Yellowstone Wildlife and Landscape Digital Photography Workshop | October 2012

Yellowstone Wildlife and Landscape Workshop, October 2012

The start of October brought much cooler temps to Yellowstone National Park, as well as our second group of excited photographers, for Aperture Academy's Yellowstone "the wild side" workshop.

Aperture Academy instructors Ellie Stone and Scott Davis had just finished up with the first of two workshops in the extreme and stunning landscape of Yellowstone National Park. Mother nature provided the group with some amazing conditions. The wildlife and landscape conditions were plentiful and amazing, to say the least. This had set the bar fairly high, as the second workshop was preparing to commence.

Scott and Ellie greeted the students in the hotel lobby for a brief, but informative, orientation. This group of students were like no other. Traditionally, workshops have a nice ratio of male and female pupils. This group was made up entirely of females for the workshop adventure.

Ellie and Scott introduced themselves, giving a little background history, but more importantly, they wanted to learn about each student. Getting to know the individual student's expectations for the coming days, as well as what gear they've brought with them, is vital information for the instructors, so they can adapt to the needs of each individual. Scott and Ellie also gave everyone an idea of what to expect in the coming days.

Day one commenced at the civilized hour of 7am. All were giddy for the day's activities, and grateful to have the opportunity to grab a quick breakfast and some coffee before heading out. The action started just after the entrance gate to the park.

A beautiful bull elk was wrangling his heard of seven females, fairly near the road. The Aperture Academy van (ApCab) was first on scene. Scott and Ellie helped make sure the ladies had their cameras at the ready, with long lenses attached and an ISO high enough to capture the action in the morning light. Shutters were rapidly fired, with tons of great images popping up on LCD screens. It was a real treat to see the big bull crossing the river.

The rushing river water provided the perfect backdrop, as it highlighted the impressive animal's antlers. It didn't take long for lots of other people to show up, but the Aperture Academy group had already captured a plethora of awesome images.

The excitement level was high as the group headed on down the road to Lamar Valley. This wide and expansive valley is home to bison, elk, pronghorn antelope, coyote, wolves, and both black and grizzly bear. During the drive through this exquisite valley, the photographers enjoyed the gorgeous landscape and had the opportunity to photograph more elk, as well as some antelope. The sun was higher and harsher by this time, so it was time for a much needed lunch break, to refuel and recharge.

After the mid-day siesta, it was time to head out in the ApCab for some classic Yellowstone landscape shooting. First stop was Fire Hole Canyon drive. Along this one-way loop are some impressive cascades and waterfalls.

After the cascades and waterfalls, it was time to move on to more iconic Yellowstone landscape features. Our final stop for the first day was at the Fountain Paint Pot area. The photographic opportunities are plentiful in this small area of geothermal activity, and it has one of the coolest geysers for photographing. Our destination for sunset was a modest geyser that packs a nice punch.

The skies looked really promising, and all were optimistic that it would be a fantastic sunset. Mother nature did not disappoint. As the sun began to set, the sky was ablaze with rich tones of red, orange and yellow. The steam from the erupting geyser, along with the stunning hues, made for some truly unique and striking images through the use of graduated neutral density filters, which assisted in creating a balanced exposure in camera.

After the last of the color had faded, it was time to pack up and day one was in the books.

Day 2

The second day of our Yellowstone workshop was jam-packed with amazing locations and as it turned out, some stunningly surprising wildlife opportunities.

First stop was the impressive and beautiful Yellowstone Falls. As the Yellowstone River flows north from Yellowstone Lake, it leaves the Hayden Valley and plunges first over upper Yellowstone Falls, then flows a mile downstream over lower Yellowstone Falls, at which point it enters the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The immense canyon is up to 1,000 feet deep, so it's easy to see where it receives its namesake. One of the best places to view this phenomenon of nature is from Artists Drive.

Yet another day was off to an incredible start, but it was about to get even better. After our morning visit to Yellowstone Falls, it was time to head down the road to Hayden Valley, in search of some wildlife. Things seemed a little quiet in the valley. One never knows exactly what they will see on any given day through this picturesque and bountiful area. Scott and Ellie were always reminding the students to keep their eyes open, and watch for any movement or shapes in the fields.

Suddenly, up ahead, Ellie noticed some cars pulled off to the sides of the roads. This is usually a telltale sign that wildlife of some sort is present. To everyone's amazement, it was a gorgeous red fox, hunting in the field. Scott made sure everyone hopped out of the van quickly, while ensuring that camera settings were correct, to capture the action of this incredible animal. The fox was not to concerned with all the folks photographing him, so he hung out in the field for a good 10 to 15 minutes, allowing everyone to capture some stunning images.

Once the fox retreated into the forest, it was time to head down the road once again. The group's next destination was one of the most recognizable icons of Yellowstone...Old Faithful geyser.

There was a bit of time before the next eruption, so they took advantage of the time, to gather in the Old Faithful Lodge for a nice relaxing lunch. Once everyone was rested and satiated, it was time for photography again.

The beautiful blue sky and its puffy white clouds made an exquisite backdrop for the erupting water and steam, which shot up over 100 feet in the air. The use of graduated neutral density filters helped to balance the exposure, from sky to foreground.

