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Yellowstone Wildlife and Landscape Workshop, September 24-26th, 2011

When you drive into Yellowstone from the North Entrance you are greeted with a giant stone arch that reads "For the benefit and enjoyment of the people", and that's exactly what we set out to do on our 2011 Yellowstone Wildlife Workshop.

Yellowstone National Park is enormous and while it's not the largest national park (The record holder is Wrangell St. Elias in Alaska) It takes a several days to make your way through the most promising areas for wildlife as well as the landscapes that Yellowstone has to offer.

The first day we set out in search of wildlife. We found the park to we warm for the time of year, and dry. We first headed to Lamar Valley, taking our time along the way to see what we might spot. We reached Lamar just after sunrise to find a giant heard of buffalo which was the perfect opportunity to get everyone warmed up and skills refined in a low pressure situation. We captured a male buffalo crossing the river and then he just paused and stood at the bank, providing us a great reflection of him in the calm flowing water.

Just down the road we spotted a group of about 15 or 20 Pronghorn sheep, just resting on the other side of the Lamar River. Typically skittish, they allowed us to photograph them from a comfortable distance. With the late morning light getting pretty harsh, we made the drive back to Gardiner for lunch, download images and rest up for the afternoon.

For the afternoon we headed out through the Roaring Mountain area in search of critters. We made our way to Madison and the West Entrance where we found some Elk bedded down in the distance. The lighting provided a silhouette situation for those with a lot of telephoto reach. The Elk were proving to be elusive!

The next morning we left a little earlier as we were headed to Hayden Valley and then into the Canyon region. We spent time at Yellowstone Falls before heading south where we came across a Coyote hunting in a nearby field. The coyote was only about 20-30 yards off the road and wasn't concerned with our presence as we lined up long the shoulder. Even better, he was hunting mode and allowed us to photograph him for nearly 30 minutes as he hunted for field mice. He was a beautiful coyote too with a nice winter coat.

While we were all focused (pun intended!) on the Coyote a giant herd of buffalo came up behind us. Literally, there must have been 50-60 of them, standing there just looking at us. It was great!

Finally, the Coyote grew bored of that field and headed off into the woods. We packed up and headed to Old Faithful for lunch and to capture the geyser. As per usual, Old Faithful was, well, faithful, and gave us a nice show. Even better some cotton ball type clouds had formed as we were waiting so that really helped improve the sky and backdrop helping create those postcard perfect shots.

Next stop was the geyser basin where we photographed the Grand Prismatic. This very colorful place is lined with a boardwalk allowing you to get up very close the edge and with wide angle lenses the class was able to get some sweeping shots of the geysers and dramatic skies that were forming.

We ended the day at Mammoth Hot Springs for a sunset shot over one of the larger formations. While we didn't get any color in the sky we were able to come away with some great shots by shooting the scene in monochrome, which helped tell the story of this very desolate place.

The last morning of the workshop were came across some bison sleeping near a geyser stream. They had frost on their backs and heads from the cold night and this made for some pretty nice environmental scenes with steam rising up from the hot spring as well as their breathe.

During lunch break we worked with everyone on their laptops to do image review and teach some post processing techniques to get the most out of the images they had captured.

The final afternoon we went in search of critters once again but Yellowstone proved that mother nature was in control and we were going to have to work hard to find them. The conditions this fall were warm and dry and that drove the wildlife into the higher elevations. We spent every effort searching but with the day light fading we knew it was time to conclude the trip.

On the way back to the lodge, as if mother nature's way of making sure we still had our humor, we drove through the Visitor Center and there was a bull elk, right there at the gift shop. After all that driving in search there he was, right there, in line to get ice cream! (well at least that's what we joked he was doing).

Until next time,

Stephen, Scott and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!



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