With summer ending, this is a great time to head out to our national parks. The kids are back in school, the crowds have dispersed and the fall colors are brilliant.
Arches National Park in Utah is a great little park to photograph. Unlike Yellowstone, which requires miles of driving, Arches is a manageable park with most of the classic sites within easy reach.
Photographing Arches is also made pleasant, since nearby is the handy gateway town of Moab. This also makes it a great base to photograph nearby Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park.
Some photo and travel tips regarding Arches National Park and vicinity:
1) Think small. Fly into a smaller regional airport. Rather than flying into a big airport hub like Salt Lake City and driving five hours to get to Moab, fly into Grand Junction, Colorado, and drive an hour and half along a scenic highway to get to your destination.
In addition, the much smaller regional airports are a breeze for travelers, as opposed to the behemoth airports that require lots of walking and can pose travel headaches.
2) Get an alarm clock. How do you get brilliant colors in your photographs? Get up early and stay out late to photograph at sunrise and sunset, when nature's light returns the favor of your early rising with deep saturated colors.
3) Read before you see. Before you even click the shutter button, do extensive research on the places you want to photograph. Read guidebooks, magazines and photo website forums for advice on the best shot locations.
Also, check out books that feature your trip destination to gain a better appreciation of the places you'll discover. For example, for my trip to Savannah, Georgia, I read John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. For Arches, I read the classic Desert Solitaire: A Season In the Wilderness, by Edward Abbey.
4) Rock steady. To get those super-sharp photos, you'll need a tripod. I travel with a very lightweight carbon-fiber tripod that's small enough to fit into my carry-on luggage.
Good landscape photography requires shooting in weak light (sunrise and sunset) and small apertures. Professional lenses will deliver some great shots for you, but if your camera isn't steady, you'll get blurry photos. Invest in a good tripod before you invest in quality lenses.
5) Seek inspiration to be inspired. In downtown Moab, you can visit Tom Till's photography gallery. Yes, you can duplicate his classic shots – but it will inspire you to search deeper to find your own "classics" while improving your photography skills.
6) What a bargain: Invest in the $80 National Parks Pass.
If you want to meet Europeans, there's no need to go to Europe – just visit your closest national park. I have met many more Europeans than Americans in the many national parks I've visited. There's a reason why so many foreign travelers visit our parks: the wondrous beauty of our national treasures is unparalleled. Visit our national parks before some of these national treasures are gone.
The photograph to the left is a sunrise shot of Turret Arch looking through the North Window.
Photo tip: Get here early to catch a spectacular light show. In the Windows section of the park, take the trail toward the North Window and hike right under it until you see a trail that you can scramble up on to get to a ledge. From here you can shoot the classic photo that you see above. That little white speck you see on the upper left hand side is the moon.
Above all, be a traveler, not a tourist!