Photograph in the spirit of Ansel Adams in NC State Parks

To gaze at a gallery image by Ansel Adams, the acknowledged master of landscape photography, is to be inspired. The average viewer cannot help but look and be inspired by nature. For photographers, the inspiration is to attempt to express his/her own vision of nature and the outdoors.

Half Dome, Merced River by Ansel Adams, Winter, Yosemite National Park, circa 1938.

North Carolina State Parks offer the opportunities to act on that inspiration. The state parks system is partnering with the NC Museum of Art to co-mingle art and nature in the spirit of Adams and its current Ansel Adams: Masterworks exhibition. (Details here) Four state parks are offering guided photo hikes in February and March to introduce more people to a rewarding outdoor activity that celebrates North Carolina’s landscape. They’ll be held at William B. Umstead State Park Feb. 12, at Morrow Mountain State Park Feb. 18, at Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve March 11 and at Raven Rock State Park March 25. Visitors of all skill levels are welcome to share advice and inspiration with rangers and seasoned outdoor photographers. To get you thinking, here are a few basic tips about photographing in state parks.

State parks are perfect photography destinations, offering easy and safe access to the region’s most alluring landscapes with trail systems that present nature in every season and every mood. The best outdoor photography starts with the best information. Our website is where to get started with trail maps and insight into what a photographer will find in each park. Begin a visit to a park by exploring the visitor center with its detailed information about scenery, habitats and wildlife species you’ll encounter. If the opportunity presents itself, talk to a park ranger. They see the park in all its phases, and many of them are photographers as well.

Access is easy in parks. View of Mt. Craig from a parking area at Mount Mitchell State Park.

The impulse is to plan visits to faraway, exotic state parks perhaps in the mountains or at the coast. But don’t overlook parks close by that you can visit repeatedly. Most landscape photographers will tell you that’s how to get beyond the obvious cliché photos in favor of a stunning interpretation that’s all your own. Some of Adams’ most famous images were captured in Yosemite – an awe-inspiring place to be sure, but it helped that Adams lived there for a time and knew it intimately.

Travel light; remember you’ll be hiking, and equipment quickly gets heavy on the trail. Experienced photographers often carry only a small camera, a couple of small prime lenses (wide angle and medium telephoto are good), and maybe a tripod if shooting in low light or if slow shutter speeds are desired for water features. Too much equipment makes it too much like work. Initially if possible, keep your photo hikes shorter. It’s not mileage you’re after, but rather deliberate study of the scenery.

Winter scene of the pond at Carvers Creek State Park.

Landscape photography is usually best early or late in the day when light is usually more interesting, and happily that’s when crowds at scenic spots are smaller. Just allow time to get off the trails before dark and out of the park before the gates close. Be patient with other visitors who may photobomb your shot occasionally; you can often make new friends by offering to help with those selfies. Permits aren’t needed for photography in North Carolina State Parks except in the case of commercial photography, where models, lights and other equipment and special access may be involved.

One last, important bit of advice for landscape photography. Take a few moments to put the camera down, relax and take in the experience. It’s all about inspiration, right?

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