National Park Photography

The Challenges of Photographing in National Parks

Capturing the grandness of the canyon from Grandview Point. ©Kit Frost

Capturing the grandness of the canyon from Grandview Point. ©Kit Frost

By “hanging in there”, I sometimes outlast the crowds at the Grand Canyon.  In the past I could find a quiet place to make images, but this year proved challenging.

These images were all taken in our National Parks.  As a frequent visitor to our Parks, I see an increase in visitation, especially this past year.  If you went to a National Park during the summer months of May, June, July and August, you could expect crowds.  But this year I retired, so I could travel whenever I pleased.  I choose May for Crater Lake, June for Acadia, September for the Grand Canyon, October for Capitol Reef, and November for Zion.

I don’t know whether it’s because the #FindYourPark campaign is driving more folks to our parks, or the economy is truly in recovery (Average entrance fee: $30.) but I do know this: unless you get away  from the rim, away from the favorite hiking trails, or find an off the beaten path location in the parks, there are crowds, big crowds. Add to that the tripod I carry and before you know it, I’ve got a crowd setting up their selfie sticks and cameras nearby (sometimes kicking my tripod). In Zion this year, it’s estimated that there were over 1 million more visitors in 2015 than 2014.

2014 Visitors
Great Smoky Mountains     10,099,276

Grand Canyon                          4,756,771
Yosemite                                    3,882,642
Yellowstone                              3,513,484

Zion National Park                 3,189,696

I’m not suggesting that we lock the park door behind us, but I am saying that as someone who enjoys our National Parks, a good hike, some photography, and backpacking and camping in our Parks I’m concerned.

I made this "sketch" with my iPhone.

I made this “sketch” with my iPhone.

Crater Lake is a stunner in the winter. As the resident artist in May, I had the opportunity to explore the park during all kinds of weather. Very few crowds along the rim trail. The Lodge was closed for the season, so there were no accommodations.

What I do to mitigate the crowds

Number One, I remember that the parks are for all of us.  In order to have my experience and to honor others, I find the quieter, less crowded times of the day to explore.; that means I can enjoy pre-dawn photography, and get to an off beat location for sunrise.  Oftentimes the shuttle driver is the person suggesting where to photograph sunrise and sunset (I scout my preferred location away from those suggestions). The other joy: I stay at camp later and explore the park later in the day, when the tour buses are less likely to be dumping visitors at the most popular trails.  Here are some ideas:

  • Explore the parks during “off season”.
  • Get out and stay out, exploring the park while others are having breakfast/dinner
  • Scout locations before setting up for new images
  • Steep hikes and long trails (get going early, stay late)
  • Tripod: bring it along, but avoid setting it up in an exposed area.  It’s like a magnet
  • Go off the beaten path (Angels Landing, Emerald Pools, Bright Angel Trail are filled with hikers)
  • Take advantage of storms (great photo ops, rarely crowded locations). But be safe.
  • I like to go find a tree to sit under, have a snack, and get away from the trail and the noise.  It’s never wise to go too far off-trail, but as long as I feel safe and know my way back, I’m golden.


The Parks Service is introducing a series of programs aimed at showing visitors the importance of listening. I prefer long, quiet hikes and  look forward to the “soundscapes” focus in the next few years. 

Sound Level

Sound levels in national parks can vary greatly, ranging from among the quietest ever monitored, to extremely loud. While, for example, the din of a typical suburban area fluctuates between 50 and 60 dBA, the crater of Haleakala National Park is intensely quiet, with levels hovering around 10 dBA. Along some remote trails in Grand Canyon National Park, sound levels, at 20 dBA, are softer than a whisper ( Bell, Mace, & Benfield, 2009). The noise levels standing near a snowcoach in Yellowstone National Park, however, can be compared to standing three feet from a churning garbage disposal (California Department of Transportation, 1982).

Our world is getting noisier. With dramatic increases in traffic, the explosion of digital gadgets (think of your buddy’s constantly chirping Smartphone) and our increasing capacity to reach once-remote areas, quiet solitude is a diminishing commodity. Not surprisingly then, the American public comes to parks with natural quiet in mind. They come for the soothing effect of a gurgling stream, a delicate bird song, or the rustle of leaves on a fall day. From the awe-inspiring thunder of a waterfall to the gentle rustle of leaves in the breeze, natural sounds have a subtle but profound impact on visitors. In fact, 72% of Americans say one of the most important reasons for preserving national parks is to provide opportunities to experience natural peace and the sounds of nature (Haas & Wakefield, 1998).

However, natural quiet in parks is increasingly at risk. To study the effects of human-caused noise on visitors, volunteers at Muir Woods National Monument cataloged all sounds they heard, day and night, for a year. What they found was surprising. It was rarely quiet (Monroe, Newman, Pilcher, Manning, & Stack, 2007). Parks are experiencing an on-going acoustic assault by everything from air tours to maintenance equipment. Such noise affects visitors’ perceptions of solitude and tranquility. In a related study at Muir Woods, visitors found increasing levels of human-caused sounds to be unacceptable and even annoying (Monroe et al., 2007). Noisy visitors, loud talking, and other related sounds were found to substantially detract from the quality of the visitor experience. In other studies, noise has been shown to be more disturbing to visitors if it is loud, occurs in bursts, is unpredictable, or if it interferes with quiet activities such as bird watching.

