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Yellowstone National Park is known for its spectacular scenery and incredible thermal features, including 300 geysers and hot springs, as well as a wealth of wildlife, where it's home to more than 60 mammal species and 300 species of birds. Comprised of 2.2 million acres of pristine wilderness in northwestern Wyoming, Yellowstone is a nature photographer's paradise, and it's visited by more than 3 million people annually. While most visitors arrive during summer, the possibility of abundant wildlife coupled with the promise of quiet solitude lures many photographers to America's first national park during early spring.
Yellowstone's spring weather can best be described as variable. At an average elevation of 8,000 feet, weather conditions can change dramatically from one moment to the next. During spring, a sunny day can quickly transform to a winter whiteout, with temperatures dropping more than 30º within a few hours and snow quickly accumulating. Average temperatures this time of the year vary between 30º and 60º during the day and into the single digits at night. Most of the park's precipitation occurs in May, but don't let the possibility of bad weather keep you away. Some of the most dramatic images can be captured both before and after a passing storm, making this time of year a favorite for photographers.
Yellowstone's wildlife is most active in the early-morning and late-evening hours, so being out before dawn and after sunset will increase your chances of getting that once-in-a-lifetime shot. A tripod and a wide-angle lens covering approximately 16-35mm are a must to photograph the vast landscapes and thermal features of Yellowstone. Polarizers are a great addition to your photo arsenal and can be used for enhancing the vibrant colors of Yellowstone's many hot pools while also cutting glare from your image. When shooting under low-light conditions or if using long exposures, a remote shutter release should be used to ensure your images are razor-sharp. To capture Yellowstone's abundant spring wildlife, a 70-200mm lens is recommended for shooting environmental wildlife portraits. If you want to get up close and personal with your subjects, a telephoto of at least 400mm is recommended. When photographing at this magnification, it's important to use a sturdy tripod and tripod head to prevent any unwanted camera shake.
Although every season in Yellowstone has much to offer, there's nothing quite like watching the park reawaken from its long winter slumber in early spring. It may not seem like spring, but underneath the snow and ice, the park is bustling with activity. Early-season wildflowers begin to bloom, the park's waterways and waterfalls start to thaw, and bears awaken from hibernation and emerge from their winter dens. Since lingering snowpack causes many of Yellowstone's wild residents to forage at lower elevations, this is an optimal time to observe and photograph grizzlies, black bears, bison, elk and other animals as they feast on the early-season green near the park's thermal areas. Spring is also the best time to photograph wildlife and their young as they frolic in the melting snow. With a little luck, you may even spot an elusive gray wolf as it travels through the park's interior in the predawn hours. Sadly, this wildlife-viewing window doesn't last long since once the weather warms, most animals retreat to the high country where they spend the summer months. But not to worry—even when wildlife sightings are few, there's still more than enough pristine beauty to behold in the incredible wonderland that is Yellowstone.