EDIT: Thanks so much for your questions! I had a lot of fun answering them. I so appreciate your interest and support of the national parks, and I hope I've inspired you to visit a new one sometime this year. I've gotta run now...thank you!

Hi Reddit! I'm Jonathan Irish, a professional travel and wildlife photographer with Nat Geo. For the centennial of the U.S. park service, I photographed all of the U.S. national parks on-assignment for Nat Geo. I lived in an Airstream trailer, traveled to the far corners of the U.S., and shot over 300K photos that year! It was a dream assignment for this self-described national park fanatic. You can see the project website here, and you can also find me on Instagram where I post about images from my travels and assignments. Thanks for joining me today to talk about our beloved national parks as we get ready to celebrate the National Park Service’s birthday this weekend! AMA.

Proof: https://i.redd.it/lelwwfgzruh31.jpg

Comments: 514 • Responses: 38  • Date: 

Samtay62364 karma

What was your favorite wildlife encounter?

nationalgeographic1637 karma

From being ten feet away from a huge grizzly bear in Lake Clark NP, to hearing the eery early morning bugling of the elk rut in Rocky Mountain NP, I had a lot of amazing wildlife encounters along the way. However, my absolute favorite was a red fox in Alaska's Katmai national park. This beautiful little creature came up the path to greet me, and stopped to take a better look at me. Wanting to be eye-level with the little fox, I took my camera and got down on my stomach to start to take photos. The little fox kept coming closer and closer, until it was about 6 or 7 feet away. it eventually laid down as well, and then fell asleep right in front of me. It was a blissful moment to be so close to this wild creature, and to be accepted. I will remember it forever.

mcdto337 karma

Becoming as successful in photography as you are seems like an impossible task. How did you get to that point? I imagine that Nat Geo sees thousands of entries per day. What made yours stand out to them?

nationalgeographic569 karma

That's the hardest question to answer, and I truthfully don't have a good answer. I believe a lot of it was luck, but also passion and skill. Many people ask me: "How do I become a Nat Geo photographer", and to me it;'s the wrong question to ask. Instead, I would ask: "How do I develop my eye, and how can I become the best photographer I can be?". If you follow that path of questioning, Nat Geo may take notice.

N8teface305 karma

Hi Jonathan! Thanks for taking questions! Was there a park(s) you visited on your journey that you found to be under-appreciated? Everyone always hears about Teton/Yellowstone/Yosemite/Grand Canyon etc. but would love to know which smaller parks captured your imagination.

nationalgeographic601 karma

I love this question! thanks for asking it. It was very important to me to treat all parks as equally as possible. Everyone hears about the Yellowstone's and the Yosemites. But I truly loved exploring some of the lesser known parks. For example, Kobuk Valley Sand Dunes in Alaska is absolutely incredible, and it is one of the least visited in the system. Theodore Roosevelt NP in North Dakota is a hidden gem, as is Big Bend in Texas. There are so many great parks that are more off the beaten path. but that's also what makes them special.

space-heater274 karma

Any weird/scary/unexplained mystery stories from your assignment?

nationalgeographic864 karma

Ooooohhh…good question. I do have a sort of strange recurring theme that happened along the way. We dubbed it “the kindness of strangers” affect. On any large assignment like this, you are going to run into troubles. And we certainly had our fair share. But just when we thought we were really in trouble, some stranger would show up and save the day. It was an odd thing. For example, we got a flat tire way out in the desert of Big Bend NP in Texas, without cell service. I tried to change the tire, but one of the bolts was way too stuck for me to get loose. Just when we thought we were going to have to spend the night out there, a stranger comes walking around the corner (Of a mound in the desert!) with a bottle of wine and a german shepherd by his side. He was just out there camping and offered to help us with the tire. It was the last thing we expected way out there, and it was so welcome. Truly, little things like that happened over and over again, to the point where we really took notice and started writing them down.

bam_a_lam166 karma

What is your number one tip for photographing nature?

nationalgeographic520 karma

Get eye-level, and be very patient. Pretend you are Elmer Fudd hunting wabbits...be vewy vewy quiet.

