Yellowstone National Park

Sunrise over The Thunderer and Soda Butte Creek, Yellowstone National Park
Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National ParkThe week of Labor Day marked my first ever trip to Yellowstone National Park. I’ve actually wanted to incorporate a little more wildlife experiences in my photography the last few years. Heck- if you’ve ever looked in my “fauna” gallery on my site, you know it’s pretty bare! Anyways, my girlfriend stopped through the park back in June and was all too eager to make a return trip. Away we went!

Unlike most of my blog posts where I typically write up a journal or narrative for my outings, this time I just wanna rattle off a list of random thoughts-

Trip Research / Prep!

There are a couple of traditional print books about photographing Yellowstone such as this and this. I have both, and they’re not too bad (but a bit light on wildlife). Prior to my trip, I came across an eBook put out by photographer Dean Sauskojus (website here) called “The Ultimate Photo Guide to Yellowstone National Park” (and you can access the eBook info page here). Dean’s photography is wonderful, and his locational write-ups seemed to be fairly spot-on. I found it handy to be able to refer to the PDF on my tablet while out in the park. Anyways, I would definitely recommend the eBook.

Small waterfall along the Gibbon River in Gibbon Canyon, Yellowstone National Park
Morning's first light hits the Mammoth Hot Springs Main Terrace, Yellowstone National Park
Morning Light on Mount Hornaday from Round Prairie, Yellowstone National ParkAnother tidbit of advice I had been told prior to my trip which I found true was that the distances between points takes a lot longer to travel than you might think. You might want to estimate up to 1.5x the amount of time you think needed in order to get between places by the time you want. You hear about “bear / buffalo jams” but we didn’t experience anything severe during our stay. It could just be the tendency to gawk as you drive, or just being extra defensive to avoid being surprised by something on the road. Case in point, we were driving back to Tower Junction after sunset on our last night and seemingly out of thin air, a small herd of bison was partially in the road, including a young bison nursing off mama.

I’m here! Now what?

One thing I’ve learned to do over time is to scale back expectations of what you can accomplish during the course of a day. Every day I had a sunrise and sunset spot selected but only a very loose plan to connect the two together. Let your hunches and curiosity tell you when and where to stop. Tangentially related, get some bear spray for your safety and protection. It’s designed for use against an attacking bear but any large wild animal can suddenly turn aggressive towards you. This video shows a bunch of teen and pre-teen jack-asses who have a run in with a bison (I would hope most of you wouldn’t be that foolish, though!). At one of my stops near Grand Prismatic Spring, we passed a solitary bison laying down near the Fairy Falls trail. As it turned out, the bison had a wound in it’s side from a sparring match with another bison. A wounded animal can be a dangerous animal and the bear spray was a reassuring item to have.

If you do happen to stop someplace, be prepared to draw a crowd. I’d like to tell you that the crowd will be animals but more often than not, it will be your fellow tourists. They end up deciding that you MUST be seeing something! After all, why else would you have stopped?? I was photographing Soda Butte Creek and Barronette Peak from the highway bridge over the creek when a car stopped on the bridge behind me. I initially ignored them but then a voice asked, “you looking at an animal of the view??” I answered “the view” and they immediately drove off.

American Bison (Bison bison) heading back down into the Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park
Gibbon Falls, Yellowstone National Park
Sunset over the evening Bison commute in Slough Creek valley, Yellowstone National ParkNow, sometimes where there’s smoke, there *IS* fire. A few times, we pulled over (into an accepted parking spot) when we came up on a scene with dozens of other people park and gawking at something. The first time in the Lamar Valley, it was the appearance of a black wolf; the second time was in the Hayden Valley and there were up to four wolves in a chess game with a herd of bison. I guess my moral of the story is to let small groups of people enjoy themselves, if you can.

When you are out driving around, be sure to have your camera immediately available. Getting stuck in a bear or bison jam may give you an opportunity to get a nice close shot that you might otherwise
miss. We were stopped in one brief traffic snarl and off to our right was a fox hopping and hunting some prey in the field. While we were stopped, my girlfriend was able to snap a couple shots of it. Another time, we were driving back down from the Beartooth Highway and we passed a fox, happily trotted up the road with a fresh meal in its mouth.

Some Closing Thoughts

I came home from Yellowstone with about 1,400 photographs. Most of these were rapid “bursts” in order to capture some sharp shots of wildlife. After reviewing them, I still have some work to do with my use of a “wildlife” lens like my Bigma (the Sigma 50-500mm lens). This week I came across a few sites which discuss what’s known as long lens technique (this, this, and this) and I’ll be working to incorporate these techniques before my next visit to Yellowstone.

Gray Wolves and American Bison above the Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park
American Bison (Bison bison) in the Slough Creek Valley, Yellowstone National Park

2 Responses to Yellowstone National Park
  1. Ron Niebrugge

    I love Yellowstone! Looks like you had a productive trip. It is so true – every time I pull over to look at something, other stop. I don’t understand why, I prefer stopping at pull-outs that are empty. Nice job!

  2. Steve Cole

    Thanks so much, Ron. Your comments carry a lot of weight with me. Stay safe up there!