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How to Take Your Best Photos on the Next Hike

Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Parks are top nature photography destinations for many people in the Midwest. It’s no secret that people travel far distances to capture springtime waterfalls, bald eagles hunting for fish in the winter, and the hundreds of beautiful landscape compositions scattered throughout the parks - no matter the season.

So, how do you capture your best photos on your next hike? Here are some very helpful tips from a local photographer to help make your next photography hike a success.

Council Overhang (wide angle lens to capture whole scene)


If you plan on shooting landscape photos, make sure you have a wide angle lens with you at all times. This will help you capture a wider field-of-view that is similar to what you can see with your own eyes in the park. Wide angle lenses can make even small features look a lot more grand, which makes your photos much more enticing to look at! In fact, many new smartphones include a wide angle lens option to choose from as well.


Possibly the best tip we have for any photographer going to either State Park is to get there before the crowds. Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Parks tend to get busy around 10am or 11am, so hitting the trail early in the morning will really help you get those beautiful nature photos in peace and quiet, without having to photoshop any people out!


Ottawa Canyon Long Exposure (Tripod needed)

Ever seen those photos of waterfalls where the water just looks soft and misty? You are most likely looking at a long exposure! To do this, you will need a tripod for your camera and a basic knowledge of your manual settings to get your shutter to open for over a second.

Don’t have a DSLR or mirrorless camera? No problem, because iPhone works too! Make sure your iPhone has “live photo” mode on, hold your phone very still as you take the photo, and when you are done, view it in the photos app where in the top left corner you will see the word ‘live’ with a dropdown arrow. Click that and then choose ‘long exposure’ and you should have a professional looking long exposure photo just from your phone! (Full disclosure: tripod will still yield best results)


This might be an obvious one to some but others, maybe not. The waterfalls at both parks are seasonal and typically flow at their best in the spring. However, after heavy or prolonged rain in the summer and fall you can still capture those stunning canyon waterfall shots! If you are up for the challenge of protecting your gear, you can even go out during rain to get the waterfalls flowing at their full capacity.


White Pelican on Illinois River (Zoom lens to shoot from a distance)

Starved Rock State Park is one of the best locations in the State for bird photography. You can find the most bird traffic near the Starved Rock Lock and Dam by going on the observation deck at the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center, located across the river from the park. Pelicans, canadian geese, bald eagles, ducks, blue herons, and even swans are all common in this area - with many other species of birds found all around the park! Make sure to come prepared with a large zoom lens to really capture the wildlife up close. For best results, we recommend a focal length anywhere from 200mm-600mm.


As a reminder, we are asking every person who hikes to a waterfall this summer to submit a waterfall flow rate report on our website at This takes less than 60 seconds and can be completed for all the major waterfalls within Starved Rock State Park. You can also attach photos/video clips of the waterfall.


Don’t forget to tag us and use the hashtag #starvedrockhikers when sharing all your spring hiking adventures! We’ll also do our best to keep hikers informed via our Hikers group on Facebook. Click here to join for free!

See you on the trails

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Every time you purchase a product from Starved Rock Hikers, you are also helping the park. A portion of our annual proceeds are donated to the Starved Rock Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports Starved Rock & Matthiessen through educational programs, guided hikes, exhibit updates, and more.

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