Autumn is my favorite time of the year, and the Jackson Hole fall colors are amazing right now! The valley is full of yellows from the Cottonwood and Aspen trees, contrasting nicely with the greens of the Pines. The cool nights and bright days we’ve had in September have brought the colors to a peak, and the occasional thunderstorms bring some dramatic lighting to the area. Just south of Jackson, the Snake River Canyon and Palisade Reservoir have an abundance of reds among the hillsides. I enjoy shooting in the early morning, although the light is staying nice longer with the lower angle of the sun.
The mornings are also a prime time for viewing wildlife, Moose, Elk and Bison are all in the heat of the rut and are quite active. The Moose – Wilson road has seen some periodic closures due to bear activity; I’m hoping for some more bear sightings now that some have left the higher elevations. With the Jackson Hole fall colors at their best and increased wildlife activity, now is a great time to be in the area. It really doesn’t matter which way you point your vehicle, photo opportunities abound! For more images, please visit my gallery.
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.
To darken the sun and clouds, a 2 stop Graduated ND filter was usedGraduated ND filter used to balance the dynamic range of the exposureCircular polarizing filter used to enhance the colors of Heart PoolA 3 stop ND filter will allow for a longer shutter speed, smoothing the texture of the water