Behind The Shot: “Yellowstone Bison” By Jeff West— Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Photo by Jeff West

Yellowstone National Park commands a powerful presence. The awe-inspiring grandeur of our first national park is a wildlife photographer’s gold mine. For me, it was a place to capture not only the beauty of these animals, but animals in their natural habitat—what I term ”wildlife landscapes.”

On a weeklong trip through the Tetons and Yellowstone, I spent some time at the Upper Geyser Basin near Old Faithful. I arose early to get outside before sunrise in anticipation of what photographic opportunities might await. I walked out toward the Old Faithful Geyser and was able to catch a well-timed eruption at sunrise. But what really got my attention was the bison that suddenly appeared next to me on the boardwalk that surrounds the geyser.

I always try to envision the perfect shot, whether it’s a foreground element that leads the eye into the photo, a water reflection, or a particular animal behavior. Sometimes I get lucky, but great shots come to fruition more often with an anticipatory thought process. Anticipate everything. All elements of the shot, from camera settings, ISO, pre-focus, composition elements, and even buffer capacity, should be considered. The more that’s anticipated the greater the success rate. With practice it becomes second nature.

For my shot of this bison, I followed from a safe distance for about an hour prior to this photograph.  As it was grazing and slowly moving across the landscape, giving me time to get shots along the way, I realized that it was heading toward the Firehole River. My first thought at that moment was that I could get a great shot if the bison crosses the river. Instinctively I began to sprint down the trail leading to the river. My next thought was that the altitude, at over 7,000 feet, might prematurely end my sprint since I’m from near sea level in Texas, but anticipatory excitement pushed me onward.

As I ran toward the river, I was weaving my way around other people, hoping not to be mistaken for a camera thief making his getaway. I frantically checked and changed my camera settings. As I reached a perfect vantage point, the bison was approaching the river. My heart was pounding, hands were sweating, lungs were burning—but none of that mattered. Everything I had learned about anticipating the shot had paid off. I had less than one minute at that location with that bison with my camera and lens in hand and all the knowledge I had acquired beforehand to get a once-in-a-lifetime shot. This is the reason I photograph. It motivates me. Mother Nature provides spectacular beauty if we make the effort to see it—and, of course, photograph it!

Equipment and Settings:  Nikon D800, Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8, B+W UV Haze, handheld at 70mm f/2.8, 1/640 sec., ISO 100

To see more of Jeff West’s photography, visit jeffwest.smugmug.com.