I’ve been visiting Yellowstone National Park for decades, and for the last 9 years I've had a cabin located near the Madison River just outside the park. Staci and I love the area more than almost anywhere else on earth, so last year we decided to take all that experience and love of the area and share it by offering a 5 day Yellowstone Photography Workshop. The results were beyond our wildest dreams. Since we can only take six of you at a time, I thought I would share some fun facts about the area that you might not know, and give you some quick tips in our photographer's guide to Yellowstone National Park.
Bacteria creates colorful hot springs
Yellowstone is such a unique place with hundreds of beautiful hot springs. Many of these hot springs are brought to life with color as sunlight reflects off their unique bacterial mats creating vibrant colors. Different colors are created by different bacteria that live only in certain temperatures. The grand daddy of them all is the Grand Prismatic.
Yellowstone is home to hundreds of waterfalls
Park rangers and hikers find new waterfalls every year in the backcountry, but some of the most beautiful are accessible via car. When photographing a waterfall make sure the sun is not directly on the falls to get the most detail. Create a shot list, map your route and make sure to plot your waterfall photography during optimal times.
Yellowstone is a giant caldera!
This one took me a while to get my head around, but what makes Yellowstone's eco system so unique is it's flourishing on top of an ancient volcano. And, believe it or not, scientists believe there's a giant hot spot directly below the park, and as the tectonic plate slowly moves over it, the geothermal features of the park continue to change. The geothermal features include hot springs and bubbling mud, which of course creates endless mystical photographic opportunities.
Elk fight for their harem of females every fall
Now this one I totally get! 🙂 It's true, elk will clash with other bull elk during the rut which takes place every year in the fall. A fun fact is that the timing of the rut is not determined by temperature, it's the declining amount of light each fall that changes their hormones and puts them in “the mood.” If you want to see crazy eyes, then you should have seen these two bull elk fighting this last fall. Thankfully Staci had a zoom lens on and despite dwindling light, she was very fortunate to capture this brawl. She had to bump up her ISO to make sure her speed was fast enough to capture the fight.
Grizzly bears are not always brown
Many of our workshop attendees were surprised to see how silvery-gray this grizzly was. Like many people some of them thought the best way to tell the difference between black bears and grizzly bears is the color of the fur, but “black” bears can actually be brown, and grizzlies can be anywhere from black to brown to silver! Instead look for the humped shoulders and pie-shaped face. We managed to find a grizzly on the last day of our workshop on our last ride to look for them.
Old Faithful is not the biggest or most faithful geyser in the park
In writing a photographer's guide to Yellowstone, we'd be remiss to leave out Old Faithful! Old Faithful erupts every 35-120 minutes and goes off for anywhere from 1.5-5 minutes. Usually the longer the time between eruptions, larger and longer the eruption. The best way to photograph the geyser is to put something in the frame to give it scale. Otherwise it may not be obvious that its almost 200 ft high! Check the live streaming Old Faithful webcam!
The greater Yellowstone Eco-system has some of the best fishing in the world
I’ve been coming to Yellowstone since I was in my mid 20’s, first because of my love for the great outdoors, and then I learned to fish! If you think photography is an addiction then you should try fly-fishing. The great thing about Yellowstone is it offers some of the best Blue Ribbon (high quality fishing) water in the United States. This year we thought we would share our passion for fly-fishing, by offering an optional one-day fly-fishing excursion complete with instruction from our good friend and professional guide Geoff.
Of course they don't call it catch and release for nothing!
Yellowstone is very accessible to the public and it's hard to find a bad location to photograph. You can fly into Bozeman or even West Yellowstone then rent a car to drive through the park. I recommend allowing yourself a minimum of two to three days in the park. A word of warning, the summer months are very busy with August being a madhouse with family vacationers so make your reservation well in advance, and remember patience is key because traffic back-ups are very common. I always tell people to go explore Yellowstone for the first time with their family because it's a wonderful bonding experience and classic family vacation. But when it comes time to focus on your photography and not feel guilty about leaving your family behind then dedicate some time to yourself in the park or consider a Yellowstone workshop where your'e surrounded by like minded people.