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Yellowstone Wildlife and Landscape Workshop, September 2015

Yellowstone National Park is often considered to be the Serengeti of North America.  The concentration of such diverse species in such a small area makes for interesting viewing and photographic opportunities.  Wildlife is abound in all areas of the park and can be seen at regular intervals, often without the need of high zoom optics like spotting scopes.  Yellowstone is famous for its re-introduction of wolves in the mid-nineties, and they are still studied and carefully tracked throughout the park.  Other species of wildlife readily viewable, sometimes from the confines of your vehicle, include bear, coyote, fox, river otter, pronghorn antelope, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and an incredible amount of predatory and non-predatory birds.  The scenery in the park is just as beautiful as its fauna, with its fast forested areas, pristine river valleys, waterfalls, and geothermally active areas within the greater caldera.  Its no wonder people flock from around the world to take in the beauty and majesty of one of America's most amazing, and first, National Park.

Every photographic adventure starts with an eager team of photographers ready to explore.  Our meeting place for this workshop is Gardiner, Montana, as most of the areas of interest to us are in the northern part of the park.  The Aperture Academy always has two instructors for this workshop, so this time it was myself, and fellow photographer and instructor Phil Nicholas.  Our orientation began with our customary round of introductions, and after that we went into our schedule of events followed by proper etiquette within the park.  Phil and I finished off by getting everyone's camera setup correctly for this, a primarily wildlife workshop, before sending everyone off to bed for an early start in the morning.

Day 1

With this being primarily a wildlife workshop, sunrises are of secondary importance to seeing some critters.  So on our first morning out, even though we begin our day before sunrise, our primary focus is seeing some of the amazing animals in the area.  This time of year in Yellowstone, during the Elk rut, we don't really have to travel far.  Shortly after traveling east from Mammoth Hot Springs, we spot our first catch of the day, a giant bull Elk.  Lone males are often less concerned with vehicles and people than bulls trying to protect their harem, so this big bull was totally okay with our group stopping to take some pictures of him with the morning light.  Phil and I had a hunch that their might be some activity further up the road, so we stopped just before Lamar Valley at an overlook to see if we could spot a Black Bear we had seen in the area the day before.  No dice.  But instead, two Red Foxes came out of the woods and started hunting right in front of us!  Phil and I helped the class to get the best out of what these little skittish critters were giving us.  It was quite a show.  After a short stint in Lamar Valley we headed back to the hotel for a mid-morning rest.  After a nap and some lunch, Phil and I decided to take the group further into the park and make a stop in Hayden Valley.  We photographed some Bison, and stopped by the river in Hayden Valley to shoot some Trumpeter Swans before settling down at an overlook to capture the sunset and rising moon over the river.  It was an awesome first day!

Day 2

This morning saw us stop a little closer Mammoth to take advantage of a bull Elk and his harem up on a hill.  As the sun rose, the hill became lit with beautiful warm light as we had our group move around to get the get the Elk into the best possible position for some great shots.  After a while, he had enough of us and started off down the hill.  I think everyone got enough Elk shots for one day to last the rest of the workshop for sure!  We headed back into Lamar Valley in search of some bigger game.  We instead found some coyotes rambling around the valley floor hunting.  One in particular wasn't as skittish as the others and allowed some of our group get a little closer for some choice shots.  Phil led a contingent of our class down to the river to get some closer shots.  After the Coyote decided we were too close for his comfort level (even though he was across the river) they worked the herd of Bison across the river instead.  Time for break!   We headed back to Gardiner again for a mid-day siesta.  After lunch, the clouds began to form up so we decided to take a break from wildlife to travel down to Yellowstone Canyon and the Falls.  Luck was not on our side though as the clouds broke up right after we got there and the light turned a little sour.  We headed back up to Lamar Valley to take in the sunset and await the Lunar eclipse!  The sunset was pretty nice as there were plenty of clouds for the sun to light up, but the real treat was when it got a little darker, and the moon rose.  We waited for the full eclipse which was pretty spectacular!  The red moon was a sight none of us had ever seen before and it was pretty sweet!  We all got some great shots but it was time for bed.

Day 3

Our last day in Yellowstone started off a bit slow, we took a lesser travelled road in the morning, known for its bear activity, but to no avail, the landscape on the Blacktail Plateau is beautiful, and in hindsight we probably should have stayed longer!  The critters must have all been hiding this morning, or hit the snooze button and slept in.  So we decided to head back out to Yellowstone Falls to try and see if the sun would be high enough to catch a rainbow on the lower falls.  We stayed as the sun rose ever higher but the rainbow never quite made an full appearance, so we headed back to our hotel for an early break.  Phil and I grabbed a quick bite to eat before settling down in the meeting area of the hotel for some post processing.  Only a couple folks decided to take advantage of the time, so the session was a little more intimate. 

After about an hour and half, we met up with the rest of the group for our final push into the park.  We headed this time down to the Geyser Basin and started out with Grand Prismatic.  Phil and I decided the best thing to do to get the group some awesome shots, was to make a quick jaunt up the hill to the south of the pool.  The views up there were spectacular!  We had some great clouds in the right spots and the hill we were on overlooked the Grand Prismatic Spring almost dead on, it was a energy lifter for sure.  After coming down the hill we headed over to the Morning Glory Pool, which is more or less a deep blue hole in the Geyser Basin.  Its pretty cool, so we stayed there for sunset and got our obligatory group shot as well!  It was getting late so we decided it was best to head over to the Old Faithful Inn and grab some dinner as a group.  Its always nice to be able to sit down at the end of a workshop and have a nice meal everyone.  The full moon was rising, so some of the group decided to head over to Old Faithful with Phil and grab some shots of the Geyser with the moon in the background!  Nice shots!  Sadly it was the shooting we would be doing as a group.  We had some great conditions on the workshop, saw some nice Elk, had an unexpected visit from some Foxes, grabbed some images of Pronghorn and Bison, and saw some of the most beautiful features of the Geyser Basin.  Success!

Thanks to everyone who joined us in the fun of photographing this amazing place.  It was a blast sharing the experience with you.

Until next time . . . Scott, Phil and the rest of the Aperture Academy crew.

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