Professional photographer and avid backpacker, Erin Sullivan, shares her tips for photographing the varied landscapes of America’s playground in their best light

Top Tips for Taking Awe-Inspiring National Park Photos
Kenny Karst

Capturing the majesty of the great outdoors with your camera lens is easier said than done. Getting the right shot of the sunset, or of the brilliant colors of changing leaves in autumn, can make all difference for Instagram-worthy or framable shots.

According to Sullivan, above all, timing is everything. She recommends skipping the busiest months of the summertime to avoid crowds. “Going a little bit early in the season, or waiting it out until just after summer, can be worth it,” says the L.A.-based travel blogger, who has spent the past few years leading adventure programs for teens all over the world.

Whether during high and low seasons, or during ideal shoulder seasons in between, she recommends experimenting with perspectives when photographing the parks’ most popular sights.

For a fresh take on the otherworldly desert landscape at Canyonlands National Park, for instance, try visiting during the winter. “You might catch Mesa Arch with a dusting of snow, adding something special to that classic shot,” says Sullivan. When shooting Yosemite’s popular Half Dome, capture it at sunset, when the lighting is especially spectacular.

Also key to a photogenic trip: planning ahead.

Visiting Joshua Tree? She recommends going during the week, if possible, and arriving early to stake your claim of first-come, first-serve campsites. When capturing dreamy desert scenes with your lens, look up. “Winter nights can be chilly,” she warns. “But you might score a fiery sunrise if you’ve got clouds in the forecast.”

At Haleakalā National Park on Maui, Sullivan encourages visitors to rise as early as 3 a.m. to catch the morning’s first light from above the clouds. Bring your cameras, and don’t forget to make a reservation with the park ahead of time, she adds. “This sunrise is not one you will soon forget!”

For easily-accessible, photo-friendly mountain views in Washington’s North Cascades National Park, Sullivan suggests the overlook points right off the road at Diablo Lake, especially if you’re not up for a long-haul sunrise hike. 

To glimpse Sullivan’s journeys and for major travel inspo, check out her Instagram: @ErinOutdoors, or get her take on gear recommendations, from starter cameras to professional-grade options.

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