In early February 2015 I led a small photography group to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons for an exploratory winter workshop. This was my first time to Yellowstone in winter and very much a preliminary scouting trip for future workshops in the area. Winter is a wonderful time to visit America’s first national park; tourist numbers are very low by comparison with summer and the combination of snow and geothermal features offers outstanding landscape photography opportunities. There is also an abundance of wildlife in Yellowstone and many opportunities to create really unique imagery in the snow covered landscape.Our plan was to photograph both the landscape and wildlife found in the park and take advantage of the winter snowfall. When visiting Yellowstone in winter there is a sense that you have almost crossed to another planet. The landscape is hushed by a thick blanket of snow. The trees are wreathed in frost and loom like wraiths against the ominous winter clouds. The crisp, icy air enhances the effect of the geothermal features. There is an exotic combination of mist-shrouded hot pools, bubbling paint pots and steaming fumaroles that is the ideal setting for winter landscape photography.During this trip we explored the northern part of Yellowstone in the Lamar Valley as well as Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful, Madison Valley and the Firehole River Basin. We also journeyed into the Grand Teton National Park. We had planned to also visit the national Elk Refuge, however the lack of snow this particular season worked against us and we decided to give this a miss and focus on areas with better snowfall instead.During our time in Yellowstone we spent several days in the Lamar Valley area photographing both the landscape and wildlife. We were fortunate to see and photograph the Lamar Valley wolf pack on several different occasions as well as Big Horn Sheep, Red Fox, Coyote and Moose. Although the wolves kept a respectful distance it was still a wonderful experience to watch wild wolves in the snow covered landscape. Just as an aside, It was almost as interesting to observe the cult of wolf watchers with their spotting scopes that prowl the Lamar Valley road in the hope of even a glimpse of these elusive animals. I am still sorting through the images I captured of the wolves and I hope to share a few in a future post.
During the workshop we also spent several days in the Old Faithful area visiting and photographing many of the geothermal features. Geothermal features photograph extremely well with snow and ice. There is a wonderful contrast between rising steam and a snow covered landscape that adds that magic element and wonderful contrast to a photograph.
Travel inside the park during winter is restricted to snow coaches and snow mobiles and as of a few years ago you now cannot enter the park in winter without a guide provided by the parks service (Private vehicles are also not allowed in winter). This new requirement necessitated the need for us to hire a private snow-coach that enabled us to go at our own pace for photography free from the burden of regular tourists. A normal tourist visit just does not allow sufficient time at each location during the best light of the day.
Winter in Yellowstone can be brutally cold with temperatures plummeting well below -20 degrees Celsius.This year however was quite mild with little snow fall compared to past years. As a result we rarely saw temperatures dip below -10 Celsius with most days hovering around 0 Celsius. As a result of the unusually mild weather the wildlife was more active than usual and there were already clear indicators of bear activity in late February during our visit.
In terms of wildlife Yellowstone has a wonderful diversity and during our time in the park we saw and photographed Bison, Elk, Red Fox, Big Horn sheep, Moose, Coyotes, Bald Eagles, and Osprey. We also spotted and photographed the Canyon wolf pack alongside some of the geothermal features just after sunrise. We searched hard for both Bobcats and Great Grey Owls but did not see them despite a few recent reports of sightings along the Madison river. We did however photograph a Bobcat a few days prior to the workshop in the Montana area (But this was a controlled shoot).Yellowstone in winter was a fantastic experience and is a truly remarkable place that offers limitless possibilities for photography of both wildlife and landscape in winter. I will be leading a future workshop to Yellowstone for a small group of people in Winter in January of 2017. This workshop will also include an extension into the Grand Teton area that will also take us to the spectacular and iconic Mount Moran area. If you would like to get the drop on the option of securing a place when details are finalised then please just drop me an email to register your interest. There is no obligation at the point.