Next stop was the Grand Prismatic Spring. Another pleasant surprise awaited at the trailhead for the hike. Some folks were pointing to the hillside, and there was mention of a bear. Turned out to be a lovely grizzly. Scott and Ellie helped everyone make the quick switch to wildlife mode once again. The bear traversed the hillside while shutters clicked in quick succession. A little time and patience usually pays off in wildlife photography, such was the case today.

The grizzly moved closer to cross the river. Everyone backed away to give the bear plenty of room to move. It was a surreal experience and all were giddy to see the images they had just captured. After the excitement was over, it was time for our afternoon hike.

The hike started out on a flat plain, but then had some decent elevation gain in order to reach the best viewing spot. Grand Prismatic Spring has a completely different look from above than it does from ground level. The ascent was slow going, with short stops in between to take a breather. Those who made it to the top were rewarded with a spectacular view.

The deep blues of the spring water and the surrounding color array of orange and gold were truly a sight to behold. The shape was reminiscent of a flaming sun. The instructors assisted the students to be sure they could capture the beauty and vibrant landscape below them. Use of a polarizing filter helped to capture the vibrancy and cut down on some glare. A longer reach lens worked really well to hone in on the intricate details and amazing patterns, and the pedestrians who walked along the boardwalks below added a fantastic sense of scale to the composition. So many wonderful images had already been captured on this productive day, but one more location still remained on the schedule.

The final stop on this second day was the Great Fountain geyser, which is not as predictable as Old Faithful, but is very beautiful. Eruptions only occur every 9-15 hours, but when it does erupt, water shoots 75-220 feet in the air. There are circular pools that surround the steam vent, which offers some spectacular reflections, so even if there is not an eruption, it's still a beautiful place to shoot sunset.

The group's good karma continued, and just as the sunset and the sky were a nice mix of blues and yellows, the geyser started to erupt. The excitement was palpable, as the sounds of camera shutters and steaming water filled the air. This truly was a grand finale to a remarkable day.

Day 3

After a quick breakfast and cup of coffee, the group headed out into Yellowstone National Park for their final day of photography and adventure. In search of more of the park's famous wildlife, Ellie and Scott drove the group of gals into Lamar Valley. Shortly after arriving in the rich valley, a large group of bison made its way across the rolling planes, quite near the road. This was the perfect opportunity to capture some classic Yellowstone bison images.

The class hopped out of the van, long lenses in hand. Scott and Ellie made sure everyone had the right setting to capture the sometimes fast moving animals, as they made their way across the road. The photographic opportunities were incredible, as the students captured everything from action running images to portrait headshots. The final day was off to a great start.

Once everyone had their fill of bison images, the group moved further on into the valley. A few students soon spotted some pronghorn antelope in a small field. Everyone still had their long lenses on, so it was an easy decision to photograph these beautiful antelope. Scott guided the group out into the field slowly, as to not scare the normally skittish animals. Patience and unintimidating body language paid off, as the group was able to get into a close, safe distance. Sitting quietly in the filed among the antelope and capturing some stunning images was a truly therapeutic experience for all.

Lunchtime was fast approaching, so Ellie drove the group back into town for a well-deserved break. The group dined on a delicious lunch, while swapping stories of photography and travel.

After lunch, Scott and Ellie escorted the ladies back into Yellowstone National Park for the last time. All hoped that this final journey would live up to the previous travels into the park. They headed into Hayden Valley, with high hopes of spotting some awesome wildlife. And hopes became reality.

The Aperture Academy was one of the first on scene for an epic coyote encounter, thanks to one of our fantastic and keen students, who caught a glimpse of the well-camouflaged canine. Soon, throngs of photographers with large lenses in tow lined the road, in hopes of capturing some unique images. All were thrilled to witness this beautiful coyote, pouncing in the grass, catching some afternoon snacks of voles and mice.

Back in the van heading out from Hayden Valley and towards Mammoth Hot Springs, the van was a buzz with excitement after the unique wildlife experience, and the hope of another wildlife opportunity to come. And, although he was a little too far away for quality images, the group enjoyed an awesome experience watching a grizzly bear foraging in its natural environment.

After the bear fun, it was time to move on to the final photo location, Mammoth Hot Springs, one of the most unique features of Yellowstone. Mammoth is a large complex of terraced springs, created over thousands of years as hot water from the spring cooled and deposited calcium carbonate, which is what gives the terraces a mostly white appearance.

The instructors led their students around the upper terrace, via the wooden boardwalk system. The boardwalks allow visitors to get an up close view of the wondrous thermal feature. A plethora of dead trees create a stark beauty, as the gnarled branches contrast against the travertine pools. Images in both color and monochrome work really well in this exceptional environment. Scott and Ellie assisted with composition basics, graduated neutral density filters, and balanced exposure for wonderful shots in camera.

As the last of the day's light faded, three days of fun and adventurous photography came to a close. Ellie and Scott bid their tremendous students and new friends a fond farewell.

Until next time...

Scott, Ellie, and the entire Aperture Academy team

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