PurplePenisPiePuppet113 karma

Which US national park was your most favorite to photograph/visit and why?

nationalgeographic233 karma

I get asked my favorite national park a lot, and it's a tough question to answer. I also been to something like 80 or 85 countries in my life, and I can never choose a favorite country either. It;s a common theme for me, as I feel that every place is unique and beautiful in it's own way. I do have some national parks that stand out to me, for no other reason than I was at the right place at the right time. For example, when I arrived at Grand Teton NP it was at the height of fall foliage. It's a beautiful park to begin with, but under the yellows, oranges, and reds of the changing trees, it took on an otherworldly beauty. Another that comes to mind is death Valley NP. When I arrived there, it was during the superbloom (a time when the winter rains are heavy enough that they spur the dormant spring flowers of the desert to full bloom). It was such a beautiful event. But again, i don't have a favorite park...they truly are special in their own way.

TinMannZero104 karma

Have any near death experiences?

nationalgeographic272 karma

Yes! Several. When hiking out of the Grand Canyon NP, a bowling-ball sized boulder came rushing down from the rim and landed about ten feet from me. It was quite scary. We also had an emergency landing in a floatplane in Alaska, which was quite exciting. And, we almost hit a few deer, which we narrowly missed and managed not to crash at the same time. Driving down the road at 70 mph pulling a 8,000 pound trailer, and suddenly seeing a deer in the road is quite a scary thing. Luckily, we didn’t have any major mishaps.

nationalgeographic27 karma

Yes! Several. When hiking out of the Grand Canyon NP, a bowling-ball sized boulder came rushing down from the rim and landed about ten feet from me. It was quite scary. We also had an emergency landing in a floatplane in Alaska, which was quite exciting. And, we almost hit a few deer, which we narrowly missed and managed not to crash at the same time. Driving down the road at 70 mph pulling a 8,000 pound trailer, and suddenly seeing a deer in the road is quite a scary thing. Luckily, we didn’t have any major mishaps.

kereki78 karma

How does the workflow look like when you shoot for natgeo? Do you deliver all photos and they edit? How much say do you have in what is used?

How much gear do you travel with?

nationalgeographic120 karma

I travel with way too much gear...as most photographer do. I usually have three camera bodies, four to five lenses, and a tripod on me when on assignment (as well as lots of accessories).

When you are on assignment, you have to provide the editor all of the images you shoot. You do have a say in the matter, but ultimately, it is up to them to publish what they think is best.

whaldener72 karma

Hello. What is at the top of your wish list, as a professional wildlife photographer? Any species or places, that you haven't been able to shoot, in particular? And, just one more question, what are the most difficult or laboursome images that you have taken so far? Thanks!

nationalgeographic133 karma

I'm in love with bears, and the Spirit Bear (in British Columbia, Canada) is on my life list to photograph. Fingers crossed!

I've spent many days/weeks in the woods waiting for just one shot. That's just part of being a photographer! Thankfully, that's also my happy place.

ffiinnaallyy66 karma

Hello! If you could bring a single lense on a trip to the Pacific Northwest wilderness to shoot landscapes and wildlife, which would it be?

nationalgeographic118 karma

Goodness...that's a difficult question! For landscapes, you generally want a wide angle lens (16-35mm range) and for wildlife you generally want a longer telephoto (200-400+mm range). So there isn't one lens that can do both. If I had to choose, I'd probably bring a 24-105mm...that has a decent range and still high image quality. But I always carry two camera bodies and two lenses, for this very reason.

Cann0nball437757 karma

This sounds like a dream pinnacle for someone in your field to achieve. Congratulations! My question is where do you go from here? What’s the next step?

nationalgeographic76 karma

Good question! Truthfully, I don't know. This project took a lot out of me, and I feel like I am just now settled down after the big project and ready for another one. I like the idea of big thematic projects that take a lot of time to do. Who knows, perhaps the national parks of Canada? or the world? I have some ideas. =)

cirena56 karma

What's your creative process when you get to a park? How do you decide what kinds of shots to take and what kinds of things to pursue?

PS Love your Antarctica pics!

nationalgeographic108 karma

Thanks! I usually scout for a few days, and then I hone in on what I want to shoot, what time of day I need to be there, and then I execute the shots. Scouting is key to the final image.

amwreck47 karma

My father just took a six month trip around the country doing the same thing. He went to a lot of the national parks.

How did you plan the visits to the different parks? Were there any that you needed to be at during certain times in order to capture certain photos? Can you share with us one of the photos that you specifically set out to capture?

