Each season of the year holds its own set of wonders and draws visitors from all walks of life: tourists, hikers, campers, naturalists, and sports enthusiasts. Photographers love it, too. Fall and winter are perhaps the most popular seasons, when cool, sunny days abound and the palette is composed mostly of earth tones. Springtime is marked by the brilliance of cacti, ocotillo and yucca erupting into flower, a precursor of the summer rainy season when the desert really comes to life. No matter the time of your visit, you will experience stunning landscapes and expansive skies. Here are some ideas to help you get the best pictures possible during your visit.
No matter what your skill level or quality of equipment, there’s nothing you can do that will net you better pictures than getting out of the car and walking. You needn’t go on long hikes— beautiful pictures are often only a few car lengths away. The smallest, driest creek beds frequently turn into amazing canyons “just around the bend.” Dramatic cliff and hilltop vistas are easily reachable from every road in the park.
Movie makers and professional photographers often spend a lot of time “scouting locations.” They are thinking about the pictures they would like to take, and at what times of the day the pictures would look the best. You can do the same thing. Pay attention to the sun and how the shadows lie. Try to imagine how the sun will traverse the sky and what will happen to the scene during the course of the day. Carry a compass and note the direction in which features lie. Make notes and come back later to verify your guesses. If you were right, take the picture and congratulate yourself on having “scouted” a great location.
Do Your Homework
If you find you’re getting hooked on taking great pictures, it’s time to take the next step— finding potential locations in advance. For this you will need maps. The park’s Discovery Map is the best, but topographic maps from the Internet or from mapping programs will also work. If you’re interested in wildlife, look for springs and green areas you think you can walk to. These isolated watering spots are great places to find plants and animals of all kinds.
If you’re mostly interested in landscapes, look for spots where the elevation lines (contours) are closely spaced. Closely spaced contour lines indicate steep mountainsides, high cliffs, and the walls of scenic canyons. When the lines bend into points along water courses, you’re likely to find dramatic pour-offs and creek beds filled with colorful boulders.
Increase the Odds
If your stay will be short and your main goal is to capture great images, you’ll want to make sure you’re in the right place at the right time. Start by learning when the sun and moon rise and set. Get the positions on the horizon for these events, too. Then plot these angles against the locations you’ve scouted on your map to get an idea of how the light will play out during the day.
Get a GPS
Repeat visitors can profit from carrying a GPS that tracks your walks. Set annotated “waypoints” at places you see pictures you’d like to take when conditions are better. Take a few snapshots of the area and let your mapping software link them to the map to help you remember what you were looking at when you were there.
West Texas skies tend to be very bright, and the land tends to be dark—the range of light is too wide for any camera. Graduated neutral density filters tame the contrast and help you take great shots with colorful skies and properly exposed foregrounds as well. EnjoyAbove all, get out and enjoy the outdoors, away from the car and off the road. You’ll get better pictures and create tangible memories to take home from your trip, and carry with you for a lifetime.