Banner Left Side Complete List and Schedule Digital Photography Schedule Domestic Tours and Workshop Schedule Worldwide Safaris and Tours Flash Photography Instruction Personal Instruction in Photography or Photoshop Stock Photography and Sales Seminars, Assemblies, Fund Raisers frequently asked questions







Yellowstone Fall Photo Tour
Trip 2, 2011 Trip Report


Read our day-to-day accounts of our first trip

Read our Brochure for 2012
To get the most out of any of our Photo Tours or Safaris,
take our Digital Complete Nature Photo Course first!

Our first week in Yellowstone went incredibly well, and we were looking forward to another interesting week on our second Photo Tour. Our shooting assignment, a new addition that we added for the first time last week, was a real hit and for Mary and I, the challenge was to redo that assignment, along with our participants, without re-shooting the same subjects again, simply to satisfy the assignment. To do so, we had to work harder, but it continued to make the shoot interesting, challenging, and fun, and everyone felt that that task was worthwhile.

Each week in Yellowstone is different, with the weather, the changing color, and the wildlife all offering different opportunities and challenges. No two trips are ever the same, and in Trip 2 we failed to photograph Bighorn Sheep (seen every day on Trip 1) but we had an opportunity to photograph a Grizzly Bear feeding on white bark pine nuts high on Dunraven Pass. Pikas, which eluded us on Trip 1, did so again, and we continue to wonder whether a family of weasels or pine martens had eliminated the colony at one of our favorite spots.

After two weeks, we can still say that Yellowstone is our favorite US destination to photograph, and as the elk population has declined we've expanded our photo horizons by concentrating on all of the other exciting opportunities this park has to offer. Here's the details:

Day 1, Sunday

Everyone arrived in safely, with only two, Bill and Allen, flying in and picked up in Bozeman. Everyone else drove, and we started our orientation on time without event.


Day 2, Monday

We headed to Swan Lake Flats for sunrise but a cloud bank in the east and a stiff wind foiled both shots we were expecting. There was no alpine glow and no frost, but once the sun cleared the clouds the landscape came alive, with sharp shadows and intense fall colors. The Bald Eagle towerwas still perched in the trees but there were fewer ducks and the bird, like last week, stayed perched.
We had intended to head to the cliffs for pika, but instead we headed towards Lava Creek and to Tower and Lamar. The American Dipper was in the stream but oddly shy, and although I approached it twice the bird flew off. A Red Squirrel or two ran back and forth hunting for pine cones and we had several opportunities, along with some very tame Least Chipmunks.
We hoped to find the Peregrine Falcons from last week but they may have migrated, as the cliffs were silent and the skies empty. Nonetheless, the basalt cliffs still afforded some great landscapes, and the view of the Yellowstone valley was spectacular.

We headed towards Lamar, but repeated herds of Bison stopped us repeatedly. Several of the bulls were simply spectacular, perhaps the most striking bulls we’d ever seen, with a thick shoulder cape and a sleek, muscular body that looked groomed. Whether we did the bull justice or not is debatable, but the opportunity was wonderful.
Our evening concluded with some scenic of distant mountains carpeted by stiletto trunks gleaming in the late light, the skeletal remains of the severe fires of 1988. In the low light the trees gleamed against the stormy blue gray sky.


Day 3, Tuesday

With less light each day we left at 6:25 this morning, stopping at Hell Roaring Creek overlook to hunt for wolves but the landscape was quiet. We continued, checking a few other locations for mule deer, and then continued to Mt. Washburn and Dunraven Pass where we hoped to encounter a bear.
bearbearCrossing the crest we stopped at the Dead Tree overlook and while we shot a Grizzly Bear crossed the road behind us. The bear, a female with a radio collar, fed upon white pine nuts not far from the road – but at a safe distance, and then proceeded further upslope where it climbed a tree to feed on more nuts. Eventually the female moved up the hill and out of sight.
We continued on to Yellowstone Falls, after a breakfast stop, and moved down to Hayden Valley, where we filmed a herd of bison from an overlook. With the falls, the bison, and some false alarms, it was now lunch, where we were joined by a bold Steller’s Jay that several folks photographed.
We returned to Grand Canyon’s visitor center area, and continued across Dunraven where a group of vehicles were parked, probably looking at the black bear we’d seen last week. There deerwere no spaces and we moved on. At Tower, Mary drove up the road to the campground and spotted a good 5x5 Mule Deer buck. She radioed me and I joined her, and on a little used road we had some good luck with the buck in the last light of the day. Unfortunately, one of our participants probably didn’t have his camera lens securely mounted on his tripod and as he moved down the road his 500mm and camera crashed to t road. The back of the lens sheared off, with multiple wires dangling out. The camera looked a bit better, but would not turn on. It was a sad counterpoint to a great final shooting opportunity and a great day. We left after the buck moved off, and drove back in the twilight, arriving at the motel at 8:15.

