country cover only 4-6 of the national scenic byways in Colorado. In comparison, Scenic Driving Colorado by Stewart Green covers 30 Colorado scenic byways. You can find all these books in this four page section of my photography store.
I have gathered all of my favorite photo location guides in to one place (including several not listed above) here at my Amazon photo store.
Canadian Rockies Guidebooks
Darwin Wiggett wrote an excellent photography guidebook for the Canadian Rockies. It was already out of print when I discovered it and I couldn’t find a new copy on Amazon for less than $150 or a used copy for less than $50.
Fortunately for me, Darwin turned his print book into a series of eBooks that you can buy at his site, one for each national park. The original printed book was 144 pages and covered all the parks. Each eBook covers one national park, each book costs $10, and they are about 90 to 200 pages in length. The coverage of each park is a lot more detailed than was possible in the original printed book. Such a deal! If you get all 8 books at once, the cost is $60.
I was planning a four day photography trip to Banff National Park, so I bought his guide for Banff (114 pages of information). It was a great decision. If you are headed for one of Canada’s national parks, get Darwin’s photo guide for that park.
A photographer’s tip: I put the eBook on my laptop, but I didn’t want to carry the laptop with me during the day. Each night when I planned the next day’s excursions, I took my iPhone and photographed the pages of the book I would need right off my laptop screen. That way I had what I needed on my phone.
How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies – photo guides by Darwin Wiggett