Wheeler Peak glows at sunrise

Wheeler Peak glows at sunrise

The virtue of the camera is not the power
it has to transform the photographer into an artist, but the impulse it gives him to keep on looking - and looking. -Brooks Atkinson

Because Great Basin National Park is so far from the nearest large cities, most visitors arrive during the middle of the day and spend just a few hours in the park.
Especially during the summer, the sun is high in the sky and floods the mountains with harsh light that washes out colors. For better outdoor photography, camp at the park or stay in a lodge and shoot early and late in the day, when the light is softer and colors more brilliant.

How to Shoot

It's Not Your Equipment

Though the features on pro or semi-pro single lens reflex cameras are designed for versatility and flexibility in many different shooting situations, you can make stunning photographs with modest equipment, as long as you understand its limitations. All but the cheapest point-and-shoot cameras have computer-designed lenses that are remarkably sharp. And you don't need a lot of megapixels either. Large posters can be made from five megapixel images.

Seeing the Light

The human eye is a remarkable instrument. It is far more sensitive to light than any camera, and also has an extremely sophisticated processor- the brain. The brain processes what we see into what we expect to see, based on what we've already experienced. This means we don't see the strong blue cast to the midday light on someone's face, caused by the strong blue light from the open sky. We also don't see that scraggly tree branch sticking into our picture when we take it, only the towering peak dominating the frame.

Composition in Thirds

The placement of objects within your photo should create a pattern that is pleasing to the eye and draws the viewer into the image. Remember the rule of thirds, which states that major objects such as people, trees, rock formations, or the horizon should be placed one-third of the way in from the edge of the frame, rather than in the center. Centered subjects make for dull photos. Action subjects such as hikers or cyclists should be positioned at the one-third point and should be moving into the remaining two-thirds of the frame. In other words, give them space.


When composing your shot, eliminate distractions and include as little in the frame as you can and still tell the story that you're trying to convey to your viewers. Move closer to your subject or use a telephoto lens or setting. Watch out for wide-angle lenses or settings. Used carefully, wide-angle lenses can create breathtaking images that sweep the viewer from intimate detail in the foreground to broad landscapes in the background, but they can also be loaded with irrelevant clutter.

Golden Light

Experienced landscape photographers know about the golden hours, the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset when the sun is low to the horizon and the light is filtered by the atmosphere into soft, warm tones. Mountains leap into three dimensions and seem to glow with inner fire. Shadows and haze fill the canyons and add an aura of mystery.

During the summer, you'll have to rise early, or stay out late, to catch the golden hours. During the spring and fall, when the days are shorter, it's less work to get out during the golden hours. And even the mid-day light is softer due to the lower sun angle. Winter light is often stunning, especially as a storm clears.

These websites can help you plan your photography around sunrise and sunset times and the point on the horizon where the sun will rise and set:

Sunrise and Sunset Calculator:

Sun and Moon Azimuth Calculator:

Where to Shoot

If your time is limited, drive the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive. There are several viewpoints along the way, and a short walk along the Alpine Lakes Trail will give you numerous opportunities for stunning shots.

If you have more time, drive the Baker Creek road to Baker Campground. If you have a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle, drive the Snake Creek and Lexington Arch Roads.Lexington Arch is a definite photographic challenge.


Limiting your photography to places accessible by car or truck barely scratches the potential of this park. To really explore the area photographically, you have to explore it physically, which means hiking the trails. In the park, the Bald Mountain, Alpine Lakes, Wheeler Peak, and Bristlecone-Glacier Trail offer superb scenery and many opportunities for photography.

Mount Moriah and The Table, in the Mount Moriah Wilderness, are remote areas far off the beaten track that are great to explore with a camera. The Table has a forest of gnarled, ancient bristlecone pines. The easiest hike to this area is the trail to The Table, though you do need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to reach the trailhead.

Camera Gear for Hiking and Backpacking

On long hikes where weight becomes critical, you can't carry much photo gear. A waterproof point-and-shoot digital camera makes a great backpacking camera. Or you can carry a lightweight single lens reflex camera body (these are often classed as semi-pro cameras) and a super wide-range zoom lens. Some of these cameras are now moisture and dust-sealed, a valuable feature for the outdoor photographer.

Batteries and Storage Cards

Unless you'll have access to a charger and a computer or image storage device every day, make certain you have enough memory cards and fully charged batteries to last the trip. Memory cards are inexpensive, so there's no excuse for running out of space. Camera batteries are still relatively expensive, but current digital cameras use far less power than the early models. You can greatly extend battery life by turning off the LCD monitor and using the viewfinder, if your camera has one. Also, turn off instant review and use the play button to selectively review photos as needed. When camping, resist the urge to edit your photos on the camera, unless you have a way to recharge or replace the batteries.

Commercial Photography

In the park, commercial photography or videography involving props, models, professional crews and casts, or set dressings requires a permit. Personal or professional photography involving no more than a tripod and that doesn't disrupt other visitors does not require a permit or a fee in any national park.