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Yellowstone National Park is America's oldest National Park. In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed it into law, for the enjoyment and benefit of the people. Teaming with wildlife and geothermal activity, Yellowstone is like no other National Park. It encompasses three states and is a total of 3.468.4 miles. Yellowstone's changing seasons make it popular year round. Winter is a snow-covered wonderland; spring produces new life, for both animals and plant life. Fall is one of our favorite times to visit the park. The wildlife is actively preparing for winter and the Elk are in rut, which makes them very active. Fall starts a little earlier then other places in the country, which is why we got our Yellowstone "The Wild Side" Photography Workshop underway at the end of September. Scott and myself met up with our 12 fantastic students on the evening of September 27th, for our orientation, aka meet and greet. There are many familiar faces and some new ones as well. It's always nice getting to know everyone, answer questions, and go over the plan for our three-day adventure ahead.
We had everyone meet in the breakfast area of the hotel, just a little early. Scott assured that everyone was comfortable with his or her camera settings for wildlife photography. After all grabbed a quick bite to eat at the breakfast buffet, we loaded up the Aperture Academy van (ApCab) and made our way into the park. It was evident from the get go that this was going to be a special morning. The storm system that had been due on Thursday stalled, causing it to arrive Friday in the early morning hours. As we drove in it looked like something out of a fairytale, as snow blanketed the landscape. Almost immediately we noticed a large group of elk. This group usually hangs around the visitor's center, but the snow had driven them down, closer to the town of Gardiner. There was not quite enough light to photograph them, but it sure was cool to observe them in the snowy field. Scott and I had arrived a couple of days before the workshop, so we could scout out all the wildlife hotspots. Therefore we knew of an older grizzly bear named scar face that was feeding on a couple of mule deer carcasses. Scott and I got everyone set up on tripods and ensured that their settings were correct, in order to capture fabulous images of this majestic animal. After a good 45 minutes of shooting, scar face decided to move on, so we moved on as well. Lamar Valley was beautifully dusted in snow, so we pulled over for a little bit of landscape photography. As the sun started to break through in spots, it was clear that the snow would not stay long. It was indeed melting rather quickly, although we all felt lucky to have it great us this first morning. The snow had definitely made the wildlife more active. We happened upon a coyote, very near the road. There had only been a few people at that point who were taking advantage of the close proximity, so we got a prime parking spot. The entire group slowly exited the van with long lenses in hand. As more and more people stopped and made a ruckus, the coyote decided to move on, but not before all the students grabbed some quality images. Scott and I knew a location that is frequented by a group of pronghorn. Indeed the group was there, so we led the group out into the field, so we would have a better vantage point. Slowly and methodically I moved my group of students in one direction, as Scott went another. Finally the female pronghorn caught sight of us, and started to flee. They ran, along with the male, right in between the two groups. All got some great shots, both portrait and action. The storybook morning was complete, and it was time for a short lunch break, in order to refuel for more exciting Yellowstone activity.
After lunch we made our way towards the East side of the park, to visit the iconic Yellowstone Falls. However on our way to the falls we approached a "bear jamb". A gorgeous grizzly bear was quite close to the road. We grabbed a nice parking spot, off the road and the group eagerly hopped out to snag some sweet images of the female grizzly. I later found out it was a 7 year old female, from my buddy Ranger Keith. The bear was foraging in the meadow and could really care less that about 80+ people were observing her and taking tons of photographs. There were several Rangers on hand to be sure that all were keeping at least 100 yards between themselves and the female grizzly. Oftentimes, as she moved around in the meadow, the Ranger would then push the entire crowd back. We stayed a good hour and gathered tons of nice images. Light was starting to fade, so we hit the road and drove the rest of the distance to Yellowstone Falls. There
Are actually two waterfalls, upper and lower Yellowstone falls. The lower falls is the most recognizable view, as it's truly the best vantage point. They don't call it Artists Point for nothing. Artists have captured the view since the parks inception. Scott and I got everyone set up with a vantage point the suited their photographic style. It always pleases me to see how 12 photographers can visit the same location and all come away with a unique image. The sun dipping below the horizon was our queue to make our way back to the Comfort Inn digs in Gardiner. A truly astonishing day one had come to a close.
