Winter provides some wonderful photo opportunities in our national parks. But some national parks look much better in the winter than others. So if you haven’t gone into hibernation for the winter, here are the best national parks to go photograph this winter, grouped by state from the west to the east. There are a few bonus locations thrown in too. At the end I give you my “best of the best” list.
Posted January 17, 2017. Updated and re-posted January 10, 2019.
Some of the winter travel items I carry in the trunk of my car. This is the “kitchen” and “furnace”.
I grew up in Colorado where strange weather can strand you in any month of the year. Even though it is rare, I’ve seen blizzards in the Colorado high country in July. So I learned to carry some safety essentials when doing winter photography in remote locations. You never know when you might be stranded for several hours, a whole day, or longer, until the blizzard abates and someone can come find you. This is what I carry in my car when I hit the road in the winter and pretty much any time I am going to be in the High Rockies. I include a few winter travel tips, too.
You would think a windchill of 4° Fahrenheit (-16°C) would be too cold for a photo shoot, but not with some models. We booked this January shoot weeks in advance so we knew it would be cold, but we had no idea how cold until the day arrived. Here’s the story behind this image and how to work with a model when it is so cold.
The Sunny f16 rule is really useful on bright sunny days in the spring, summer, and fall, but you can’t rely on it on bright, snowy winter days. It will often lead you astray and you will have seriously blown out highlights. There are much more accurate ways to meter in the winter.
Cascade, Barry, and Coxe Glaciers, Prince William Sound, Alaska
The “snow exposure latitude” for every camera is different. You won’t find it in your camera’s manual but it is easy to determine with a do-it-yourself test. Why does it matter? If you don’t know the snow exposure latitude for your camera and how to apply apply it to your images, the color and quality of your winter photos will suffer.
Cold and snow can cause a lot of damage to your camera gear. Something as simple as shooting outside and taking your camera inside your house or car can cause hidden damage that won’t show up until days or weeks later. The simple steps in this article could save you hundreds of dollars in repair bills.
Twilight, Rocky Mountain National Park. Sirius, Canis Major, Orion, Taurus, the Hyades star cluster, and the Pleiades star cluster are all visible in the fading light. Click for a larger version.
You can photograph the night sky year around, but winter brings an added bonus: SNOW! When you don’t have the benefit of moonlight, most of the year land forms a dark to black silhouetted skyline against the night sky. In winter you have the possibility of including the highly reflective snow. You can see both in this photo. Any place not covered with snow is very dark to black. Having reflective snow is why winter is the favorite time of year for a lot of photographers to go out and photograph the night sky.
Most wildlife are medium to dark in tone, making them a challenge to meter properly in the bright, white tones of winter. If you trust one of your camera’s automatic exposure modes, the odds are good you won’t get the best exposure. If you switch over to manual exposure and make the right decisions, you can get great exposures and better quality photos (more about that later).
Elk in the Snow, Horseshoe Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Metering dark toned wildlife in the snow is a major exposure challenge. It is usually best to avoid large “burned out” areas (washed out, featureless white) in a nature or landscape photograph, but with properly exposed snow, the wildlife can be so dark as to lose all texture. On other hand, metering for the wildlife can burn out the snow. So what do you do?
The white snow in a winter scene can and often does fool a camera meter into underexposing a portrait, so here are the steps to take to get the right exposure. I throw in a few portrait suggestions too.
Mount Hunter from a Bush Plane. Denali National Park. Alaska.
Metering for scenes with a lot of snow can be tricky since the bright snow fools the camera meter. I see a lot of winter photos with gray snow, which means the camera meter did exactly what it was designed to do. The solution is quite simple provided you know what to do.
In addition to all of the usual photographic challenges, winter provides some extra complications, especially in terms of metering. So I began this series of articles on winter photography. Check out the links below. The articles will help you meet the unique challenges of winter photography. So get out there, have fun, and create some great winter images!
Mojave Desert near Fort Irwin California. January 6, 2014.
When we go to Fort Irwin, it is my custom to get up early each morning, head out into the Mojave Desert, and take pictures. I wanted to capture some of the volcanic rocks around Mount Blackie and still provide a sense of place. I created this image with my iPhone. This is my favorite photo for this date.
I have two favorite first place photos for January 5. Both were taken in Fort Irwin California. It was cold and snowy when we left Ohio, but much nicer in California’s Mojave Desert. This is our grandson Ryan playing tennis.
Southwest Jet Over Las Vegas at Dusk, Looking Southwest. January 4, 2013.
On our trips from Ohio to see family in California, the least expensive route is usually through Las Vegas. When the winds are out of the west I always try to get a seat on the right side of the plane so I can get photos of “The Strip” as we take off (next photo below). Keep that in mind the next time you fly our of Vegas. One of the perks of flying Southwest is to choose a seat based on the photos you want to take during the flight.
Perseid Meteor photographed from Rose Hill Cemetery west of Lamoni, Iowa. 4:55 am CDT, August 13, 2018.
Tonight (January 3-4) is the night of the Quandrantid Meteor Shower. This article will tell you what you need to know to see and photograph the first meteor shower of 2019. Predictions are always just estimates, but this shower is predicted to produce about 25 meteors per hour. Best of all, this will be a dark sky night without interference from the moon.
Night Sky and Milky Way over the Mojave Desert, Fort Irwin California. December 3, 2013. 10:05 pm.
My favorite photo for this date was taken in the Mojave Desert, about two miles southwest of Fort Irwin California. The photo was taken looking northwest. The Andromeda Galaxy is directly over the power poles about half way up the photo. The Pleiades are at the upper left corner of the photograph.
Family Christmas, West Point, New York. December 31, 2005.
If you have been following this series recently, you have figured out we celebrate Christmas on most any date, and sometimes several dates. With family spread out across the country in six different states, we travel to them and they travel to us in different combinations every year. One year we had 4 Christmases spread out between December 25 and late January.
Last Light on El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, California. December 30, 1990.
In my “favorite photos” folder the photos for today’s date are a mix of landscape and family pictures. I have two first choices for today’s favorite photo. The first was taken in Yosemite National Park.
Bird Reflections, Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Fremont California. Dec 28, 1990.
We were in Fremont California visiting family over the holidays. As I sometimes do when we are there, I head out early in the morning to go to the local wildlife refuge. This image is my favorite that morning, my favorite for this date, and one of my all time favorite wildlife images.