Isolated areas are not exempt. In Grand Canyon, no single location is totally free of aircraft noise, and in some areas it can be heard up to 43 times in a 20-minute period. Backcountry hikers, after September 11, 2001, reported knowing that something was very wrong because there were no sounds from commercial aircraft (Bell, Mace, & Benfield, 2009). Tranquility, it turns out, even in the most remote areas of our national parks, is at stake.

Natural and cultural sounds awaken the sense of awe that connects us to the splendor of national parks and have a powerful effect on our emotions, attitudes, and memories. The National Park Service regards these sounds as part of a web of natural and cultural resources that must be protected.

You can make a difference.

Click this link to the National Parks, Natural Sounds site.

  • Speak softly when having conversations, especially on hiking trails and at campsites.
  • Be aware that the noise you make could affect other visitors, and encourage friends and family to do the same.
  • Be considerate of campground quiet hours.
  • Look for mute options on electronic equipment such as cell phones, watches, or cameras.
  • Turn off cell phones / avoid using speakerphones.
  • Consider leaving iPods and or personal radios in the car or at home.
  • Avoid using external speakers that others can hear.
  • Participate in non-motorized recreational activites (i.e., hiking, birdwatching, snowshoeing, canoeing)

The great thing about soundscapes is that with just one small change, you can make a dramatic difference. Imagine just talking a little quieter the next time you visit a national park. That alone can help to greatly improve a soundscape.

The rim of the grand is a great location to work with warm/cool light. ©Kit Frost

Along the Rim Trail of the Grand Canyon is the most crowded of all the places I visited.

I anticipate that we will see some changes in the parks over the next few years.  The parking lots are packed, sometimes with no place to park by 11am, and with or without the shuttle bus, the lines are long.  At the Grand Canyon, privately owned buses are allowed to “dump” groups of tourists at each of the overlooks, so for about 1/2 hour the noise level is high and the locations crowded.

I would not want to return to the days of cars in the parks, because the lack of parking and the unsafe conditions are really awful.  I think the shuttle service in the Grand Canyon and Zion, Yosemite, are a MUST do.  Not only does the driver tell stories, but the convenience is amazing; lines and all.  I’ve never waited longer than 10 minutes for a shuttle ride, and after a sweet, long hike, it’s kinda nice to sit and let the driver take me to my next location.

How wonderful to be at the Court of the Patriarchs during a somewhat clearing storm. ©Kit Frost

How wonderful to be at the Court of the Patriarchs during a somewhat clearing storm.  ©Kit Frost

What’s your experience?  When did you visit one of our National Parks? Did you experience crowds?  Did you love it anyway?


Use your smart phone for video

Why Video?

Over the years I have used 35mm, medium and large format film and digital gear to express my vision. Upon returning from an adventure, I spent days in the darkroom, developing and printing in color and black and while. And as the digital revolution began I scanned negatives, large format transparencies and slides. I now work with digital files in the lightroom, my studio.

My goal is to create images that speak to the moments I experience.  I like the slow process of becoming familiar with the subject, letting it speak to me, and then capturing the photograph, or a series of photographs.


Expressing my vision with video

On locations, I often find that I want to capture a sense of place beyond the single still image.  Today’s smart phones and digital cameras include the function to record video clips. I use my smart phone (iPhone 5s) and my Nikon gear (D5300, D5200 and varied Nikon lenses) to record short video clips when the muse speaks to me. I record a series of 30-45 second clips. Essential gear is a tripod to hold the camera steady, but a monopod will do too.  And there are really small tripods available for smart phones and they work quite well when set up on a rock or boulder.


I usually collect about 10-20 video clips at the scene, and audio, I edit the clips and decide during post-production whether to keep the sound for the final video presentation.

In National Parks, it’s rare to have a location to yourself, so I often explore out of the way places to make my video recordings.  The audio can be edited if folks nearby are chatting.

I upload all my photos to Lightroom, rate and reject, then develop the RAW files.  I aim to reproduce the light, color and essence of the moments I photographed the scene.  In Lightroom, it’s possible to develop a single captured image and apply those changes across the entire group of photos.  This saves tons of time in front of the computer (because I’d rather be in front of the creek!)

Video clips can also be developed for better saturation and contrast than the original.  Lightroom has the tools for that.

What do you like to use your iPhone video capabilities for?  Family gatherings? Vacation? The Auntie Show?

Do you serve popcorn at your laptop presentations?

Links to Video Samples

Capitol Reef Video Sequence: Fremont River Song

Crater Lake National Park: As the Water Speaks (created during my recent Artist Residency in the Park)

And in Zion National Park, a series of still images combined with video clips for my YouTube channel. 


Follow Your Muse in Our National Parks

#FindYourPark, #NationalPark, #Acadia, #SchoodicInstitute

Kit Frost


I wrote a few blog posts with information about applying for the Artist in Residence programs at our National Parks.  And I’ve blogged a bit while at Crater Lake and Acadia National Parks.