Also, if you have a moment, check out some of my father's photos at https://reddit.com/r/manyroadsonecamera.

nationalgeographic63 karma

The logistics of the trip is a whole discussion onto itself, and probably much too difficult of a topic to fully get into for now. But at a high level, I can say that we followed the seasons...starting on January 1 in the warm weather parks (Everglades), then spending the summer in Alaska, then ending in the warm weather parks of the west and southwest. It was a real challenge, but somehow it worked out.

StoopidN00b35 karma

When you went to the remote Alaskan ones like Kobuk Valley and Gates of the Arctic, did you get a chance to get back to civilization in between stops or did you just fly from one to the next?

nationalgeographic42 karma

just flew from one to the next. Much better that way.

Pooteo33 karma

Which park or location offered the best view of a night sky?

The kids and i were sitting at the beach last night looking u and saw maybe 20 stars. it was sad because i remember seeing soo many more when i was a child.

nationalgeographic64 karma

Ooooh...lots of good night skies in the parks. the parks in the southwest (Utah, in particular) have incredible night skies. Crate Lake NP, in Oregon, is a standout as well. I attended a night sky party in Glacier National park, which was awesome. Look up "Dark Sky designation" and "national parks" and you will find the best night skies!

Lcards94326 karma

Hi John! Absolutely love your work. Just one quick question:

I am leaving my job to move to Southeast Asia for the next 8 months. I love photography (specifically landscape) but would really like to get into some more nature and macro photography experience when I am over there. My walkaround lens is a 24-105 f/4, I have a 14mm f/2.8, and a (crappy) 50mm f/1.8 that I currently use for portraits (and wish I could use for Macro...).

If you were me and had $750 to buy a new lens (or two), what would you add to the repertoire?

Body is a full frame Canon.

nationalgeographic78 karma

Thanks so much! I'd probabky add a 70-200, or maybe a 100-400. But here's the catch, it's not about the lenses. It's about shooting a lot and making the best of whatever lenses you have. Don't fall into the GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) issue....just simplify and shoot a lot. Make sense?

is15291526 karma

What changes in our national parks did you observe after the shut down was over?

nationalgeographic60 karma

There's been a lot of changes to our parks, and it does make one sad from time to time. But the good people who are rangers in the parks care deeply about them, andI feel good about their ability to continue to protect them. We too, as visitors and outsiders, must do our part. that's what this project was about...making people aware of their incredible natural resources we have in our parks. They are the very best of us.

bigwallclimber25 karma

North Cascades fanatic here - What’s your favorite peak / area up there?

nationalgeographic37 karma

I love the North Cascades as well! Totally hidden gem. I lived in Seattle for a while, and loved hiking in Mount Rainier NP as wel. That's one of my favorite places..it has special memories for me.

CtheDictator22 karma

I know this can be an obvious question but in your own words after seeing all of the national treasures, what is one way tourists can help preserve our most beautiful locations?

nationalgeographic65 karma

Not an obvious question, and I am glad you asked. My simple answer is: be good stewards. If you visit, don't litter, pick up litter you see, call people out for breaking rules (going where they shouldn't), and respect what the rangers say and ask you to do. Also, volunteer at least one day a year in a national park. Volunteering is not only a ton of fun, but you also do a great service for the rangers. We need more park volunteers, for sure.

TechAstro-Read-It18 karma

Me and my dad are huge fans of your work. He is also a wildlife photographer. He'd like to know, what are your tips and secrets to photographing leopards?

nationalgeographic25 karma

Thanks! Tips for leopards? well...spend a lot of time in Africa would be my first tip. I love leopards too, but they are elusive. You have to have a really good guide, and spend a lot of time. Sometimes, it just requires a bit of luck too. =)

thinkB4WeSpeak14 karma

What do you think we should do to push the government to find the parks better and fix all the maintenance issues in the NPs?

nationalgeographic33 karma

The backlog of maintenance issues is a real problem. A lot of people don't know how deep the issue really goes! Call your congresswomen/men and tell them you want them to address it. It has to come from congress...the money is just too big.

internaloutdoors13 karma

How do you feel about the increased use of social media and the impact that it has on our wild places? The use of geotags makes it easy for any and everyone to know the exact locations of these areas.

nationalgeographic21 karma

That's a tough question. In one way, Ia m glad that more people are aware of these beautiful places. But on the other hand, I worry about these places being over-visited and abused. We aren't going to stop social media...it's here to stay. We just have to be good stewards and respect the lands and the laws.

swingerofbirch9 karma

For someone with a fear of open, outdoor spaces, which national park would you say feels the most cozy? Also I have a fear of being around large groups of people. I'm like the opposite of claustrophobic. Living in an Airstream trailer, for example, sounds heavenly to me.

nationalgeographic23 karma

There are a lot of caves in National Parks! Carlsbad Caverns is a great park, that won't make you fear wide open spaces. To avoid the crowds in all the parks, go at sunrise (which also happens to be my favorite time of the day). Most people sleep through sunrise, but the feeling of peace and beauty at the sun rising is incredible. Don't let your fears stop you! there's lots you can explore...