Day 4, Wednesday

landscapesWe headed back to Swan Lake Flats in the cold, and the lake was covered with a low fog, the grasses and marshes covered in frost, and as the sun rose, the mountains were bathed in alpenglow. I tried a different angle, moving far to the right to frame Electric Peak in a pond created by some small marshy pools. Allen saw a Weasel as he walked out to the lake, but it disappeared when we searched for it later.
We went back to the cliffs to have breakfast and to look for Pika, but for the second week in a row we were unsuccessful. Indian Creek scenic shots were great, and we spent some time doing slow shutter speed/stream images. Later, we continued on to the Madison River, hoping to find more elk. At one of the pullouts we had three Bison framed in a golden meadow against the sharp, talus escarpment, making a wonderful animal-in-habitat shot.


bisongibbon falls
After lunch we started our drive back, but just past the Iron Bridge we stopped for elk. As we watched, four calves and a radio-collared female ran down the river bank slope, crossing the river, splashing as they went. We stopped at Gibbon Falls, which, at 4PM, was completely in the sun, where we did slow shutter speed shots, and where I utilized my Variable Neutral Density Filter by Singh-Ray. The filter gave me shots as slow as 30 seconds at f22 at ISO 320 for some neat effects.
riverWe made it back to the Gardiner cliffs by 5:30, and although Bighorns were on top of the plateau they did not come down, the first time that they did not do so in the two weeks we’ve been in Yellowstone. While we waited we occupied our time by shooting the Gardiner River, which reflected the sunny side of the cliffs. We left by 6 so that everyone could get a dinner in before an 8PM meeting for a slide show, where everyone showed a wonderful portfolio of previously shot images.

Day 5, Thursday

We had breakfast in the room at 7:30 and left to hunt for Pronghorn Antelope before 8. We headed north, away from Roosevelt Gate, and soon encountered a buck that ran across the road. It took too long for everyone to get ready and the buck, poised on a ridge, passed by us before we had a good chance for a shot. I missed it too, by seconds. We moved out into the grasses and a harem buck pushed the other closer to us, for some decent shots but nothing exceptional.

When the pronghorn disappeared we headed to Mammoth Hot Springs where we spent over an hour working the landscape and the terraces. I moved to the end of the walkway and shot closer wide-angle views which, in retrospect, I felt were more powerful than the images I made from a distance last week.  Later, we spent another hour or so at the Aspen Grove where we worked on several homework assignments, and, as usual, drew several cars looking for bears.
big skyAfter lunch we moved on to Blacktail Drive where we shot some great cloudscapes, landscapes, and aspen panorama images. We could have spent hours here at the various locations we’ve filmed at in the past, but we were still hoping to get bighorn sheep at the cliffs and we drove through, continuing to the cliffs by 5:45. The sheep did not appear, the second day in a row and quite a contrast from last week when they were on the cliffs every evening. We drove back into pronghorn country instead, but the few pronghorns we saw were far off and elusive. We returned to the cliffs for a last chance for the sheep, but the cliffs were bare so we returned to the lodge as the evening light began to fail.

roaring mountaingibbon fallsaspens
seed heads falls

Top Row: Roaring Mountain, with the cold morning air accentuating the geothermal steam; a pine at Gibbon Ralls; an effective wide-angle view of the aspen grove.
Second Row: Seed heads, from below, with a wide-angle; Undine Falls, with HDR.
Below, Third Row: Frost at Swan Lake Flats, on Day 4; and cow parsnip backlighted on Day 3.
Botton Row: A coyote with mange on Day 2; and a calf elk on the Madison on Day 4.


Day 6, Friday

We had breakfast in the room again, at 7, and left for the Pronghorn Antelope just as the first light was filling the valley south of Gardiner. A buck, doe, and old fawn were near the road but moved off deeper into the fields as we watched. We followed the pronghorn into the field, paralleling their route and positioning ourselves so that we might be in a good position if the resident buck drove one of the interlopers attempting to steal the doe towards us. This happened once, but the chase didn't last long and the group wandered over a hill and disappeared.

This experience was marred by a Park Ranger who drove up and accused us of harassing wildlife. We had not, and although everyone in the group protested, and offered to show the ranger images to prove that we were not close he took everyone's id and put us into the park records, in case we had another incident. I tried to explain the situation to the ranger, but from his comments he obviously did not care for photographers and would not be swayed, and would not even look at our images which would have exonerated us. Hopefully, my subsequent letter to the Park Superintendent will clear up this misunderstanding.

jay featherWe continued on towards Lamar, where we heard 11 Gray Wolves had been seen less than an hour earlier. It was past noon, long after one would expect to see wolves, but we were lucky, and 8 wolves were still visible in a distant meadow across the Lamar River. The wolves were too far away for any photos, but using LiveView and magnification we had a fairly decent view of the wolves as they moved about, with one adult black wolf clearly limping as it retreated to the shade of distant aspens.

We tried a final time for bighorn sheep but none were visible above the Gardiner cliffs, and so we concluded our evening with a farewell dinner and a slide show of everyone's weeklong assignment. It was a great way to end, reliving some wonderful opportunities and surprising many of us with vantages or views that others hadn't seen or had ignored.

For Mary and I, it was our last night before flying home to have four days before we flew off to Kenya for a month of photo safaris. Packing took hours, and we finally crashed late into the night.