My clients often ask about Yellowstone photography tips. Other than getting out early and staying out late for the best light, one of my best tips is the proper use of different filters. A circular polarizing filter is quite useful for increasing contrast in the sky and also for enhancing colors. I like to use this filter when shooting the hot pools in Yellowstone; it can really make the colors pop. Polarizing filters have the greatest effect when the sun is at a 90 degree angle to the subject you are photographing. While it may seem obvious to some, here’s a top tip. I’ve had a few clients that didn’t know that you need to rotate the filter for it to work. After you’ve composed your subject, simply rotate the filter and observe the effects through the viewfinder. If you shoot the scene both horizontally and then another vertically, remember to rotate!
Graduated neutral density filters are also extremely handy, especially when shooting landscapes at sunrise and sunset. I use the Lee system which has a 2 stop graduated ND 4″x6″ resin filter. By sliding the filter up and down in its holder, I’m able to select where I want the darkening to occur in the sky, balancing the exposure. If you use Lightroom for post-processing, there is also a grad filter there in the develop module. I will sometimes utilize this tool but try to get the image right in camera.
Solid ND filters are great for reducing the amount of light reaching the sensor. This can be useful for giving water and clouds that silky feel by slowing the shutter speed, even during the middle of the day. For the header image of the lightning strike, a ten stop ND filter was used to give an exposure time of 25 seconds at f/8. As the storm moved through the valley I kept shooting, hoping to get a bolt of lightning while the shutter was open.
We used to say film is cheap, digital is free! These Yellowstone photography tips can be used on any scenic shots; experiment with the different filters the next time you’re on location. I think you’ll find that they can really transform an image. You can view more of my Yellowstone Photography here.
Along with some other Jackson Hole photographers, I’ve been doing more night photography lately. With todays cameras, capturing the beauty of Grand Teton National Park under the stars has never been easier. I use a variety of different flashlights to lightpaint different subjects, from a small headlamp all the way up to a 1 million candlepower spotlight. After setting the initial exposure for the sky or stars, I’ll then experiment with the length of time the subject is painted. Do some experimenting and if the light is too strong try backing away. The intensity of the flashlights coverage can really fall off within just a few yards. The best part is the immediate feedback on your screen, try different ISO’s and exposure times.
Star trails are a little more complicated, requiring multiple exposures and more post-production time. I like to start with an ISO of 400 and an exposure time of 4 minutes at f/5.6. The more exposures you do, the longer the star trails will be. The image of the Moulton barn was a 12 exposure combination, using a program called StarStaX.
I think that the most difficult part of photographing the Milky Way is locating foregrounds in relation to the Milky Ways’ location. I use the program Stellarium which has all the information needed to find almost anything star related. Exposure is fairly easy, I like to start with an ISO of 2500 and a time of 25 seconds at f/2.8 with a 20mm lens. Remember that the longer the focal length of your lens, the shorter the exposure times must be to avoid blurring the stars.
While Grand Teton National Park can be a busy place during the day, things really quiet down after dark. Its quite peaceful and just a great time to capture some unique images.
Light Painting Mormon RowMilky way near Kelly, Wy Grand Teton National ParkMoonrise Mormon Row – Grand Teton National Park
A nearby pond often offers great opportunities of photographing birds in flight. This pond has open water throughout the winter and many species of waterfowl visit. Although the light was fairly flat, I knew that some Trumpeter Swans and Canada geese would be there. I was hoping for some images of take-offs and landings; the birds approach from every angle and having an autofocus 300mm telephoto is certainly helpful. Typical of mountain weather, the clouds broke for a moment and gave a little light for the images of the swan and mergansers.
After capturing some stationary images of this Great Gray owl, I prepared for the takeoff. My long telephoto lens is an older Nikon 500mm f/4, manual focus and I’ll use two techniques to achieve sharp focus on a moving subject. If its a tight crop I’ll try to predict which way the bird may fly, setting my focus there. The other technique is to follow focus, swinging the camera to follow the birds flight while adjusting focus. With the manual focus lens this requires quick reflexes and practice for photographing birds in flight!
Returning from a morning shoot up in Grand Teton National Park, I came across this Great Gray owl. Many of our photography tours turn into Jackson Hole wildlife tours quickly! Proved to be a very willing subject by offering many different perches while remaining close enough to fill the frame. A few times the owl was actually too close for my 700mm lens and I needed to back off. A nice problem to have as all too often wildlife seems to be just out of reach.