InGenNateKenny9 karma

Have you been to the Indiana Dunes yet? If so, how is it?

nationalgeographic23 karma

no...not yet. But soon. I hate the fact that there is a new park that I haven't been to. I am sure it is great, just like all the other parks.

ChargerRob7 karma

I'm about to start a tour doing the same thing. Any must have shots/time/location?

nationalgeographic33 karma

Far be it of me to tell you what you must shoot...go create and share with the world your art! there are no rules or must-haves in this game...it's all about your eye and skill.

slippy_slidey7 karma

Any advice for getting paid photo work in the outdoor industry? How can one stick out from the huge field of aspiring outdoor photographers?

nationalgeographic12 karma

Just focus on creating the best content you can, developing your eye, and sharing your work. There's no real secret other than hard work and sharing.


I imagine that quite a few national parks require quite a hike to get to what I’d call "the good bits". For example I live near Olympic National Park and the majority of roads in are logging roads and from there it’s usually a long slog of a hike to get to the center of the park. What are some of your long hike/overnight experiences that definitely paid off?

nationalgeographic19 karma

I totally agree with you. In fact, we tried to do at least one backpacking trip in every national park, just for this very reason. You can't explore the parks from the roads. It's on the trails where you will often find the best of the parks. The amount of times we spent getting into the heart of the park on the trails was way more than I could share here....but again, i totally agree with your sentiment.

Cdbull5 karma

Thanks for doing this Johnathan! For people like me who have only been to a few national parks around the US, I was wondering what your favorite park to photograph would be? Whether it was the scenery, wildlife, or plant life, where have you had the best experience?

nationalgeographic11 karma

If I told you, it would ruin the fun in you finding your own favorite park. Go explore them, then come back and tell me what your favorite was. =)

petrov764 karma

If you had to remove one national park, and promote one national monument or forest to a national park, which would you pick for each?

nationalgeographic23 karma

I wouldn't remove any national park, even if I was forced to. We need more protection and conservation, not less. But I think Mount St Helens in Washington would make a really great national park. That's just one idea...there are so many contenders.

RoccCity3 karma

What things do you bring with you aside from your camera and essentials?

nationalgeographic17 karma

We had an Airstream trailer stocked with gear...paddle boards, foldable kayaks, tents, sleeping bags, etc. It was awesome.

sneakymanatee3 karma

What proportion of the photos you take are you satisfied with? Do you delete some right away or do you review them one by one afterwards? Thanks !

nationalgeographic12 karma

I never delete anything! If I get one shot out of 1,00, sometimes even out of 2 or 3 thousand, I am happy. I have a high bar for myself.

JerseyKiwi3 karma

Thanks for this AMA, I am loving it being a photographer myself. You also just got yourself a new insta follower!

Question, in the new age of social influencers and media what do you believe makes a successful instagram account to obtain followers? And do you have any personal rules or guidelines you try to maintain in your own posts and page?

nationalgeographic10 karma

Thanks much!
I don't think a successful instagram account is all about gaining followers, although that's what we are led to believe. I think a success would be that you share your skill and passion with the world, and that you have something to say. i try to write, and shoot, from the heart. I think a lot of people miss the importance of sharing your thoughts with images....it's an important pice of the storytelling puzzle. Cheers!

eggsnflour3 karma

What was the mist difficult animal to photograph?

nationalgeographic8 karma

the human animal

REDFOX19161 karma

I am irish, how did you get a name like that?

nationalgeographic3 karma

Irish is not really an "Irish" name....right?

dog_in_the_vent1 karma

What kind of gear do you use for hiking/camping? I love photography and camping but usually leave my DSLR at home when I go because it's just too bulky to go bushwacking with.

nationalgeographic4 karma

That's why I shoot mirrorless (Sony)...they are lighter weight. And I'll sacrifice clothing and sometimes food to bring a long camera gear. =)