A Year Photographing The National Parks


For the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service, I had a dream assignment photographing the national parks. I traveled to and photographed all 59 (at the time) of the U.S. national parks in a single year for National Geographic. When other Nat Geo photographers have been spending up to a year on assignment in a single national park, I was racing by means of them at breakneck speed. It was a whirlwind year filled with much more beauty and nature than any a single particular person should really ever get to knowledge in such a brief timeframe.

The book, A Year in the National Parks: The Greatest American Road Trip, chronicles Irish’s adventure.

If you are performing the math, you have almost certainly realized that photographing 59 national parks in 52 weeks is close to not possible, and you’d be appropriate. But I was crazy adequate to pitch it, and they have been crazy adequate to let me attempt to do it. Seeking back, it was without having a doubt a single of the most difficult years of my life. I was out photographing every single sunrise and sunset, I hiked all day, edited late into the evening (when I wasn’t shooting astrophotography), and got quite small sleep for the complete year.

I had so quite a few blissful, “pinch-me-I’m-dreaming” moments as properly. In a nation as diverse and picturesque as the United States, the national parks represent the greatest of us. They are the locations we hold most sacred, for their purity and jaw-dropping beauty.

Prior to this assignment, I had currently visited about half of the U.S. national parks, either on my personal or on assignment for different publications. The national parks are quite specific to me they are exactly where I fell in adore with exploring the outdoors, and they played a huge function in me becoming a photographer. For the centennial of the Park Service, I wanted to challenge myself and to give back to these locations that had provided me so considerably more than my lifetime.

It is quite really hard to distill an complete year of remarkable national park scenery into a brief list, but I’ve attempted to share some of my favourite pictures and moments right here. If you have been to ask me tomorrow or subsequent week to do the identical workout, I’d probably have a absolutely unique list.

Excellent Sand Dunes National Park &amp Preserve

Excellent Sand Dunes National Park &amp Preserve, Colorado.

I adore photographing sand dunes, and there is possibly no improved location to do so than Excellent Sand Dunes National Park &amp Preserve in Colorado. These are the tallest dunes in North America, tucked up against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and supply endless possibilities for inventive photography. My favourite moment from going to this park came not from capturing the light and shadow at play on the dunes in the course of sunrise and sunset, but from backpacking far into the dunes and spending the evening beneath the stars. The lack of light pollution, coupled with the great tent place and the brilliant star show overhead, was a evening to try to remember. In truth, this image ended up becoming the cover of the book about the project, A Year in the National Parks: The Greatest American Road Trip.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park, California.

If you stop by Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park, California, you will no doubt finish up setting your tripod subsequent to a line of other photographers. A lot of photographers I know hate this aspect of national park photography, and I can fully grasp why. I, also, attempt to appear for unique and exceptional views in my photography. Having said that, there’s practically nothing incorrect with capturing well-known vistas. Personally, I appreciate standing shoulder to shoulder with other passionate photographers, sharing ideas and a entertaining conversation. I’ve discovered a lot from other individuals, taught quite a few younger photographers my personal tricks, and have genuinely enjoyed the comradery of such a scene.

This photo reminds of not only of what an remarkable scene Zabriskie Point can be to photograph but also of the buddies I’ve created standing at such well-liked vistas who share my passion for photography. My recommendation is to invest some time shooting at these busy spots, and then forge out on your personal to make exceptional imagery. Each avenues are worthy of your time as a photographer. 

Redwood National Park

an image from a year photographing the national parks
Redwood National Park, California.

There are specific memories that, when I feel back upon them, nonetheless really feel extremely genuine. This glorious early-summer season morning in Redwood National and State Parks in California is a single of them. I went hiking by myself along the coastal trail. The air was cool and crisp, I try to remember a gentle breeze blowing, the songbirds have been singing and jumping from branch to branch…it was merely a great morning in nature. If I shut my eyes, I can travel back to this moment without having delay and nonetheless really feel the gentle breeze and hear the birds chirping. I reside for these moments in nature, as they have dramatic methods of refilling my spiritual cup. I’m not a quite religious particular person, but if I did worship, it would be appropriate right here in this cathedral created of trees.

