Follow these tricks of the trade from Jeff Vanuga to make your Yellowstone and Teton landscape photographs look like they were taken by a pro.
LocationGrand Teton NP, WY
See it East side of Pilgrim Creek Road
When to go Late June to early July, after the pond’s seasonal flood has receded
Vanuga scouted this carpet of bright-purple lupines from the park’s main highway (US 287), then framed his shot in front of a small, unnamed pond with the Teton peaks in the background. Shooting just after sunrise lent the clouds and summits a soft, pink light. Look for more fields of lupine, balsamroot, columbine, and gilia in the park’s valleys below 7,000 feet, and in subalpine meadows up to 10,000 feet.
Pro tip Frame your shot to include interesting features in the foreground (flowers), middle ground (pond), and background (peaks). Use a small aperture so that all three planes are equally in focus.
Tools Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II camera with split neutral density filter, 24-105 lens at 32mm, ISO 100, f/16, .8 second
Location Grand Teton NP, WY
See it Mormon Row, Antelope Flats Road
When to go Vanuga caught this scene in early May, when snow lingered on the peaks in the background and new grass was beginning to transform the landscape in the foreground.
Two early-20th-century barns built by John and Thomas Alva Moulton anchor the historic district known as Mormon Row, named for the Mormon settlers who began building the community in the 1890s. These homesteaders eventually established 27 homes and raised crops with the help of hand-dug irrigation ditches. Mormon Row was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. Vanuga found ideal light for this shot in the early morning, when the east-facing Tetons caught the sunrise.
Pro tip Compose shots using the rule of thirds by imagining two horizontal and two vertical lines equally dividing the frame. Here, the sky, barn, and grass each occupy one third from top to bottom, balancing the photo.
Tools Canon 1Ds Mark II camera, EF24-105mm lens, ISO 200, f/16, .3 second
Location Shoshone National Forest, WY
See it Brooks Lake Campground; accessible via Forest Road 515, between Moran Junction and Dubois, WY
When to go Pitch a tent at the 9,200-foot lake in July and August, when nights are warmest; the campground closes in early September.
This secluded alpine lake is the perfect basecamp for journeys into the 800,000-acre Washakie Wilderness, where elk, deer, bears, and wolves roam in summer months (get there early to snag one of the campground’s 13 lakeside sites). Vanuga got this scenic shot at dawn, when sunlight highlights the cliff face opposite the campground.
Pro tip Wait for a calm day to capture the most striking reflection of the cliffs in Brooks Lake (luckily, winds tend to be calmest early in the day, when light is best).
Tools Canon 1D Mark III camera with tripod, 28mm lens, ISO 100, f/16, 1 second
Location Moose, WY
See it Moose Head Ranch
When to go Colors peak late September through early October.
Vanuga’s glowing stand of aspen pops in front of the dark background of the Teton peaks. Other prime leaf-peeping spots include the Oxbow Bend of the Snake River and the overlooks along US 287 south of Moran Junction.
Pro tip Consider light direction. Early afternoon light provides striking backlight for the Teton peaks and illuminates leaves.
Tools Canon 1Ds Mark III camera with tripod and polarizing filter, 100-400mm lens at 200mm, ISO 100, f/11, 1/50 second
Location Shoshone National Forest, WY
See it Brooks Lake Creek
When to go Fly-fishing is popular from March through November. Spring and fall offer excellent fishing and fewer crowds. In late May, try the Firehole or Madison Rivers.
Anglers the world over daydream about casting a line into one of Yellowstone Country’s many blue-ribbon rivers and lakes. Inside Yellowstone National Park, native species such as cutthroat trout, arctic grayling, and mountain whitefish are catch-and-release only; in some waterways, anglers may keep browns, brookies, rainbow, and lake trout.
Pro tip Freeze the casting action by using a fast shutter speed (1/500 second or faster).
Tools Canon 1D Mark III camera, 70-200mm L lens, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/640 second
Location Yellowstone NP, WY
See it Switchbacks after Firehole River Footbridge, Midway Geyser Basin
When to go Late December through February
“Ghost trees” form near the Firehole River when snow and frozen steam from the valley’s geothermal features build up on tree branches, making them sag like white phantoms. Here, Vanuga’s stooping evergreen frames a bluebird winter scene.
Pro tip Auto exposure can make snow look gray. Use your camera’s exposure compensation, and try several exposures between +1 and +2 to find the perfect setting.
Tools Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, 16-35mm L lens, ISO 100, f/16 with +1 exposure compensation, 1/60 second