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Covering a majority of the northeastern corner of Wyoming and extending into Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone National Park is America’s first national park and, for nature photographers especially, one of its most celebrated. With more than 60 mammal species and more than 300 bird species, Yellowstone provides a protected natural environment for an extensive variety of popular wildlife subjects, including grizzly bears, black bears, gray wolves, lynx, deer, bison and elk. There are numerous floral species and flowering plants to explore, and the park is home to more than half of the world’s geothermal activity, including over 300 geysers and hot springs, not the least of which is the world-famous Old Faithful. The park has 1,100 miles of hiking trails that snake throughout the park, and whether spending a few days or a long vacation, there are a dozen campgrounds to choose from, not to mention plenty of modern hotels and amenities in the area.
The Greater Yellowstone eco-system of which the park is a part includes more than 20 million acres of preserved wilderness, ranging from crystal alpine lakes to towering mountain peaks. For the most part, the park is temperate, with daytime highs between 70° and 80° F throughout the summer months of June through September, though summer also brings frequent afternoon thunderstorms. In spring and fall, weather is often unpredictable, with median highs between 30º and 60º F. During winter, temperatures are exceedingly cold, with highs ranging between 0º and 20º F. Only two park roads are plowed for use in winter, though snow and resulting road closures are possible throughout the year. In short, be prepared for any situation, no matter what the season.
To get the most unique images, one needs to pay attention to the conditions and be ready for some of the most extreme weather in America. Usually, I’ll take my Canon EOS-1N and a backup body along with a fixed-focal wide lens, usually a 20mm, for sharp vistas and landscapes. A 35-135mm zoom lens gives me flexibility with my compositions, and a 300mm ƒ/2.8 telephoto with a 1.4x converter is perfect for getting close to skittish wildlife without spooking them. On extended trips, I carry a 4x5 camera for large-format images with two or three lenses—a 75mm, 90mm and 110mm, which will cover the bases for most framing options. I use a Gitzo Mountaineer tripod, which is stable enough to hold the 4x5 and 300mm lens.
Yellowstone is open every day of the year, and with such a diverse ecosystem, the best time to visit may be anytime. That being said, the weather is unpredictable, so there’s plenty of information available at the National Park Service website as to open and closed roads and entrances. Most of the flowering plants bloom between the months of May and September, making the summer an ideal season for photographers as long as you’re prepared to deal with the large number of tourists. From mid-September through October, on the other hand, mild temperatures and fewer people make the park more accessible. Photographers who choose to brave the cold and difficult travel during the winter months will be presented with majestic atmospheres, especially around the hot springs and geysers.
Contact: Yellowstone National Park, www.nps.gov/yell.
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