Q&A with National Park Photographer Tim Rains

Tim Rains is an artist living in the Flathead Valley where he calls Glacier his “home park.”
December 8, 2015NPF Blog


Park Ranger Tim Rains


Prior to moving to Montana, he spent several years in Alaska working with the National Park Service and before that at Lake Tahoe working with the Forest Service.

When he began his career, he knew he wanted to enjoy where he lived as much as what he did – a principle he has stuck to throughout his career. Tim believes, “Inspiration is everything.”

We talked to Tim about his passion and talent for connecting visitors to the parks through his work with the National Park Service and as an artist.

Sunset over the mountains

Where did you first find your park?
Yosemite National Park.

When I was younger than young, and my hand comfortably fit in the palm of my mother’s, on our way to the Yosemite Lodge Cafeteria we would walk in the springtime beneath the blooming Dogwood Trees. Above me shadows, flickers of light, elegant white blossoms created an intimate tunnel to walk beneath.

But when I was curious enough to peer between the trees I caught glimpses of Lower Yosemite Falls and the towering giants of granite which framed it. My mother would stop, and name all of the features she could remember. But she never let go of my hand. 

In my work with the National Park Service, I never forgot that connection to family and place and it is a constant theme throughout my work.

How long have you worked at Glacier National Park? And what does your job entail?
I have worked at Glacier National Park for two seasons as an Exhibit Specialist. I’m part of a crack media team producing interpretive wayside signs, park guides, visitor center exhibits as well as tackling social media.

This means a lot of coffee, a lot of creative can-we-should-we moments, and an incredible amount of time in the field getting to know the park. 

I’m known as the poet, the sensitive one on our social media outlets. It is a thrill to show a softer side of the parks to visitors, and acknowledge that part of the park experience.

Though, I must confess, I love geology. There is something haunting yet reassuring about the impermanence of life proven time and time again by our geologic history in the park.

How can I stand in one place and be both in an ancient primordial sea and a glacier graveyard? It amazes me and inspires. This is what I want the visitor to connect with. 

Dawn at Glacier National Park

Where is your favorite spot in the park to photograph?
Hidden Lake.

In mid-summer, the wildflowers go bananas up at Logan Pass. So when you first hit the boardwalk outside of the quaint mid-century modern visitor center, you are met with a photographer’s overload of opportunity in only a few steps.

Then as you huff and puff your way farther up the mountainside, quirky Marmots hang out, and if you’re lucky by the time you get to the top, the goat nursery is nearby.

I prefer to go in the late evening. The light is lavender and gold on the rocks. The rocks are from that ancient sea bed and so you get these neat raspberry red ripples and mud crack, as well as bizarre spiraling fossilized algae forms.

With the light golden the rocks glow, and on a good evening, you can watch the sun go down in the McDonald Valley below.

Glacier Park sunrise

Which park have you most enjoyed photographing to date?
Oh (insert sigh and laugh). I miss photographing the humpback whales of Glacier Bay and the dynamic tidewater glaciers.

That blue color is so vibrant when you print it. The whales, though, you have to time just right to get the splash and somewhat capture their gigantic impossibly graceful form. I’d like another opportunity to go back and photograph the park.

Though, as much as my fingers would hate me to say so, the absolute frozen depth of a tundra winter is exquisitely beautiful. Ice formations beneath the frozen surface of a lake or a pond seem to reflect the night sky above giving an alternative glimpse at the cosmos.

Beneath my feet I’ve seen heart as constellations and comets which seem to crackle and sprinkle the closer you peer. 

Which park would you love to explore next and capture with your camera?
Lava!! Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

I’d love to take my experience there and see what it’s like to photograph a place that in essence is recently forming. What kind of energy would that bring to the work? Plus who doesn’t love an opportunity to spend time at the beach? Can we say underwater camera?!

How do you think technology is helping connect people to the parks?
Parks become instantly more accessible. Travel to Alaska or even Montana can be pricy. How can a park stay relevant if the visitor can never experience it?

With social media, visitors have an opportunity to see places they might never be able to make it too. And it’s not only about the visual stimulation it's about their experience.

On social media they become a part of the conversation.

For instance, on Persicope, visitors from all over the world can be live with a ranger on the shores of Lake McDonald, ask questions and the ranger will respond.

On Instagram, it's user-generated content.

The park facilitates conversations between visitors from all different backgrounds by unifying them under a shared experience. We took that experience one step further and invited visitors to come hang with us as we hiked, watched sunrises, or sunsets in person.

It was amazing to me, to meet these real-life handles. They are our best ambassadors. 

It’s also an opportunity for the parks to stay relevant. It can be difficult to keep up with the monstrosity that is technological change, but these apps provide unique and different ways to showcase aspects of the parks, our personalities, and to reach diverse audiences.

Aerial of Mount Oberlin

To see more of Tim’s striking photography and artwork, check out his site or follow him on Instagram at @rangerrains.

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