8 Best Travel Photography Locations in the USA
The United States of America is the third largest country in the world, so when it comes to choosing a photography location it is safe to say that there are a multitude of gems to consider.
No matter your taste in subject matter, the USA has it all to offer at some point throughout the year. Here are eight of my favorite well-known – and not so well-known – places to photograph within the USA.
1. The Oregon Coast
Hold on to your hats! The Oregon coastline stretches for well over 300 miles and, if you’re not afraid of a few cliffs and a bit of sea mist, you are in for a treat.
The area from Brookings to Bandon is by far my favorite stretch of land in Oregon and, more specifically, the Samuel H. Boardman area is absolutely magnificent.
Visiting this area at any time of the year is always rewarding, but make sure to exercise a bit more caution in the winter as swells can be quite dramatic and deadly.
If you’re looking for a great way to spend a week-long road trip shooting epic scenes, then I really would check out the Oregon Coastline.
2. Big Sur
To continue on with our theme of excellent oceanside cliffs and beaches, the area known as Big Sur in California provides postcard scene after postcard scene to fill your memory card.
I definitely recommend visiting from April to October as winter can be quite dreary, with grey skies and coastal fog obscuring views.
There are limited accommodation options in the area of Big Sur itself, so I usually like to stay in Monterey and enjoy some good seafood, take a whale watching tour, and make the short, beautiful drive to Big Sur from there.
Make sure to bring all your focal lengths for this location as you’ll definitely find uses from 14mm to 200mm.
3. Death Valley National Park
It’s amazing how one side of California is home to beautiful beaches and snow-capped mountains, and the other side is famous for being the hottest place in the world, filled with brittle, drought-ridden landscapes.
It may not sound very appealing, but I promise you that Death Valley is worth taking your time to explore. I’ve visited more than two dozen times now, and still find myself going back for more.
The arid environment provides some incredibly unique and diverse landscapes, including colorful mountains, cracked valley floors that resemble a giant jigsaw, towering sand dunes, and more!
Death Valley is best visited in the winter months due to the extreme summer temperatures. It really does offer something for every landscape photographer: wide shots, tight shots, macro shots, night sky shots. You name it, and it’s there – perhaps except shots of large bodies of water!
4. The Sonoran Desert
I know that the idea of exploring in a desert, rather the mountains or the oceanside, doesn’t sound hugely appealing but stay with me. Saguaro cacti with floral blooms, jagged mountain peaks in the background, monsoon lightning storms lighting up the sky. Maybe I’ve changed your mind?
The Sonoran Desert, located in central Arizona, provides some incredibly stunning scenery, and you might easily be the only one out shooting.
I thoroughly enjoy spending July and August out here as this stellar landscape, combined with monsoon storms, is truly spectacular. I’ll be honest, the weather is extremely hot during the day, but I don’t think there’s a better way to spend a day than by waking up early for a sunrise, getting some breakfast, relaxing by the pool, then heading back out for the sunset and storms!
Make sure to come to this location well-prepared, as cell service and vehicle service is limited in a lot of places once you’ve left the city behind.
5. White Sands National Park
Take a moment to close your eyes and consider this. White gypsum sand dunes as far as you can see, accompanied by beautiful patterns and shapes in the sand as the light skims across their tops.
Sounds like a dream? It’s actually the dramatic scene that you’ll find at White Sands National Park in southern New Mexico.
Located just outside the town of Alamogordo, White Sands is a photographer’s playground as you can wander wherever you desire and embrace the beauty of the world’s largest gypsum sand dune.
It’s a fantastic place to visit, but I highly recommend the early spring or fall months, as summer can be incredibly hot and winter quite frigid. It’s also a spot where, although I’m shooting landscapes, I find myself working my telephoto lenses more than my wide-angles lens.
6. Zion National Park
Nestled within southern Utah you’ll find Zion National Park, a place of such beauty that any photograph struggles to do it justice. Towering red cliffs, waterfalls, crystal clear rivers, and unique patterns in the landscape all await you here in Zion.
It is somewhere that can be visited at any time of the year and always provides fantastic imagery. I truly don’t have a bad word to say about Zion!
You’ll want to make sure you give yourself at least three days here to get your toes wet, but obviously the more time you can spend here the better, as there is so much to shoot in Zion.
The park is also split by a tunnel system into a western side (the valley) and an eastern side (above the valley), so make sure to explore both areas as they offer very different experiences. If you only have one day in the park, make sure you check out The Narrows and Angels Landing, you won’t be disappointed!
7. The New England Coastline
If you’re looking for a more historical area to photograph that doesn’t require a lot of hiking, I’ve really enjoyed shooting the New England coastline.
This starts in Boston and involves following the coast all the way up to Acadia National Park in Maine. This drive can be done in just a day if you’re tight on time, but don’t rush it!
Historical towns, lighthouses, seascapes, and if you time it right (October), fall foliage: all of this is going to make you want to pull over every few miles!
Fall is by far my favorite time of the year to do this trip as I love getting spoiled with beautiful coastline scenery and then finishing in one of the most stunning fall foliage areas in the USA: Acadia National Park. If you do decide to explore this area, be sure to check out Portland Head Lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth, Maine – she’s a stunner.
8. The Hawaiian Islands
The sweet sound of the ocean crashing while you bask in the warm sun – it sounds amazing, doesn’t it? However, if I’m going to Hawaii then realistically I’ll be spending all of my time shooting! With multiple islands at the ready for you to create amazing imagery, the Hawaiian Islands offer endless possibilities.
I have had the chance to visit and shoot each island and have to say that the Island of Hawaii (the Big Island) and Kauai are by far my favorites.
The Big Island is home to the Kilauea Volcano, two almost 14,000 feet high peaks (Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa), rainforests, waterfalls, and more. Going to Kauai is like walking into a real life version of Jurassic Park, just without the fear of being eaten.
Read more: How to Photograph Volcanos
The Napali Coastline is truly otherworldly, and I recommend either a helicopter tour or boat tour to experience it fully. On the northside of the island there are iconic spots such as Queen’s Bath, Puu Poa Beach, Hanalei Pier, and more.
In my mind, there is no bad time of year to visit the Hawaiian Islands. Just be prepared for scattered rain showers no matter when you go, as that’s just part of life out there! The upside to this is that, with a little luck, you might see a few dozen rainbows.
The USA has so much to offer to photographers. It takes some research to know where and when to go, so plan accordingly and I promise you won’t be let down!