May 15, 2011

Yellowstone May 9th - 13th

A sow Grizzly Bear uses a log bridge to cross over the water on a warm May morning near Grizzly Lake trailhead in Yellowstone National Park. Captured with a Canon 7D with 500/4.0L IS in aperture priority mode with an exposure bias of +1/3 at ISO200, f/7.1, and 1/400th of a second. The camera was mounted on a Gitzo 3540XLS and Induro GHB2 gimbal head with custom long lens support.


For those of you who follow along with my trips on Facebook and Twitter you know all of this, and even got to see some of it live (thanks to my Verizon iPhone). If you are the kind of person who would enjoy the play by play during my trips you should follow me on one of those social networks.

The spring semester at Rocky Mountain College is over, graduation has come and gone, and I managed to get all of the photos edited and online before Monday (my birthday). What does all of that mean? I was free to head to the park for the entire week. I left Billings before 4am on Monday morning and was inside the park just minutes after sunrise, well the time the sun rose, I could not see the sun as Monday and Tuesday were days filled with rain and snow. On the bright side, actually very cloudy side, the rain made for goos shooting light all day long. Unfortunately things in the park were hit or miss, and I seemed to be missing everything by a minute or two.

With luck not going my way I decided that I should make my own luck, and I spent the next few days focusing on birds, and I came home with over a thousand images of birds to edit. The park is filled with its spring/summer birds and they are in their finest plumage, making them spectacular to photograph. Generally I suggest photographing birds in the mid day when the light is far too harsh to photograph almost everything else in the park, and that is what I did (even on the cloudy/rainy days). Mountain Bluebirds, American Kestrel, Eared Grebe, and Harlequin Ducks spent the most time in front of my lens; but a Hairy Woodpecker, Common Merganser, Red-tailed Hawk, and Golden Eagle ended up making the cut too. Lots of other birds back in the park; but I found that many of the others were not in the most pleasing of environments to make images.

If you want to photograph the Harlequin Ducks head to LeHardy Rapids south of the Hayden Valley. There is lots of snow over the walkway, and the park service might close the area soon (for your safety): but in the meantime the birds are in close, and the rapids are running at a very pleasing pace. Take your longest lens and if you have a polarizer for it try to use it, a low ISO, and a narrow aperture to make some long exposure photographs of the birds when they are sitting still (1/2 - 1/15th of a second should work well). You will need a tripod, cable release, and cooperative birds; but if it all comes together you can make some nice images of the birds in the rapids with the water "blurring" by them. I would encourage you to also try some faster shots of the ducks as they fly back up the rapids. For the "flight" shots you will need a shutter speed of 1/800th (ish) or faster to stop the birds motion. You will also need to have your camera in continual (predictive) auto focus mode (AI SERVO in Canon AF-C for most other brands). Have fun and let your creativity run wild as the light/water/birds do what they will to present you with unique opportunities for images.

The Lamar Canyon Wolves were all around and making the occasional road crossing, and for those that were fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time I am sure they presented the opportunity for nice images, I was not fortunate this trip to catch a crossing; but I did see them numerous times over the five days.

The Lamar Valley and the area around Specimen Ridge has more bears around than I have ever seen in that area in the past. I was seeing 3-6 bears in the area each day, and at times up to three bear in an area at once, and then down the road a sow with her 2/3 year old cub feeding on the hillside. For those, like me, trying to photograph bears the area did not provide ample opportunities to photograph the Grizzly Bears at a pleasing distance. Other than the occasional crossing, normally happened very quickly, the bears were too far away to make pleasing images, especially later in the week when the blue sky and harsh midday sunlight created situations with high atmospheric distortion robbing images of their clarity/sharpness.

The Tower Junction area has always been "the place" for seeing and photographing Black Bears inside of Yellowstone, and this year is no exception; but the road to Tower Fall is still not open, so most folks choose not to explore the area. As I reported from my last trip the road had a number of "big" slides come down between Calcite Springs Overlook and Tower Fall. The Park Services cleared those slides and repaired the road; but the rain from Sunday/Monday/Tuesday caused more slides to come through and the road was not able to be opened on Friday as planned. I and a few others chose to hike the road and many of us were rewarded with the chance to photograph a few different Black Bear in the area, I also spent some time at Rainy Lake photographing an Eared Grebe in the green waters of the lake.

Wednesday morning promised a break in the storms sometime in the morning, so I was out early with high hopes that the breaking storm might provide a dramatic sunrise, and it delivered. The ponds the fill the area north of Specimen Ridge make for great reflecting pools of the Absoraka Mountains to the Northeast, and the sun also rises from behind those very same mountains. As I ran around trying to find that perfect spot to capture the sunrise car after car drove right by on their quest to see bears and wolves in the Lamar Valley... their loss. If there is a chance of a break before or after a storm, and you have any desire to create landscape images, make sure that you go out to see what kind of magical light you might be able to find.

With May comes more visitors to the park, and early May tends to bring out the "usual" crowd of photographer, and most of us have become friends over the years, so breaks between shooting have a tendency to get filled with lots of great conversations. Occasionally those conversations will yield information that leads us to our next subject to photograph. I was lead to the Madison Campground with the promise of pine martin. I knew that a pine martin had been feed by guides in one of the warming huts over the long snowy winter; but I had assumed it would have left the area when those that were (illegally and inappropriately) feeding it quit. With reports of "recent" sighting I spent an evening and a morning in the area with the hope of getting lucky enough to cross the Pine Martin off of my list of subject that I still need to photograph in the park. I had no luck, and all the first had reports I could track down had the pine matins out the area a weak before. Oh well, some other time.

Where does the bear photograph that is at the top of this report come in? Hold your horses... I am getting there. A few days in a row a bear had been putting on a show near the road, and even crossing a few times each day. Most of the "regular" visitors believe that the bear is a 5/6 year old sow know as the Porcupine Grizzly. She got the name after she spent a number of days in view with a number of porcupine quills in her, not last year; but the year before. From the markings on the bear most of us are "sure" that it is her, sadly many of us expected that she would have cubs this year; but she did not. The first two days I only spent a small amount of time with the sow, as her surrounding were less than ideal and the light was down right bad; but on the third day things looked more promising. I spent probably 5 hours with her, and plenty of other park visitors, as she put on a clinic on how to dig out ground squirrels. During the process she worked around in good light and scenes, and near the end of here public show she crossed the water on a log bridge, and gave me the opportunity for the above image. It was myself and four friends who were still around to see her use the "bridge."

My next trip will come soon; but never soon enough. If I had not had a pair of presentations to make in Billings for the Photographic Institute of the Yellowstone's annual EXPO on Saturday I would still be in the park; but maybe I'll even be able to slip away as soon as this weekend.

Make the jump to go through the online gallery, I ask that you leave comments/criticism or at least give your favorites a thumbs up... THANKS!

If you have questions, ask... I published the camera information with each image and have added full keywords to share just about anything you would want to know about the images.

Happy shooting

p.s. I have some video footage that still needs editing, it will take me a while to find time to edit it. (Honestly I need an editor/friend who wants an editing project to go to town with two plus years of 1080P video footage from YNP)


  1. What do you want to do with all the YNP footy?

  2. I don't really know; but I have a lot of it and am starting to feel guilty that I am the only one who has seen it. Maybe as I finish my fifth year of monthly trips I'll make a short... I have lots of planned things to shoot in this last year.