Photographing National Parks;
A Guide For Scouting And Shooting America’s Most Cherished Lands
by Chris Nicholson
Sidelight Books $27.95 US
As the United States celebrates the centennial of the national parks, it seems a fitting time to offer a review of something a bit different than the usual coffee-table book filled with page after page of gorgeous images. This is a relatively small paperback book; in fact, it is small enough to fit in the center console of a vehicle or in a backpack, and perhaps that is the point. The biggest section of the book, 90 pages of the 199-page-work, is devoted to a park by park rundown of the best features of each of the 59 treasures in the United States National Park system.
Photographer and writer Chris Nicholson, a former magazine editor for ten years prior to 2004, now works independently focusing primarily on the travel and sports genres. He has fashioned this book to appeal to the travel minded photographer seeking to explore the United States National Parks.
The first chapter of the book deals with the general heading, Knowledge. In these 17 pages he discusses what it takes to begin to prepare intellectually for a visit to any National Park. He briefly discuses important things such as the length of the visit, the print, online, and personal resources to consult to plan the trip, and how to make effective use of the time on site in the park, whether that is a once in a lifetime do it now or never again visit, or a simple scouting trip to plan future visits. Having spent many years traveling, enjoying local food and culture, and photographing, he has learned many lessons and he willingly shares them in these pages.
The next section deals with Logistics, or as the sub headings say, Things To Plan, Lodging, Locomotion, Food, Wardrobe, Safety, and finally Leave No Trace. Under each of these headings the more detailed aspects of actually planning a successful National Park trip are discussed: fees, permits, in park lodging, nearby lodging, RVing, tent camping, travel by car or truck, biking, boating, travel by air, and hiking. Food is another subsection; hint, pack something to sustain yourself just in case, and so you won’t give up on a great shot because you’re too hungry to wait it out. Wardrobe consists of the necessary clothing to make yourself safely comfortable within the conditions you’ll encounter; this includes proper footwear and gloves. In the Safety section he discusses the basics of survival in terms of what gear is needed as well as what actions to take. Finally in Leave No Trace Chris Nicholson encourages the reader to: 1. Plan Ahead and Prepare; 2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces; 3. Dispose of Waste Properly; 4. Leave What You Find; 5. Minimize Campfire Impacts; 6. Respect Wildlife; and 7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors.
The next 18 pages deal with Tools: the lenses, filters, memory cards, bags, vests, tripods, monopods, hiking pods, batteries, other power devices, geotagging, apps and accessories the contemporary photographer needs to succeed in the field. Nicholson is not an advocate of any particular camera system and readily recognizes that “This is an exciting time to be in this business.” He then adds, “The most important considerations for choosing a camera are that you are comfortable working with it, and that it helps you produce images that satisfy your creative needs.”
Chapter Four is headed Environments and deals with the varied landscapes, biomes, and conditions that make up the US National Parks system; mountains, forests, coastlines, deserts and snow. He pays particular attention to the latter for its exposure challenges and the travel and safety concerns it presents.
The final chapter, Techniques, provides basic instructional coverage of many of the photographic opportunities to be found throughout the parks. In 26 pages it is of course impossible to cover everything, yet Nicholson provides the reader solid advice to produce successful images of reflections, fog, water motion, silhouettes, sunbursts, moonlit landscapes, and star filled night skies. He also explores various image stacking techniques such as focus stacking, exposure stacking, HDR, and what he calls Highlight Priority to create nearly white yet detailed subjects against a nearly black detail-less background.
The rest of the book presents each park one by one in alphabetical order. From Acadia to Zion, they’re all covered in about a page and a half each. Nicholson plays no favorites and provides just enough detail to guide the reader, or as he says “I encourage you to explore.”
This handy, compact, and easy-to-read volume makes an ideal starting point on a photographer’s journey to a national park. Whether as a glove box companion just in case, or a quick reference guide near the travel daydream chair, Photographing National Parks is sure to fire the traveling photographer’s desire to get out there and visit one or all of the United States’ 59 National Parks.