Scouting Techniques for National Parks

Lesson 8/13 - Preparing for Wilderness and Plant Life


Scouting Techniques for National Parks


Lesson Info

Preparing for Wilderness and Plant Life

Preparing for a national park shoot. We've talked about why parks are great for photography. We've talked about scouting locations. Finally we're gonna talk about preparing for the wilderness. Depending on if you grew up around the wilderness or grew up in the city. You might have different feelings about how dangerous or not dangerous it is. And I can tell ya it's not dangerous but it is to be taken seriously. So some things that we're gonna talk about. One is wilderness survival. Hopefully not something you need but hopefully something you know about. We're gonna talk about footwear, food and water, and some of the different environments that ya face in the national park system. So wilderness survival. Again, it's not to scare ya, it's just so that we know what we're getting into and we know how to prevent a problem. There's two points that I wanna bring up. And they're important to know. One is that park research indicates that less than 1% of survival scenarios are caused by nature...

. This means, you know, some people are afraid they're gonna get attacked by a bear. They're gonna, you know, get attacked by an alligator. That something's gonna happen. The reality is, almost all accidents that happen are because somebody messed up. Somebody wasn't prepared or somebody did something unwise and hurt themselves. That's usually what happens. There's much more reason to fear your own decisions in the park than to fear what nature's gonna do to you. Two, most serious survival situations happen to people on short excursions. This is counter to what ya might think at first. Most people think, oh jeez, you know, I wouldn't wanna spend two weeks in the wilderness cause oh my gosh what could happen? But, it's the people who spend two or three weeks out in the back country, those people tend to be prepared. So if something happens, they can do something about it. It's the people who go out for an hour or two who tend not to be prepared because they're thinking, oh I'm only hiking a mile, nothing's gonna happen. Those are the people who get in trouble. When Gabe and Matt and I were in the southwest this year. We were at Bryce Canyon and this hike is only, I think it's about, I think it's 1.8 miles. If I remember correctly. We were going down to the canyon but we were doing this under moonlight and I brought my wilderness survival kit with me. Just strapped it to my waist. I don't even know if Matt and Gabe know I had it. But again, you know, we were together, safety in numbers. Everything going for us but in that one instance where maybe something would happen, I was gonna be prepared. So I just suggest learning what to do. Just learn about wilderness survival if you're gonna spend time. My favorite book on wilderness survival is 98.6 degrees by Cory Lundin. And the reason I like it is because it's a very common sense approach. A lot of wilderness survival books get into things like, you know, building a shelter. And you know, how to kill and skin a bear, or whatever. Cory's, uh, Cody's approach is more fundamental. It's based on the idea that almost everybody who has a wilderness survival situation gets rescued within three days. So you really only need to know how to survive for three days. That doesn't mean you have to build a log cabin. You don't have to be able to sustain yourself with, you know, killing animals. You just have to be able to stay hydrated, essentially. Stay hydrated and stay warm. Keep your body temperature at 98.6 degrees. I recommend his book. Another one is the US Army Field Manual. You probably don't need to know how to evade an enemy in the middle of Yosemite but the parts of the book on wilderness survival are excellent. A wilderness survival kit. Like I said I carry one. You know, if I'm going more than a quarter mile from the car chances are I have it on me. I just have a pack just buckles right onto my waist. It doesn't get in the way and I'm prepared. So you can about this two ways. You can buy one that's already put together or you can do some research, like reading Cody's book and just kinda construct your own kit for what you think you might need. Another issue that we face in the parks is wildlife. But again, there's misconceptions here. This is a black bear in the Smoky Mountains. If you wanna photograph black bears, Smokies are where to go. They have the highest population per square mile in the country. Black bears hardly ever bother people. Maybe if there's a cub around or maybe if it's sick but it hardly ever happens. Grizzlies are the more aggressive of the bears but even then, they're hardly ever bothering people. Especially in the parks out in the west. Like Yellowstone and Grand Teton. People get a little, you know, people new to the parks might get a little obsessed or worried about the bears, the bears, the bears. And the funny thing is, the bears aren't the animals that are gonna bother you. The animal in Yellowstone that hurts more people than anybody is Bison. And it's because they appear so docile and people break the rules and they go up and they, you know, try to take selfies with the bison and they get trampled. These are huge, huge mammals that aren't really interested in people hanging out with them. The elk can also get a little cranky. Especially during rutting season. The elk hurt more people, far more people than bears do. Again, they seem docile. Moose if young are around. Again, more likely to get hurt by a moose than a bear. The point is that, do some research. Stop at the visitor center, you know, look at the displays and see the wildlife that they're warning you about. And warning's the wrong word, it's more teaching people how to behave around the wildlife. Every park's a little different, even with the same animals. Like with the grizzlies the rules for handling yourself around grizzlies in Yellowstone are different than handling yourself with the grizzlies around, like, Katmai National Park in Alaska or in Glacier Bay National Park the rules are so strict, they say don't, if you're gonna cook food out in the back country do it below the high tide line so that the water will wash away the smell. So like just, when you're at a park all the rules are different look and see what that park says to do, what are the best practices for dealing with the wildlife there and you'll be fine. Another thing to look out for is poisonous plants. And again, this is something that you'll find out at the visitor's center. If there's something to watch out for, they're gonna let ya know about it. There's poison ivy in a lot of the parks. Poison oak you can find in the parks. Poison wood, this is one in the Everglades. It's so much more toxic than poison ivy that they'll even say there, don't stand under a poison wood tree in the rain. Because just the rain dripping in the leaves and onto you can cause a rash. Again, just do some research and find out what to be careful of. Okay, so preparing for the wilderness. We've talked about wilderness survival. Now we're gonna actually get into the park. We're out there where we talked about some footwear and food and water and what you wanna have with you.

Class Description

National Parks offer vast landscapes, dynamic vistas and views that are worthy of hanging on gallery walls. Capturing those scenic areas in a photo that represents what you experience in person takes planning and preparation. Knowing what opportunities you have in each park at what time of year is a great start to capturing incredible images. In this class you’ll learn:

  • National Park rules and regulations- when to get a permit and how to obtain one
  • Scouting tips for night shooting, how to scout and prep your shoot before sunset
  • Safety tips for yourself and your gear when shooting in remote locations at night
Chris Nicholson’s passion for the National Parks and photography led him to write the book Photographing National Parks. His experience in all 59 US National Parks will help any beginner or professional photographer optimize their experience and photographs in either marshlands or desert landscapes. 



This class was a tremendous help. It is definitely a "tool kit" class and not a "how to" class. With that said, it is worth every penny just for the amazing scouting tips, safety tips, and national park app suggestion. I downloaded one of the recommended apps from this class for a trip I'm taking next month and was thrilled with the information. There are definitely a lot of great tools discussed in this class.

Gaily Cowart

This class was incredible because I wouldn't have gottent this info anywhere else. It's basically a lesson in common and not-so-common sense while shooting at night. No, you're not going to get a whole lot of techniques for working your camera, but you will get strategies for making sure you're actually able to shoot once you're ready. With night photography, there are many unknows that can ruin your chances of getting good shots. Without this class, I never would have thought about how to make the most of daylight hours to plan and prepare a night shoot. And, I wouldn't have known much about how to be as safe and prepared while shooting in the wilderness. I found this course to be very interesting and helpful in the grand scheme of understanding how to get the best from your efforts while shooting at night-time in a park, or secluded area.