by Chelsea DeWeese
Whether it’s capturing images of the colorful Grand Prismatic Spring or a black bear climbing a tree, it’s hard to resist photographing Yellowstone in summertime.
“Yellowstone is an amazing place to visit and photograph,” says Jake Frank, audiovisual production specialist with Yellowstone’s office of strategic communications. Cooler morning and evening temperatures are ideal for photographing wildlife, he says, while hot midday temperatures offer crisp images of Yellowstone’s famous hydrothermal features.
Here are some of Frank’s recommended subjects and places to photograph during summer:
June is the perfect month to photograph nighttime skies, high-volume waterfalls, and wildlife offspring. Young bison, elk, and pronghorn dot the landscape. Songbirds show colorful breeding plumage. Rivers rage as snow melts in the mountains. Low-elevation wildflowers color the valleys. Frank suggests layering warm clothing for nighttime photography at Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin, where dark skies make the perfect backdrop for starry images. Morning and evening visits to the park’s northeastern region, the Lamar Valley, are good times to photograph birds, bears, and other wildlife. Avoid the heat of the day when wildlife tends to be less active.
Spawning cutthroat trout crowd shallow waterways. Bison rumble in valleys as their mating season starts. Hot springs and geysers are at their most photogenic. This month travel high into the mountains to photograph wildflowers reaching their peak. Take advantage of high afternoon temperatures to photograph colorful hydrothermal bacterial mats and spouting geysers with little steam obscuring visibility. Drive Dunraven Pass for blankets of yellow arrowleaf balsamroot mixed with purple silvery lupine. In Hayden Valley—from a safe distance—photograph powerful bull bison as they bellow, wallow, and battle for dominance and breeding rights.
Raptors migrate and the final days of the bison rut, or mating season, are underway. As summer begins to wane, wildflowers go to seed and you might even witness the first hints of fall colors in the highlands. August is often fire season in Yellowstone. Although smoke can obscure night skies, it makes for fantastic sunrises and sunsets, Frank says. On any day, you can capture beautiful skies at the West Thumb Geyser Basin and at Mary Bay along the shoreline of Yellowstone Lake. Frank also suggests taking pictures from overlooks situated on the rims of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon.
- Familiarize yourself with your camera settings.
- Shoot in RAW mode for best post-process editing results.
- Invest in multiple, high-quality lenses.
- If you choose to use a tripod, invest in one that’s sturdy.
- Between shots keep your wildlife lens on and your settings ready to photograph; you never know when wildlife will appear!
TAKE THE PLEDGE. TELL A FRIEND. PROTECT THE PARK.
While capturing your unforgettable images of the world’s first national park, responsible photo-taking is essential to protecting you, the wildlife, and the hydrothermal features.
To learn how to safely photograph and share images of Yellowstone’s landscapes and wildlife, take the Yellowstone Pledge at go.nps.gov/YellowstonePledge.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of Yellowstone Quarterly