Scott and I teach a lot of workshops, and big chunk of those are focused around landscape. Therefore we are used to skipping those yummy hotel breakfasts. Mostly due to the fact that we are long gone before the food comes out. It's a great bonus for all of us to have enough time to grab a quick bite at the hotel before hitting the road into Yellowstone. Today we are hitting up Lamar Valley once again, since it's been the hotspot for wildlife activity. Scott found a great iPhone app, which we both downloaded, called YNPwildlife. People post sighting on the app, and oftentimes accompanied by a photo and gps coordinate. Lamar Valley had the most sightings by far. On this morning we had a nice heard of Bison making there way from one meadow to another, via the road. Therefore all got some great shots! After the Bison encounter we also had a nice elk sighting as well, before making our way down south. In the south reside probably the most recognizable locations of the park, Old Faithful. We had a delicious lunch at the breathtaking lodge. Unfortunately, Old Faithful was a little early, and lunch was a little slow, therefore we only caught the last of the eruption. Unanimously we decided to hit the road and see some other spots, rather then buck the crowds at the next eruption. Good thing we did because our timing could not have been more perfect for the Great Fountain Geyser... but more on that in a bit. Our next stop was Biscuit Basin. The basin is a winding boardwalk that brings you up close and personal with some colorful geothermal pools. From blues, to greens, oranges, and yellows, the colors are photographically stunning. The next stop was another one of Yellowstone's iconic locations, Grand Prismatic at the midway geyser basin.
There are two main features, Grand Prismatic spring, which measures in at 370 feet wide and 121 feet deep, and the 200x300 foot Excelsior Geyser, which pours over 4,000 U.S. gallons per minute into the Firehole river. The basin has a large boardwalk that allows you an up close and personal view of a kaleidoscope of colors. Scott and I helped with composition ideas as well as the use of a neutral density filter, to achieve a slightly longer shutter speed. Backlight park visitors on the boardwalk, also made for some interesting shots. Okay, now back to Great Fountain Geyser... the frequency is semi-regular, meaning predictions are a little harder to predict then Old Faithful. The time window is usually about a four-hour period. The geyser is located on Firehole canyon drive, and not only is there geothermal activity here, but also some nice herds of Bison. Those who chose wildlife over the geyser went with Scott to photograph Bison, while I stayed at the geyser with everyone else. Shortly after we arrived at Great Fountain geyser, and I got everyone set up, the eruption started. Bubbling water preceded a marvelous spout of water. The nice thing about Great Fountain geyser is the lack of tourists. It felt as though it was our private and amazing spot. Your allowed to get a lot closer then with Old Faithful and the geyser erupts up to 5 times in a 45-minute period. The sun was setting during the second eruption, and the reflections on the terraced pools that surround the geyser, made it a truly amazing sight. It was a wonderful way to end the day, everyone happy with his or her respectively different images.
The morning started with a little drizzle of rain, but hot coffee made it totally bearable. We made our way in search of more wildlife, via the Roosevelt arch at the North gate. Again heading into Lamar Valley with hopes of seeing a moose, or bear, or unicorn (just making sure you're paying attention). There were some nice groups of Bison that we took the time to photograph, almost getting one as he crossed the river, but he changed his mind at the last second and decided not to cross. As he hung around in the adjacent filed with a small herd of Pronghorn, the students were able to grab a few shots. Because of a nice break in the clouds, right hear Mammoth Hot Springs, we decided to take advantage and photograph this highly iconic area, in the north portion of the park. The large complex of hot springs sits on a hill of travertine. Formed from thousands of years of the hot water flowing up from the Norris geyser basin. After it cools, the deposits of calcium carbonate create the terraced slops, which make it unique and stunning. There are some dead trees in the travertine terraces that make some excellent compositional opportunities. Scott and I presented the students with some thoughts on point of view and well as the accompanying aperture.
After our time at Mammoth, it was time for a lunch break. During break we all got together for some pizza and post processing tips from Scott, our Adobe certified expert. After Scott presented a tutorial, we helped some students individually with processing tips on the photos captured thus far. The 2 hours flew by, and it was time to hit the road into the park, one last time. At the time, we had no idea just how long it would be before we were able to visit Yellowstone, or any other National Park. Only 2 days after the conclusion of our Yellowstone "The Wild Side" Workshop" we all received word of the Government shutdown, resulting in our basically being "kicked out" of the Parks. I digress, back to the end of a marvelous three-day adventure, ala Aperture Academy. Again we passed through the Roosevelt Arch, but this time we stopped for a slightly drizzly but fantastically energetic group shot. After which we made our way into Hayden Valley. We were glad we did, because we were able to see a mom grizzly with two cubs. The cubs were happily inquisitive and some grabbed great shots of them on their hind legs, seeming to almost wave at us. It was an incredible way to end three days of the best that Yellowstone NP has to offer. We made our way back to Gardiner MT, and said our fond farewells to all of our wonderful students.
Until next time...
Ellie, Scott and the entire Aperture Academy team