NGE Yellowstone Winter Wildlife (Photography)

February 7-12, 2016

Bighorn sheep ram with limber pine in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park.

Bighorn sheep ram with limber pine in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park.

I just completed my second of three photography tours of Yellowstone National Park for National Geographic Expeditions this season and what a fantastic tour it was. The weather was mostly clear and way too warm while most wildlife was cooperative even to the point of being in our way at times (read bison jam). Coyotes, red fox, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, elk and bison were plentiful while bobcat and river otter remained hidden during this trip. We did manage to see one black wolf this trip, at a distance perfect for spotting scope viewing but too far for any but the very longest photographic lenses. Still, it was interesting watching the wolf interact with a coyote (meaning the coyote kept a good distance) while a mature bald eagle stood on a nearby rock watching the drama. There must have been a wolf kill nearby but we couldn’t see it from our location.

Mark Thiessen advising the group on how to photograph  sunset over the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park.

Mark Thiessen advising the group on how to photograph  sunset over the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park.

Here’s a special shout to National Geographic staff photographer Mark Thiessen who served as tour Expert this trip. Though Mark’s knowledge of Yellowstone was limited, his photographic expertise and ability to teach are outstanding. Expedition Experts are required to make three presentations during these tours. Mark’s first offered several helpful photography tips in an entertaining way without being overwhelmingly technical. His second was about his experiences as a National Geographic photographer and his third was an exceedingly helpful critique of participant images. More than his presentations it was Mark’s ability to step off a snowcoach, take in a scene and begin offering advice on how to shoot it that really stood out. We all came away better photographers for Mark’s efforts.

I was recently asked if a DSLR was required equipment for these tours. The answer is … no. A good smartphone is enough to play with composition skills and begin understanding dynamics of light and color. A small point & shoot camera with a manual setting is enough to creatively experiment with exposures and light balance. While a DSLR offers the most potential in your learning experience it is far from essential. All the photos on this blog entry were taken with either my iPhone 5s or a Fujifilm F900 EXR for example.

The calendar is set for 2016/2017 Yellowstone Winter Wildlife National Geographic Expeditions but guide assignments still have to be made. I've been assured it won't be too much longer until I know which, if any, of these tours I'll be taking out in the season a year from now. Will keep you posted. Until then - Travel safe

Kurt

 

NGE Winter Wildlife of Yellowstone (Photography)

Tour January 17-22, 2017

T0rn between watching coyotes and taking photos of sunset - Sometimes coyotes are more interesting.

T0rn between watching coyotes and taking photos of sunset - Sometimes coyotes are more interesting.

The first 2016 Photography Edition of National Geographic Expeditions Winter Wildlife In Yellowstone tour went exceedingly well. Having learned a lot from our two pilot trips in 2015 this season's version sports a smaller group size and a more flexible itinerary enabling us to take advantage of sunsets, sunrises, weather conditions and unpredictable wildlife movements. 

Bobcat along the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park.

Bobcat along the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park.

Finding wildlife close enough to photograph is always a roll-of-the-dice proposition. This trip was unlucky for wolves as we saw none at all. However, bison, bighorn sheep, elk, pronghorn, coyotes, red fox and even bobcat made our list of photographable wildlife. Our bird list included trumpeter swan, great blue heron, red grosbeak, mountain chickadee, red-breasted nuthatch, Clark's nutcracker and, of course, ravens and bald eagles.

Yellowstone doesn't lack scenery either.

These photography tours are turning out to be quite popular as all three of this season's tours are completely full. Registration has begun for the 2016-2017 winter season and a fourth photography departure has been added. The calendar looks like this:

It may be some time before I know exactly what tours I'll be leading but I'll be asking for several of the departures numbered 6 through 11 in case you'd like the chance to join me. 

My next NGE Photo Expedition of Yellowstone departs on February 7, 2016 and I'll blog a post-trip report soon after. Until then please leave a comment below telling me what you think. 

Cheers and Happy Travels

Kurt

Temperature: The Visual Difference

People are often shocked when I tell them I'm hoping for the coldest possible temperatures when visiting Yellowstone National Park in Winter. They remain wide-eyed and shivering as I continue with descriptions of ice crystals, foggy atmospheres and the beauty associated with cold. Not that Yellowstone isn't beautiful when it's warmer, it's just that we rarely see the formations associated with real cold anymore.  I miss those formations so I reminisce while my listener's chattering teeth go unnoticed.

Below are two photos of the same location at very different temperatures to illustrate my point.

Taken on February 13. Temperatures were in the teens overnight and about 36°F at the time of this photo. It shows the microbiological mats and dead saplings of a hot spring outflow. Temperatures are too warm to form many ice crystals or create an ice fog so we see more of the changes hotsprings create in the landscape.

Taken on February 13. Temperatures were in the teens overnight and about 36°F at the time of this photo. It shows the microbiological mats and dead saplings of a hot spring outflow. Temperatures are too warm to form many ice crystals or create an ice fog so we see more of the changes hotsprings create in the landscape.

This image of the same location taken on February 6 has a totally different feel. Overnight temperatures dipped to -33°F and hovered around -25°F at the time of the photo. Ice fog limits visibility and the dead saplings seen in the image above are now 'Snow-ghosts' covered in rime frost. 

This image of the same location taken on February 6 has a totally different feel. Overnight temperatures dipped to -33°F and hovered around -25°F at the time of the photo. Ice fog limits visibility and the dead saplings seen in the image above are now 'Snow-ghosts' covered in rime frost. 

I'm not saying that one view is better than the other. Nor am I encouraging visitors to come only when it's really cold. The best time to visit Yellowstone, or any National Park, is when you have the time available. I am saying that beauty comes in many forms at any temperature, in any weather. Only those brave enough and prepared enough to venture into the weather will have the opportunity to see that beauty for themselves. Never let the weather keep you indoors. 

Nearly Alone in Old Faithful's Basin

Day four of this trip found us in blizzard conditions. Heavy snow and wind gusts approaching 40 mph closed many roads in Yellowstone and kept the less intrepid from venturing out of the Snowlodge. Not my group of adventurers! WE bundled up and sallied forth into the maelstrom, the spirits of Shackleton and Scott at our backs. Okay, so we had a warm hotel dispensing hot buttered rums and irish  coffees upon our return but still ... we were more adventurous than most.

See the resemblance to Shackleton's band of Antarctic adventures? Okay, I admit we weren't pulling boats across the ice and we ate bison at the restaurant instead of sled dog cooked over an oil burner but we are a product of our time and we did go outside in challenging weather and had a great experience.

See the resemblance to Shackleton's band of Antarctic adventures? Okay, I admit we weren't pulling boats across the ice and we ate bison at the restaurant instead of sled dog cooked over an oil burner but we are a product of our time and we did go outside in challenging weather and had a great experience.

This coyote was one to the few living things we saw in an area known for it's crowds. We didn't see it for long as the coyote crawled under the boardwalk to escape the storm and didn't come out again as far as we could tell.

This coyote was one to the few living things we saw in an area known for it's crowds. We didn't see it for long as the coyote crawled under the boardwalk to escape the storm and didn't come out again as far as we could tell.

Flat light on days like this, while not the best for grand landscape photography, is excellent for colorful detail shots like the edge of this warm spring. The green algae and red/brown grass really 'pop' in grey light.

Flat light on days like this, while not the best for grand landscape photography, is excellent for colorful detail shots like the edge of this warm spring. The green algae and red/brown grass really 'pop' in grey light.

Hanging in front of Castle Geyser. Dressing properly is the key to enjoying days like these.

Hanging in front of Castle Geyser. Dressing properly is the key to enjoying days like these.