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National Park Photography 101

Don’t we all love those gorgeous photos of national parks to inspire us to explore further? They aren’t as difficult to take as you might think, with the right knowledge and lots of practice. I’m Sandra Ramos, photography ambassador for the Hello Ranger Community, and I’m happy to help!

Guadalupe Mountains National Park/Photo courtesy of Sandra Ramos

Photography is the capturing of light in a scene, and playing with light is the key to engaging photos. My goal here is to help give you tips and tricks you may not know about or use to help you get the best shots during your time in our most precious lands.

If you’ve followed me for a while, you know my love for sharing great tips and sometimes I like to ask my much smarter friends for help, too. 

So, let’s kick this off with answers to some frequently asked questions I get:

Q: What camera should I get?

 A: The best camera is always the one you have with you, whether it be a cell phone or a top-of-the-line DSLR. Cameras are the tools of the trade, and you can’t take the shot if it’s not with you. 

The key to great photography is knowing how to use those tools, and by that I mean, not just shooting in auto mode, but getting creative with your settings to make the shot your own. Take time to learn what your camera can do and the basics of photography. When your creativity is limited by your camera, only then should you look to get the latest and greatest model (and do your research beforehand!).

Photo by Sandra Ramos

Q: Why doesn’t my photo look like the one in the magazine?

A: It could be several reasons. 

One: the type of file your camera is shooting. Many DSLRs shoot in RAW and/or JPG files. A raw file is a digital negative with no processing or sharpening; jpgs are sharpened and saturated by the camera (the amount depends on your camera settings). If you’re shooting RAW (which you should be), your photos will require post processing in a high-quality software (Lightroom, Capture One, and Luminar are all good options) before they look like the scene you are shooting. With a jpg file, you are letting the camera control the color and saturation, which may or may not be what the scene looks like, or the type of photo you want to create.

Two: are your photos sharp? Meaning, are they in focus? I’ve seen so many photos posted on social media where the image just isn’t sharp and it distorts the quality of the shot.

Three: is it a snapshot, or is it a photograph? Essentially, the snapshot is a quick photo taken to remember a scene or situation. A photograph was composed, set up, and the play of light and shadows was taken into consideration before the shutter was pressed. There is nothing wrong with a snapshot, but it shouldn’t be confused with taking a photograph, where a story is created and being expressed visually. 

Big Bend National Park/Photo by Sandra Ramos

So, let’s have a go at it, shall we? This week, go outside and practice! Research your camera online, learn some great features and try them out. 

Have a photography question you’d like me to answer? Shoot me an email and I’ll try to answer it in my next blog post! sandra@nationalparkpatchlady.com

Sandra Ramos in action/Photo by Chris Rief

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Header photo by Sandra Ramos

Sandra Ramos is an avid roadtripper, seeker, history nerd, photographer, and photo educator who enjoys telling the stories of our national park sites. She began her photography journey documenting her political career, which blossomed into a passion for photographic storytelling of national parks. When not traveling, she enjoys teaching photography and technology classes. #IBrakeforBrownSigns.

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