In terms of wildlife diversity, I am yet to visit somewhere as rich in life as Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming – although I hope to be wrong! Whether you’re a novice photographer or a pro, I hope you’ll enjoy these few tips to get great wildlife photos whilst visiting Yellowstone, or any other national park.
1. Obey the rules
Yellowstone is Americas first national park, and the national parks system is widely billed Americas best idea. Created by Ulysses S. Grant in 1816 and pioneered by Scottish writer and adventurer John Muir, it offers unparalleled opportunities for eco tourism, conservation and education. We all have a responsibility to try and maintain the parks by respecting them. The rules state that you should not get within 100 paces of bears and wolves and within 25 paces of most other wildlife. It can be tempting to cross that boundary – as photographers, we are prepared to do anything for a better photo – but don’t. Push your skills – not your safety. You risk injuring yourself, and if an animals harms you, they are at risk of being euthanised by park officials.
2. Research your area
Yellowstone is MASSIVE. I spent 4 days there and just about skimmed the surface of what the park has to offer. If you’re looking for wildlife, head straight for the Lamar Valley – known as the Serengeti of Yellowstone, this is a hotspot for lots of animals because of the large open waterway and grazing fields. It’s also not far from an osprey nest, wolf dens and more. If you’re looking for a particular species, do your research via the internet, and more importantly, speak to the park rangers. The US National Park rangers are highly trained specialists, so they know the park they work in very well. They’ll tell you what to see and where – make sure to stop in at one of the ranger huts to get the inside track.
3. Make friends with spotters
One thing you’ll notice on your travels through Yellowstone are the groups of wildlife spotters – easily identified by their very big telephoto lenses. These people spend hours monitoring wolf packs, bird nests, bears etc. They are respectful, friendly and highly knowledgeable. They have spent a lot of time learning the ways of the park and can give you some great knowledge on particular species in the area. Be kind and respectful, engage in conversation and be aware that they may need you to be quiet so you don’t disturb the animal they have spent hours trying to get a shot of. I met an amazing lady in Yellowstone who showed me where to find a Great Horned Owl nest, how to find mountain bluebirds and where to look for eagles. I did see lots of people slowing down in cars to speak to the spotters and then being very disrespectful if they weren’t watching a grizzly bear – everyones number one must see. Such a shame!
4. Change your perspective
This is one of my favourite shots from Yellowstone National Park. It’s actually Grand Prismatic Spring. Most pictures you see of this incredible thermal spring are rich in colour, and usually taken from above. When we arrived at Grand Prismatic, the overhead walkway was closed for refurbishment, and there was a strong wind blowing steam over the spring, which meant its beautiful prism of colour wasn’t visible and impossible to photograph. So instead of walking away without a photo, I decided to change my perspective, and knelt down on the boardwalk and took a shot that dwarfed the tourists walking along the walkway and made the thermal mats the feature of the image. I wanted to reflect the small number of people versus the millions of microbes living on the thermal mats. I converted it to black and white to add some drama to the image, and I’m really pleased with it! SO my final tip is to change your perspective – try and get something different – Yellowstone has been photographed many times, challenge yourself to get something different!
Here are a few more of my favourite shots from my visit.
If you visit Yellowstone – i’d love to hear about your trip and see your photos! Please get in touch via email firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @stephchitty