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Photography In The National Parks: My Five Favorites From 2017


A yellow flower for breakfast, Mount Rainier National Park / Rebecca Latson

Happy 2018! Continuing with an annual tradition I started several years previously, I’m using this first Photography in the National Parks article to detail five of my favorite images captured during the previous year, and why they are favorites. Among such things as composition, light, and weather conditions, I also include the story or feeling behind each photo. There is a story behind every national park photo we capture, you know.

A yellow flower for breakfast, Mount Rainier National Park

I included this story in Part 4 of my Armchair Photography Guide, but it bears telling again, since this is one of my five favorites from 2017.

Returning to my car after a short photo session along the road from Paradise to Longmire, I detected movement out of the corner of my eye and peered over the road’s edge to spy a young marmot meandering up the slope. Upon reaching the roadside, this marmot proceeded to eat up every flower in bloom, all of which happened to be colored yellow. If I made no sudden, swift movements, the marmot stayed put, holding the stem with its delicate little paws as it munched on one flower after another. Later that evening, as I drove the same route back up to Paradise, I looked over to that pullout and noticed every single yellow flower was gone. 

How did I get the shot? I used my 100-400mm telephoto lens and a camera with a fast fps (frames per second) capacity. I set the focus mode for moving subjects (Canon calls it AI-Servo, Nikon calls this setting AF-C, Pentax calls it AF.C, and Sony calls it AF-C.). With the lens’ image stabilization turned on, I applied the “burst method” of holding down the shutter button for several successive clicks, thus achieving more than a few keepers for the files.

January blue hour at Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park

A January blue hour at Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park / Rebecca Latson

Glacier National Park in January is cold. The frigid winter weather creates a crisp, clear atmosphere perfect for photography. Pulling into a turnout between Apgar and Lake McDonald Lodge, I followed a boot-trod trail down to the ice-crusted lakeshore and remained there as afternoon turned into evening. I enjoyed a pleasant chat with another photographer while capturing the sunset and last-ditch alpenglow before the sun sank completely below the horizon. My acquaintance bid me goodbye, and I remained in that spot for just a bit longer. My patience was rewarded with this lovely blue hour image as Lake McDonald reflected the snow-clad mountains and sky softening with the blues, mauves and purples of oncoming night. For those of you unfamiliar with the term “blue hour,” this is the time just before sunrise or right after sunset, when shades of blue and violet paint the sky.

How did I get the shot? With camera on tripod and ISO at 100, I used a somewhat slow shutter speed (1/5th second) and dialed a smaller aperture (f9). Although the sun had set, the sky remained brighter than the ground, so a grad ND filter prevented overexposure of the sky. I turned off the lens image stabilization and set the camera’s self-timer to a 2-second delay, thus preventing blur from camera shake when pressing my finger on the shutter button.

Smoky sunset at Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park

A smoky sunset at Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park / Rebecca Latson

I’d never encountered such a smoky atmosphere, nor smelled such a strong odor of “campfire,” as I did along the south end of Lake McDonald during the Sprague Fire last September. Although the hazy, particulate-laden air obliterated any scenic background mountain views, it did have all the ingredients for a stunning sunset.

How did I get the shot? With the smoke filtering out most of the sun’s blinding brilliance, I wanted to capture the tall, silhouetted trees on the mountain against the smoky, orange background. I used my 100-400mm lens with a polarizer, and the telephoto’s compression effect made the mountains appear much closer to the sun than they actually were. 

The Fire Hose, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

The "Fire Hose", Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park / Rebecca Latson

The "Fire Hose," Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park / Rebecca Latson

My seatmates and I laughed out loud every time the sea spray hit our faces during each bounce over the waves on a tour boat heading south from Hilo. We were sailing to the Kamokuna lava delta at the periphery of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park to view and photograph the “fire hose.” I remember the thrill of floating close enough to this lava “waterfall” to feel warmth like the heat blast from an open oven door as the molten rock struck the Pacific Ocean with a noisy rush of steam and smoke. 

How did I get the shot? We were on a moving boat, and the lava and steam were in constant motion, as well. Our photography tour leader suggested we use a zoom lens (24-105mm or 24-70mm) as the boat continually approached then retreated from the lava. Further advice included increasing the ISO and shutter speed to freeze lava and steam and mitigate movement of the boat (ISO 1,600, shutter 1/1000, aperture f8). I turned on the lens image stabilization, set my camera’s focus mode to track movement and applied the burst method. 

A pelican sunrise at Padre Island National Seashore

A pelican sunrise, Padre Island National Seashore / Rebecca Latson

Padre Island National Seashore is only a three-hour drive from my southeast Texas home. During the 20 years I’ve lived in Texas, I’d never visited this popular spot until a June photo assignment for the Traveler took me to the beach for a few days. Every morning, I’d arrive pre-dawn to stand on the seaweed-strewn sand with tripod and camera, relaxing to the rhythmic swash of the waves and the cry of seagulls seeking a seafood breakfast. Deep purples and blues morphed into soft pinks and mauves, in turn brightening into brilliant shades of yellow, red, and orange. Sunrises at this national seashore are some kind of special. 

How did I get the shot? I utilized my 100-400mm telephoto lens to zoom in for a closer view of the pelican’s silhouette on that lone tree in the water.  I also wanted the compression effect created by the telephoto lens to make the sun appear closer to the tree and pelican. 

Truthfully, I have more favorites taken over the course of 2017, so whittling these images down to just five was a challenge. I’ll bet you have plenty of favorites from the previous year, too, don’t you?  Now, I’m ready to record more national park stories for 2018.  Are you ready? 

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As a non-camera expert, I don't understand the technical details of which you describe, however I'm glad that you do. That means it is more likely that I'll be able to enjoy more of your work into the future.

ON to 2018 !!!   ;)

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