And here’s a terrific time lapse by a young artist who worked for 6 months on this project: Downeast: Acadia National Park, Schoodic Peninsula.  I share because I’m completely inspired.  And part of any residency is to explore what others have created.  Thanks Tade Yoder.

I thought readers might enjoy a bit of information about once chosen, what is involved in an Art Residency.

Following the Muse

More than anything else, a residency is a gift of time; time away from everyday distractions.  Although much of my life is spent following my bliss, a typical day in residence differs from…

View original post 387 more words


Crater Lake: Photographing the Moods of a Landscape

#NationalPark #FindYourPark, Artist in Residence at Crater Lake National Park

Kit Frost

Photographing the Moods of a Landscape

While here at Crater Lake National Park I’ve been blessed with a wide range of light, clouds, weather and the luxury of photographing whenever the spirit moves me (and the muse strikes). Last week, the first week of my residency, the sky was what I normally call “boring blue sky”. But my experience here is that the lake is stunning when the sky is blue, with lots of deep, clear water and the sky reflected. It was great to open my eyes to the idea of photographing a big blue lake with a big blue sky.

There's nothing quite like seeing the sky reflected in Crater Lake. There’s nothing quite like seeing the sky reflected in Crater Lake.

I made this I made this “sketch” with my iPhone.

As the days flew by, the weather became more interesting for me.  Artistically I am inspired by clouds and cloud shadows, cast shadows on the snow, incoming and clearing storms, and…

View original post 220 more words


Fall Color Photography Lessons, 2017

Learn to Photograph Fall Color in Colorado

September, 2017. Three Day Workshop in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado

Let us teach you how to photograph grand landscapes like this one between Durango and Silverton, Colorado. ©Kit Frost

Let us teach you how to photograph grand landscapes like this one between Durango and Silverton, Colorado. ©Kit Frost

Our Colorado Fall Color Photography Workshop takes place in the San Juan Mountains.  Round-trip from Durango, we take you to our favorite grand and intimate scenic locations throughout Southern Colorado, stopping along the way to teach lessons such as:

  • Composition for the Grand Colorado Landscapes
  • Photographing Aspens in the Forest
  • Patterns and Textures of Aspen
  • Working with Depth of Field and Shutter Speed.
  • We make sure you’re familiar and comfortable with YOUR camera.
Photographing in and around aspen forests is a fun, learning experience on our Fall Color Workshop. ©Kit Frost

Photographing in and around aspen forests is a fun, learning experience on our Fall Color Workshop. ©Kit Frost

Day One finds us exploring the landscapes, light and aspens between Durango and Ouray, we explore locations for lessons at the Pigeon, Turret view, along Lime Creek Road, Molas Pass, and then on to the glorious Red Mountain Pass to Ouray (the Switzerland of America).

Skills learned:

  1. How to properly use YOUR camera to combine f-stop, shutter and ISO to make your images sing.  Discussion of what makes a good photo into a great photo.
  2. Aperture control for depth of field
  3. Shutter control for those “quaking” aspen.
  4. Choosing back-lighting, front, and side lighting to improve your photography

Day Two we travel up and along Owl Creek Road to Silver Jack Reservoir.  The Cimmaron Mountains are our backdrop as we explore “near-far” relationships in the autumn landscape.  At sunset we will photograph the Sneffels Range from Dallas Divide, a must see fall scene in Colorado. Learn what composition skills are needed to isolate beauty in the “big” scene.

Skills learned:

  1. Using leading lines in your photos.
  2. Create near-far compositions and learn to select the proper f-stop
  3. Working with exposure compensation (+-)
It's always surprising to see the mix of color in our golden aspen forests. Let the landscape show off to you and photograph this awesome display. ©Kit Frost

It’s always surprising to see the mix of color in our golden aspen forests. Let the landscape show off to you and photograph this awesome display. ©Kit Frost

Day Three:  After an early check out of our accommodations, we continue chasing the fall color and mountain compositions that “call our names”.  We continue to teach you to improve your photography skills.  Digital video instruction (optional) will be demonstrated as we make our way through the mountains, creating short video clips of your adventure, the forests, time lapse of the grand and intimate scenes.  This workshop ends after lunch on the last day.

The Amazing Autumn Color  of Red Mountain Pass

The Amazing Autumn Color of Red Mountain Pass

Tuition and Accommodations

Accommodations in Ouray are at the newly remodeled Matterhorn Motel.  Once registered for our Fall Color Photo Workshop, we’ll pass along more information about suggested gear, clothing. Click here for Kit’s suggestions for adventure gear.

Tuition, includes expert photography instruction, accommodations, light beverages and lunch at our photo locations. $1298.

Dinner will be at restaurants in Ouray or Ridgway. (costs not included)

For more information about fall color in Colorado.

And Why Leaves Change Color

And while in Durango.

Join us for our Adobe Lightroom class after your workshop,

Learn to upload, edit and sequence, title and add music to YouTube and Facebook videos.