Every hour at Yellowstone brings new surprises, as chief photographer for National Park Journal Grant Ordelheide reveals in his photos. His collection of dawn-’til-dark images from in and around the park reveal an ever-changing, always-stunning landscape. Bonus: Create your own national park gallery with professional tips for capturing memorable photography shots any time of day.
8 a.m., June 25
Dawn at Artist Point
Water from Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River roars 308 feet down into the vibrantly colored Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Early morning at Artist Point is an excellent time to visit—you’ll catch the changing light but not the crowds for the best Yellowstone photos.
See it: Take South Rim Drive to its end at the Artist Point viewpoint.
Pro tips: A graduated neutral density filter will help control bright highlights
in a scene. Here, the filter darkens the bright sky to better match the light in
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 24-105mm lens at 35mm, ISO 50, f/14, 1 sec
5:23 p.m., June 19
Grizzly Bear on Beartooth Highway
About 150 grizzly bears live in the park and just beyond the boundaries. You can distinguish them from black bears by their smaller ears, dish-shaped faces and the hump on their shoulders. The best places to shoot Yellowstone photos of bears is in the northern part of the park and out the Northeast Entrance.
See it: Follow the Northeast Entrance Road east past Cooke City to Beartooth Highway.
Pro tips: You need a telephoto lens to take good wildlife images at Yellowstone. The longer the lens, the better you’ll be able to capture the animal without disturbing it (and the safer it is for you).
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 500mm lens + 1.4 teleconverter, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/500 sec
See More Wildlife
Hoping to do some wildlife photography? For your best chances of seeing popular animals like bears, wolves and elk, make sure you’re active when they are—typically, dawn and dusk. But you might run into animals anytime, even while driving the park road, so keep your telephoto lens attached to your camera. You don’t want to waste a fleeting photo op changing lenses.
7:14 p.m., July 4
Old Faithful Geyser Erupting in the Upper Geyser Basin
Yellowstone’s most famous geyser, Old Faithful, erupts every 35 to 120 minutes, sending a plume of water as high as 184 feet. Check the visitor center or Old Faithful Inn for predicted times on any given day.
See it: Walk the short path from Old Faithful Inn.
Pro tips: Front light can make a geyser look flat, while side or back lighting makes for a much more dynamic image. Old Faithful is easy to walk around and really comes alive when it’s backlit.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 24-105mm lens at 24mm, ISO 100, f/11, 1/250 sec
5:10 p.m., June 17
Firehole Swimming Area off of Firehole Canyon Drive
This swimming hole on the Firehole River makes for a refreshing dip on a summer day. Though the area is generally safe for swimming, look out for strong currents and don’t swim when the water is unusually high (check conditions at any visitor center).
See it: Take Firehole Canyon Drive, just off of Grand Loop Road south of Madison Junction, to reach the river.
Pro tips: When photographing action shots, make sure your shutter speed is fast enough to freeze the action (slower speeds make for blurry photos). I could freeze this swimmer at 1/200 of a second, but for a faster-moving cyclist or runner, use 1/500 or faster.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 17-40mm lens at 24mm, ISO 50, f/8, 1/200 sec
5:36 p.m., June 22
Bison in Hayden Valley
The Hayden Valley is one of the best places in the park to get bison in your Yellowstone photos. These iconic animals, which can weigh up to 2,000 pounds, are often spotted grazing along the Yellowstone River.
See it: Drive Grand Loop Road between Lake Village and Canyon Village to cross the expansive valley.
Pro tips: Wildlife portraits are great, but don’t forget to try some shots that show the animal in its environment. Including wildlife in a landscape image will tell a more complete story about the animal and its natural habitat.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 70-200mm lens at 140mm, ISO 400, f/14, 1/200 sec
How do you carry your camera on the trail?
Leaving it buried in your backpack is a surefire way to miss those short-lived, magical moments. Instead, make sure the camera is always within reach by carrying it in a quick-draw, chest-mounted harness or a protective camera bag that clips on to your backpack’s hipbelt.
8:20 p.m., July 6
Feeling Small next to Gibbon Falls
The Gibbon River tumbles 84 feet to form Gibbon Falls. Here, you can see the remnants of the enormous volcanic caldera left behind after the Yellowstone volcano’s last major eruption. The cliff wall across the river from the parking lot is the caldera’s inner rim.
See it: Pull off of Grand Loop Road just northeast of Madison Junction.
Pro tips: Yellowstone’s grand landscapes can be overwhelming without a sense of scale.
Include a person in your shots to add perspective and emphasize the grandeur of the scenery.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 24-105mm lens at 55mm, ISO 50, f/16, 1.3 sec
Water Photo Tips
To capture the silky-smooth look of water in a cascade (like above) or a river, always use a tripod and a long exposure. Shooting early or late in the day when the light is dimmer allows you to slow down your shutter speed enough to blur the water; a neutral density filter also helps. Cloudy days offer the best conditions for photographing moving water.
9:28 p.m., June 21
Watching the Sunset on the Boardwalk at Biscuit Geyser Basin
Yellowstone’s Biscuit Geyser Basin has small thermal area features such colorful hot springs as Sapphire Pool, Avoca Spring and Mustard Spring, as well as several geysers.
See it: Park in the lot just north of Old Faithful.
Pro tips: Use leading lines in your composition to help guide the viewer’s eyes to the subject of your photo. At Yellowstone, the boardwalks in the geyser basins provide natural lines to draw eyes into the shot.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark IV camera, 17-40mm lens at 21mm, ISO 160, f/16, 5 sec
10:49 p.m., June 17
Stars over Great Fountain Geyser
Great Fountain Geyser blows water up to 220 feet high, and eruptions can last as long as two hours. Luckily, it’s easy to catch the show. Check the visitor center or Old Faithful Inn for predicted eruption times.
See it: Take the one-way Firehole Lake Drive south of Madison
Pro tips: Autofocus won’t work well at night, so it’s important to prefocus on your subject before it gets too dark. Place your camera on a tripod and focus your lens. Then turn off autofocus and be careful not to move your focus ring to capture sharp images after dark.
Shot details: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 17-40mm lens at 20mm, ISO 2000, f/5.6, 15 sec
Guide to Photographing Geysers
Plan ahead to give yourself the best chance of catching a geyser in mid-eruption: Check predicted eruption times by asking at the visitor centers, calling the Geyser Hotline at 307-344-2751 or checking Twitter’s @GeyserNPS. Give yourself enough time before the eruption to scout your angles. In the geyser basins, keep a microfiber cloth handy to wipe your lens; wind can blow water to the boardwalks, and frequent cleaning keeps the mineral-rich water from clouding your gear.