Yellowstone

General Thoughts
Nez Perce Flats — Yellowstone NP, WY © jj raia

Nez Perce Flats — Yellowstone NP, WY © jj raia

In 1871, the Hayden expedition set out to survey the sources of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. Thomas Moran joined as artist of the team and, along with photographer William Henry Jackson, depicted many of Yellowstone’s geologic features and landscapes which later proved essential in convincing the United States Congress to establish Yellowstone as our first national park. I have always admired Moran’s paintings, but especially his depiction of the Green River Cliffs that I first saw at the National Gallery of Art in Washington many, many years ago, and I actually recognized them when I drove through Green River, WY later in the trip. His famous painting of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was bought by the US government for the amazing sum then of $10,000!! (to see it, click here) I’m sure he and Jackson were inspired by the varied displays of the earth’s power so easily evident throughout the area. Whether it was the mountains, forests, hot springs, geysers or the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, there is so much to inspire anyone who wishes to record it.

It’s been 38 years since I last set foot in Yellowstone and I have few recollections except for two photographs from that trip. So I was essentially visiting for the first time, although I did have memories of some wild, colorful designs within the many hot spring and geyser areas, and initially thought that may be my focus. But what really garnered my attention were the large areas of wide open grasslands where streams or rivers meandered in such beautiful bends and buffalo grazed at a leisurely pace.
Gibbon River at Dawn — Yellowstone © jj raia

Gibbon River at Dawn — Yellowstone © jj raia

Although each morning of the week began cloudy, there were two occasions I was extremely lucky when those clouds broke for just a few moments. Each time I scrambled to find something to photograph before that beautiful light disappeared, I was fortunate to have those flat lands and rivers close by when the sun broke through on those mornings, but no such luck ever occurred for any sunsets. I did have a couple late afternoons when there was some sunlight, but those sumptuous skies at sunset eluded me the entire week I spent there. In fact, for the most part, there was a severe lack of sunlight all together and an overabundance of clouds. But I do have to admit, there were times when those clouds proved to add immensely to the drama of several scenes and were an advantage for some panoramas here and at the other parks I visited, a few of which have already been posted.

Each time I photographed the sunrise, I used my hard edged split neutral density filter to better balance the light above the horizon which worked well if the horizon was flat, but if there were hills or trees in the foreground, the soft edge ND was used. I also tried using my soft edged ND combined with the hard edged filter if the horizon was really bright. On one of the mornings, there was a dusting of snow which helped brighten the land and made balancing the bright sky with it a bit easier. 
Nez Perce Creek — Yellowstone © jj raia

Nez Perce Creek — Yellowstone © jj raia

The solitary night that was clear in Yellowstone was a complete surprise because I went into the Old Faithful Inn while it was raining, but when I left to head to the campground, it had cleared and the sky was full of stars. One of my hopes was to photograph a geyser erupting with the Milky Way above and I had that chance when I came across White Dome Geyser along the Firehole Lake Drive that first night. Although the first unexpected eruption caught me by surprise and I recorded it without having properly set up the camera, I did get a decent shot of it. But it was the second (also unexpected) eruption about 20 minutes later that turned out a bit better. I had hoped to do the same at Old Faithful and possibly Castle Geyser, but there was never another clear sky again and I was a bit disappointed. But I am happy with what I was able to come away with.

White Dome Geyser and Milky Way — Yellowstone © jj raia

White Dome Geyser and Milky Way — Yellowstone © jj raia

Although I was completely alone photographing White Dome, I always felt the presence of something else out in the darkness because I kept hearing sounds off in the distance, and continually scanned the surroundings with my flashlight. Later, I determined it to be the bubbling of a nearby hot spring, yet I was always on the lookout for some bison herd wandering by or, my worst fear, a bear. It is a bit spooky sometimes doing these shots by yourself, but having that experience was well worth my unease.
During the day, whenever I was photographing or exploring those great open areas I mentioned, I was also alone and always completely immersed in the landscape. But when I went to some of the popular geyser basins to search out the abstract colors I remembered from that trip long ago, it was a different story: the mighty hordes of cellphone toting tourists descended and crushed the quiet and sanctity I always seek.
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