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Photography Tips for Shooting at Tennessee State Parks

February 19, 2021  |  Permalink

Article and photos by Madison Sharp

Since moving to Nashville, visiting so many of the Tennessee State Parks has become free therapy. I am a firm believer in going outside and exploring for a few hours when life gets hectic or stressful. This, coupled with taking photos, has been one of the most rewarding and fun experiences since moving here only four years ago. Living in Music City has endless benefits, but one of the biggest is being within an hour’s drive of multiple state parks. Radnor Lake, Harpeth River, Montgomery Bell, Cedars of Lebanon, Bledsoe Creek, and Henry Horton State Park range anywhere from 20-50 minutes from the heart of the city. Having so much natural beauty around a growing city is truly wonderful and allows us to escape from the hustle and bustle of real life for a few hours. If you want to roam in the woods with a camera, I have a few tips that might help you get the best shot. 

Step 1: Be Prepared! 

  • First, check park hours, make sure you don’t need any permits, check the times for sunrise/ sunset, and carve out plenty of time so you can get a good shot! 
  • Check, double-check, and check again that you have memory cards, charged batteries, film, and backups if needed.
  • Bring snacks, water, and sunscreen (no matter the time of year). You never know if you’ll wander around for 20 minutes or 2 hours.
  • If you're planning on shooting for commercial purposes you'll need permission from the Film Commission in addition to other applicable requirements. Visit TN Entertainment's website for more information.
  • Drones require written park manager approval before flight is allowed. Check out Tennessee State Park's drone policy for more info.

Step 2: Don’t get discouraged! 

  • Whenever I shoot, I often get discouraged with the few first shots, but stick to it. You never know, out of the 100’s of images you capture, one could be breathtaking. 
  • Don’t let seasons discourage you. The most picturesque times are often fall and spring when the leaves change, but shooting in the winter is so rewarding as well. It brings new challenges since most of the leaves are gone, but it can also open your eye to new things. 
  • There is a possibility you won’t get great shots, but there is always tomorrow, and there is always another park to try! I’ve been so frustrated after a full day of shooting when nothing seems to come out, but you’ve got to pick up your camera and keep going. 
  • Don’t be afraid to explore different landscapes! Each park is unique and offers everything from lakes, mountains, rivers, different wildlife, and a variety of new plants. This again might seem daunting if you really enjoy shooting one specific location or landscape, but don’t let that stop you, let your imagination run free. 

Step 3: Look Around

  • This might sound like an obvious one, but look everywhere when you are hiking or shooting. The finest detail on a tree or a bird 50 feet away could be a beautiful photo. You never know unless you pay attention. 
  • Sometimes silence is exactly what you need. I love music and podcasts, especially on long hikes, but I encourage you to take your headphones out and pay attention to the sounds of the woods. I’ve gotten my best wildlife photos because I turned off the noise and tried to pay attention to the sounds of nature. 
  • Respect your surroundings by staying on marked trails and refraining from getting too close to wildlife. There is no photo worth harming yourself or any wildlife. 

Step 4: Have Fun! 

  • Above all, have fun and try not to take it so seriously.
  • Try to shoot something new every time you’ve got your camera. Try to capture a new detail you never shot before. 
  • Try and explore different mediums! I love digital photography but recently have been really loving film photography as well. Don’t be afraid to bring more than one camera! 
  • Share your posts on Instagram with the #tnstateparks and tag @tennesseestateparks. Other state park lovers can find your work, and one of your photos could be reposted on the Tennessee State Parks page.

These are my best tips for shooting at Tennessee State Parks! I hope you learned something new or feel encouraged to explore the wonders of the outdoors.

Meet the Author

Madison Sharp is a senior at Lipscomb University and is a Tennessee State Parks Intern. She is also an avid hiker and loves nature and photography more than anything. One day she hopes to be a full-time photographer and make her passion a career. Her favorite Tennessee State Park is Radnor Lake which she tries to visit at least once a week!

About the author