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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Challenges Of Yellowstone

Salvatore Vasapolli gets off the beaten path, works around the crowds and shoots in fast-changing light. He shares some secrets from his 20 years of photographing this jewel of the American park system.

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Near White Dome Geyser, Lower Geyser Basin
Adds Vasapolli, “My favorite times are before the Fourth of July and then in the fall. About a week after Labor Day, it’s amazing how much different it is. But that’s changing as well because a lot of people who don’t have children are learning that it can be one of the best times to go. Weather-wise, normally two weekends after Labor Day, they may get their first snowstorm!”

To fight the influx of crowds amid the summer high season, Vasapolli makes sure to get out early—before the tourists invade, around 10 o’clock—and to take his explorations off the beaten path.

During the busy times, he heads into the backcountry in search of photos without having to worry about the crowded boardwalks.

“If you go more than a quarter mile past any trail, you rarely even see a person,” he says. “You might catch a backpacker. You get some of the people who have been on multiple trips and now want to discover some of the backcountry, which are some of the most beautiful areas. Of course, going to the more popular areas such as Heart Lake or Shoshone Lake, or the geyser basins, you’ll see a lot more tourists. But these areas are up to five miles into the backcountry.”

challenges of yellowstone
Indian paintbrush and three cones of Union Geyser, Shoshone Lake Geyser Basin
Even when he’s not working far from the tourists, Vasapolli still has made some of his favorite shots, as he did with an image of the park’s signature spot, Old Faithful, and some of its indigenous residents.

“I try to conceive something in my mind that I’d like to photograph and how I’d like it to appear,” he explains. “I always wanted to get the Old Faithful bison herd in front of Old Faithful. No one has ever done it; I’ve seen images of the herd around it, yes, but I wanted a one-in-a-million photograph. Here, I’m photographing Old Faithful, and all of a sudden the bison start walking into the shot. Right at the moment, they walk up like they’re posing. It was something that can only happen by chance. That was something that I had always wanted to do. It’s a 4x5 photograph; they stood there long enough that I could get one really great shot. Old Faithful doesn’t last very long. If you don’t get it at the peak, you really don’t have a great photograph of Old Faithful.”

Of photography at the monument, he says, “It’s a difficult place to photograph. You’re about 200 yards from the geyser, there are boardwalks all around it—it’s a very nondescript landscape. You can only stay on the boardwalk, and where the boardwalk circles around the back, you drop down a hill. You could try photographing it from across the Firehole River, but then anyone could do that.”


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