Joe and Mary Ann McDonald's

Wildlife Photography

October 2006

Question of the Month

Why is Yellowstone NP the best location for photographing wildlife
in the US?

Mary and
I just returned from another visit to Yellowstone NP, where we conducted two photo tours, as we have done virtually every autumn since the mid-90s. As usual, the trip was spectacular, and you can read about that trip in the trip report section. This, of course, doesn't answer the question, of course, but it may indicate why we think Yellowstone is the best spot for shooting wildlife.

In contrast to virtually any other location in the US, and probably Canada, as well, Yellowstone offers a large diversity of species -- most of which are fairly or very habituated to people and are easy to film. The mammals are large and common, and on almost any given trip, with three or four days to spend, anyone who puts in some time should definitely see and photograph bison, elk, and pronghorn antelope. With another day or two, and just a bit of luck -- especially if you know where you should be looking, you can add coyote, big horn sheep, mule deer, and moose to that list, and probably black bear, too.

That's eight species of medium to large size mammals, but there's more. On most of our tours, we usually see grizzly bears and gray (timber) wolves, too, although both of these species usually don't cooperate for photography, especially the wolves. We've had great success with grizzly bears some fall seasons, but if you would travel to Yellowstone in mid- to late-April, you're very likely to photograph grizzlies on winter kills. Some folks have done very well with wolves at this time as well, but having success is a matter of putting in the time and having luck.Mountain goats are not listed for the park, but they're there, and sometimes a goat come close to the roads, although you're more likely to see one on the high cliffs in the northeast corner of the park, and around the Golden Gate/Bunsen Pass and Gibbon Falls area.

A very lucky few have photographed puma (cougar/mountain lion) in the park. Last year, for example, one appeared across from the basalt cliff overlooks, where it remained for hours. Most rangers, and most serious photographers who have visited the park have not seen a puma, so don't be expecting to be that lucky.

Additionally, Yellowstone has smaller mammals that certainly make great subjects. Yellow-bellied marmots emerge from hibernation sometime in May, when the weather can still be quite wintery, yet in September, no matter how summer-like the weather, the marmots are already in hibernation. River otters, pine martens, short-tailed weasels, pika, badger, red fox, Uinta ground squirrels, least chipmunks, red squirrels, mountain cottontail rabbits, and antelope jackrabbits also inhabit the park. Over the years I've photographed all but the jackrabbit in the park, although I can't say I've done extremely well with all of those species.

Bird life is diverse, and in the fall you can expect to photograph gray jays and common ravens, and you might be lucky to also get Clark's nutcrackers, trumpeter swans, bald eagles, ospreys, Stellar's jays, great gray owls, great horned owls, and northern dippers. In the spring, add a variety of wrens, woodpeckers, swallows, bluebirds, and sparrows to that list.

Of all the parks we've visited, we know and love Yellowstone the best, and each trip offers something new. If you have the chance, join us on one of our Yellowstone Fall Wildlife Photo Tours and see why.


Previous Questions of the Month




 Camera Techniques

 In the Field

Do You Need a
Big Printer?

Can a Wimberley Head be used with small lenses?

Is a Trip to Antarctica
Worth it?

 Is there an easy way to level a camera for panorama shots?

Where are the best places to photograph Wildlife
in Costa Rica? 

 Why must you have
at least 2 digital backups

 Wildlife Models
Is there anything new
to shoot?

 Is the New Wimberley head worth having?

  What is our Digital Workflow in the Lab?

 Who should go Digital,
and when?

 What is our initial Digital Workflow?

Is Shooting in the RAW format worthwhile?

 Can you match the Histograms?
 How do I keep track of Digital Files?

  Is Digital Manipulation - a benign alternative to interacting in the natural world?

What is DEC? 

How can you capture a sharp image and angel hair on a windy day?  

 Is the Mark II the ultimate wildlife digital camera?

  Does the Visibledust cleaning system really work?

What do we really think about digital photography?

 What do we think of the Canon D30 digital camera?

How long will film be around? 

  The Sunny 16 rule -- is it worth knowing today?

 What is the Difference?

 How do we meter White?

 How can you save your shoulders?

  How do you shoot silhouettes?

 How would you meter these challenging images?

Why should you know Manual Mode? 

How would you meter these images?

 What is the best season to do a photo safari in East Africa?

Which Mountain Park is better for wildlife - Denali or Torres del Paine?

What is the best Car Window Mount? 

  How do you make things happen in wildlife photography?

 What are our Five Favorite Shooting Locales?

 What is the Big Lie?
Tfhe truth about Kenya's Tourism--it is SAFE!

 Which binoculars do we just love to use?

 What is the best
Game Caller?

 What is our Favorite bird-shooting location?

 How Easy is Whale Photography?

  How do we carry our film when traveling?

What Film Lab do we use, and why? 

 How can you attract insectivorous birds to your feeding stations and bait sites? 

How can you reduce contrast and the effect of wind for flower and macro photography?

 Is an L-Shaped Camera Bracket worth the Money?
You bet it is!

 Using Zoom lenses with tele-converters and extension tubes -- can you use both together?

 What the heck is the Scheimpflug Law?

  Reciprocity Failure

 What is the Best Composition?

 Are Image Stabilization Lenses Worth the Money?

 Hyperfocal Distance

  How do you determine distances?

 Should you have a depth of field Preview button on your camera?

 Flash and Tele-flash Techniques

 What is the most versatile remote release camera firing system?

 What the heck is a Plamp?

 What is the best flash for closeup and
macro photography?

 How do you shoot high-speed action images?
 How did I photograph that flying wasp?

 What is the Fotronix's
Flash System?

What is the Most Important thing you can do before a Workshop?

How did I shoot the gliding Sugar Glider?
 Is NANPA for you?  What is NANPA and how will it benefit me?

 Is it time for a summer NANPA Summit?

Contact us by e-mail: