Anyone with a smartphone and opposable thumb can snap a selfie in front of a sunset or forest. But to capture the truly mythic, memorable and stunning photos of your dreams, you need to hit the open road — U.S. Route 89 to be exact. This 1,800-mile route traverses the most incredible scenery from Mexico to Canada. Here’s how to navigate the most awesome of cross-country road trips while honing your skills as a photographer.
Prepare Your Vehicle Before Departure
The ultimate road trip will take you from the desert to the glaciers. The terrain will be rough and the weather unpredictable, so be sure to change your oil and check your vehicle’s systems before leaving. And, since your best photographs cannot be taken if you’re stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire, consider equipping your vehicle with quality off-road tires, like Firestone’s all-terrain tires. These tires can handle virtually any conditions one could experience on an open highway, including gravel, mud and snow, and can be purchased for a reasonable price. Gear up with a few XShot photo car gadgets to hold your smartphone in the car, attached to the dashboard 🙂
Snap the Perfect Sunset: Saguaro National Park, Arizona
The most iconic sunset photographs have been taken in the American Southwest. Blooming cacti, fierce red clouds and plenty of scrubby texture for interesting foregrounds make this region great for photographers. A tip from pro photographer Miles Hecker: Bring plenty of water and wear long, nylon pants to protect yourself from the prickly spines of the desert vegetation.
Put Things in Perspective: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
To communicate the vastness and grandeur of the Grand Canyon, pro George Stocking from OutdoorPhotographer.com recommends including someone or a group of people in your composition. The lone human figure against the backdrop of the lonely canyon transforms a “nice scene” into something that stirs the soul. If you are traveling alone, a steady rock or travel size tripod will do the trick if you want even more depth than with your camera extender or selfie stick.
Be Brave: Zion, Bryce and Capitol Reef National Parks, Utah
Continue your way north into Utah and visit three of the most spectacular parks on Earth. Famed for its stunning sandstone cliffs, Zion National Park is a must-see. It will also require a certain amount of guts since photographing the most beautiful sites may require a hike up a cliff or wading through a river for several miles. Since Zion is situated near the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas (and its flocks of tourists), it may be wise to travel this route during the fall or spring.
Master the Light: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Pristine lakes, jagged peaks, wildlife and big sky make the Teton Range one of the most spectacular scenes on Earth. Contrasting colors and an endless supply of gorgeous natural light provide perfect opportunities for photographers. Try the Snake River Overlook near the Moran park entrance right before sunrise. You’ll capture the sun as it illuminates the eastern mountains.
Paint the Night: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Spring provide a perfect opportunity to photograph the Milky Way. Practice light painting to highlight the scene in front of you, while capturing the drama of the starry night sky. Join a photography workshop for extra guided practice and expert advice.
Go Wild with a Telephoto Lens: Glacier National Park, Montana
To capture wildlife photography, Glacier National Park cannot be beat. Use your telephoto lens to photograph closeups of sheep, goats, deer, bear, moose and elk. Logan Pass and Two Dog Flats provide frequent sightings of wildlife. Logan Pass is also famed for its wildflowers, which bloom from late June to mid-August. Oh, and don’t skip the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road. Consider Glacier National Park’s free hop on, hop off shuttle system, so you can forget about driving and instead focus on sightseeing and photographing the wilderness.