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

One particular of my photographic ambitions for the project was to capture every single park in as quite a few methods as I could, which would inevitably locate me staying up way into the evening to capture a glimpse of the Milky Way. There are a lot of wonderful “dark sky” national parks, and I take into consideration Crater Lake in Oregon to be a single of the greatest for stargazing and astrophotography. This distinct evening was a single of the most memorable photographing the evening sky, as the reflections on the lake blew me away. I was fortunate adequate to locate an old weathered tree for a foreground, which completed the image.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.

If you have been to ask your buddies which of the national parks are their favorites, I doubt you would hear them mention Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. It is surely a single of the lesser-identified amongst the likes of Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grand Canyon. Do not count out these quieter parks though—Theodore Roosevelt is a single of the wonderful hidden gems in the park method. There, you can locate badlands as impressive as these at namesake park Badlands National Park in neighboring South Dakota, as properly as attractive rivers, outstanding wildlife such as coyotes, wild (feral) horses and huge herds of bison. I loved discovering the off-the-beaten-path gems inside the park method, and this park—named following the “Conservation President”—was a single that blew me away.

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

One particular of the wonderful sights in all of the national parks is watching climate systems roll in more than the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The thunderstorms in the course of the late spring and summer season months can be immense and awe-inspiring. Standing at Hopi Point on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, I watched as this fierce thunderstorm gradually overwhelmed the North Rim with menacing clouds and torrential rain. I felt as if I was witnessing a thing actually specific, and I was so fortunate to capture it on camera.

Katmai National Park &amp Preserve

Katmai National Park &amp Preserve, Alaska.

Katmai National Park &amp Preserve in Alaska is identified for its massive population of grizzly bears. Most photographers in Katmai will invest a lot of time at Brooks Falls hoping to recreate the well-known photo (Thomas Mangelsen’s “Catch of the Day”) of the spawning salmon precariously perched in mid-air appropriate ahead of a hungry grizzly closes its jaws on it.

Having said that, I fell in adore with Kukak Bay on the east side of the national park, exactly where handful of guests attain and wild grizzlies roam free of charge. Exploring by boat, we have been in a position to get close to and invest time with locally identified grizzlies like “One-Ear,” who showed off her two young cubs. National parks are specific locations exactly where wildlife can wander protected as they have for millennia, and obtaining to see these well-known grizzlies is a single of the wonderful wildlife experiences a single can have not only in the park method but anyplace.

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park, Maine.

Surprisingly, the northeast U.S. does not have quite a few national parks, but the handful of there are definitely great. I 1st photographed the Bass Harbor Lighthouse as quickly as I got to Acadia National Park in Maine, merely mainly because I knew it was an iconic shot, and I was anxious to capture it. But I kept returning to this scene more than and more than once again, mesmerized by the rock, trees, lighthouse and the altering colors of the sky. It is such a “zen” scene along a rocky coast in the wonderful state of Maine, and more than time it became a single of my favourite views in all of the parks.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

On a yearlong quest to stop by all of the national parks, it is not possible to stop by every single at the greatest season for photography. Seasonality was a continuous challenge on this project. I visited Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado toward the finish of autumn and missed the fall foliage that tends to make this park so well-known. One particular beautiful morning at Dream Lake created up for the lack of autumn colour. I do not try to remember ever seeing such a fiery sunrise, and the aptly named Dream Lake reflected the brilliant colors. The snowy logs top up to the deep reds of sunrise on the mountains make this image—and moment—one of my favourite from the complete road trip.

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

If you have been to ask me what was a single of the most attractive scenes I knowledgeable in all of the national parks, I would say it was this morning at Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Positive, it is a well-known vista, and there are probably to be quite a few photographers there every single morning. I occurred to stop by Grand Teton in the course of the height of fall foliage, when all leaves have been exploding with autumn colors. Add to that the surreal pink sky from a attractive morning sunrise, and you get a single of the most iconic and extremely amazing scenes in all of the park method. It was a view virtually also great to think.

Occasionally in the course of this project, I felt like it was absolutely unfair to take credit for any photographs mainly because it was actually nature that was performing all the heavy lifting. 

See much more of Jonathan Irish’s perform at JonathanIrish.com.


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