Don’t miss our recent post on the Instagram Illusion and trend of over-curated travel photography.

 

Whenever we get compliments about our National Park pictures, it catches me by surprise. It’s flattering. I love to hear it. Photographing and documenting is definitely a huge part of our trip and the best way we can communicate the beauty and wonder of these places to you, our audience. But if there is any credit due, it must be given almost entirely to the magnificent landscapes we have been continuously surrounded by since we left on our trip last August. It would be hard not to take a good picture in the National Parks. So my goal with this post is to first explain our photography philosophy to help you put some context around all these pictures we post, and in the process encourage you that these same beautiful shots are available to any Average Joe and Joelle like us.

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I admit that we sometimes get a case of Photo Inferiority Syndrome. Within the National Parks and adventure travel communities we plug into there are countless professional and very skilled amateur photographers who post some incredible pictures all over social media (we recently wrote about one of our professional adventure photographer friends, Chris Brinlee Jr.). It’s a bit intimidating. It puts on the pressure. Looking at these photos, we question our own photography methods and philosophy. I’ve bemoaned several times before, “If only we had some good camera lenses… If only I’d taken up photography as a hobby a few years ago… then we could really make the most of all these amazing (often once-in-a-lifetime) photography opportunities we experience almost daily.”

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But I’m mostly fooling myself.

The fact is, our trip is not about capturing that perfect photograph or sharing it to get thousands of Instagram followers and Facebook shares. It’s not about photographs at all. Don’t get me wrong, we try to take the best photos we can and we would love to have thousands of Insta followers. But our trip is first and foremost about immersing ourselves in the adventure of the National Parks and sharing a firsthand, raw, genuine account with our audience to encourage them that the wonder and adventure of National Parks is open to everyone. And I think the “photography philosophy” we’ve settled into allows us an enjoyable, low-pressure way to do just that.

 

  1. Fans of the phone – Over 95% of our pictures are taken with our iPhone 6. We have a Canon DSLR with the basic lens, but it barely ever makes it out of the car. Sometimes I feel pretty guilty about that. But the iPhone is soooo much easier to use. It’s obviously easier and lighter to carry, especially on our many long dayhikes or backpacking trips. It’s in a waterproof case and is much more resistant to the elements. It can easily switch to record video or panoramas, which our camera can’t take. The photos are roughly 100 times easier to upload and share to social and our blog because they don’t require transferring from memory card to computer to online. And in the end, the photos are almost the same quality – many times better when I used to forget to focus the DSLR right (a source of repeated exasperation for Elizabeth).

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    Me trying to use our camera more… and remembering to focus!IMG_9417

  2. Minimal editing or filters – In the beginning of the trip we tried to load all our pictures on iPhoto and edit them to perfection. I not only found this time consuming, but it was such a hassle that it quickly became my least favorite part of the blog work. The editing quickly faded away and now the pictures go straight from our phone’s camera roll onto the blog or social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). And I think I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve used filters. You could make an argument that we’re just lazy, but I’ve come to appreciate and take pride in the fact that our photos show the parks in the raw – as close as possible to how we see them.
  3. Experience parks first, photograph parks second – First, we don’t plan our days or activities around getting the best photographs. We want to experience the most we can in each park. If we see an awesome view, hopefully the light will be right and a good picture is the byproduct. Second, we just take snapshots and never spend much time worrying or waiting for perfect picture composition or lighting. When my parents and sister hiked around Shenandoah with us, my mom was surprised to see our video post a week later because she didn’t even realize we were taking any videos.
  4. Put in sweat equity – There are many great photographers who can and have captured breathtaking shots of the famously breathtaking (and famously crowded) Tunnel View at Yosemite. But probably about 2% of the hundreds of people who take in Tunnel View climb the 4.5 miles and 3,500 feet to take in my favorite view of the valley from Yosemite Point. What we lack in photography skills, equipment and patience, we make up for by being willing and able to go places and chase experiences few other visitors do. Another example was when I hopped in our inflatable kayak to float down the Merced River, which carves through Yosemite Valley. I was the only one I’d seen on the river during our whole week at the park and as a result I had a unique perspective from the water level and scored some great pictures of Half Dome and its reflection. Prioritizing rarity over quality allows us to focus on immersing ourselves in the parks instead of stressing over our camera.

Yosemite Point view.

Kayaking the Merced River.

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Elizabeth documenting the results of her “sweat equity” before her first shower in…?

 

Now I really hope this post isn’t taken as dig towards photographers. I have tremendous respect for people who practice the art of photography. There are many times I have admired and envied their skill. However, I want to encourage people (including myself) that everyone can capture the beauty of the National Parks in their pictures (and more importantly in their memories)…. not just the people with camera lenses as long as my arm.

Over a dozen wildlife photographers and one sleeping black bear in Yellowstone.

 

Just don’t be like this joker (going beyond the railing and leaning over 318′ Vernal Falls) from our Yosemite April Fools post.

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I’m definitely not saying our photography philosophy is the right way. But it allows us to focus on enjoying and experiencing the beauty of the parks without getting overwhelmed and preoccupied with capturing that beauty. So it is the right way for us.

 

Don’t miss our recent post on the Instagram Illusion and trend of over-curated travel photography.

Written by Cole

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