Whenever I plan a trip, I research the areas I intend to visit as much as I can and view photos on the internet to get a sense of where the locations are that may afford the best opportunities to come away with some exciting imagery. So by the time I arrive, I have quite a few mental images I would like to shoot during my visit. Of course, each mental image, or as Ansel Adams called them, “…in the mind’s eye…” is seen through the near perfect conditions of our imagination, which almost never exist when you actually get there. In the two weeks of this trip, only two came close to my pre-visualization; one being the dawn shot of the Grand Tetons at Schwabacher’s Landing, but it was missing a dusting of snow on the peaks and a moose in the foreground waters in my perfect shot (a beaver did swim through momentarily disturbing the reflections in the water, but no moose); and the second being the Milky Way above the erupting White Dome Geyser when I wanted to do the same thing at Old Faithful, but there was never another clear night in the next five.
Although I didn’t pre-visualize any specific image when it came to the thermophile abstracts in the hot springs of Yellowstone, I certainly was able to come back with several that contained the elements I thought necessary for something that is not a recognizable subject for most viewers. But I think the cooler temperatures of autumn created much more steam and therefore fewer opportunities since standing in the steam blocked much of the view as well as putting your camera at risk (moisture and electronics do not mix well). I actually covered the camera with a plastic bag at times for protection when the tripod was dripping with moisture.
Another unexpected opportunity was the beautiful grasses found around the hot spring areas colored in so many shades of rust, ochre, tan, or burnt sienna. Sometimes a photo can be successful even though, upon initial viewing, it may seem a bit dull and uninteresting. However, on closer inspection, the small details contained within can reveal the true beauty that lies before us if only we take the time to look more closely, both within the photo and out in the field. This small area around Terrace Spring was truly an amazing sight for someone who had never seen anything like it. So maybe it was the initial uniqueness that drove me to try to photograph it. But it proved difficult in that a balance within the frame was hard to find, there needed to be something that centered the initial point of interest, and I wanted it to be completely sharp throughout creating limitations on the front to back distances included. I finally settled on this spot because of the almost circular shape of the hint of frost on some of the grasses toward the center and the framing of the small bushes. The one clump in the top left seemed to balance the thread-like, tall grass in the lower right and I used the hyperfocal distances within the markings on the barrel of my 50mm lens to make sure every thing was in focus from the closest area to infinity. The original reason why I bought that particular 50mm lens was because it had the f/stop markings on the barrel and you can dial in the infinity marking to correspond with the f/stop you’re using and determine what will be in focus on the close end. In fact, when I changed my gear to digital, I opted for an old 80-200mm manual focus, push/pull zoom lens for that same reason. It had great reviews for sharpness, had the f/stop markings throughout the zoom range, and the biggest bonus was it was about $2300 cheaper than a new lens with all the bells and whistles. It won’t instantaneously focus and it’s barrel rotates when you do focus; so there were trade-offs. But my thriftiness won out in the end.
But it’s the unexpected, and your ability to adapt to the conditions that are encountered, that determine any success you may have, because as we all know, nothing ever goes exactly as intended or as we hoped. Expect the unexpected and you won’t be disappointed. Preparation does play an important role, as does patience, in coming away from a trip satisfied because those two elements can sometimes lead to luck. And I would rather be lucky than good, because I screw-up taking photos more often than I would like to admit. Luck finds you in the right place at the right time, but preparation and/or patience puts you there in the first place. How lucky was I when on a bad morning for photographing the Tetons. Showers and clouds blocked most of the Teton range to the west and a tiny shaft of sunlight from the east produced a rainbow.
Or that I happened to be at Riverside and Grand Geysers (top two, below) in the later afternoon when the low sun would produce a rainbow there as well. Neither was anticipated beforehand, but each made sense to me afterward, that there was a strong possibility they would appear because of where the sun was when each erupted in close succession. I also just happened to be in Lower Geyser Basin when this geyser (lower left) erupted when the sunlight managed to get through the clouds a bit to light it slightly compared to its surroundings; and while I missed getting close to Old Faithful as I intended, I would not have this shot (lower right) showing just how high the eruption goes above its surroundings.
Although I was initially a bit disappointed about the challenging weather throughout the trip, I was also lucky enough to witness some of those weather systems passing through that invigorated an otherwise boring scene that might not even been worthy of taking the camera from the bag. At other times, when the sun did shine through the clouds for a moment, it created something special that had me literally running to set the tripod down and record the moment. I didn’t fully appreciate the conditions until I sat in front of the computer, worked through the files and found those very same disappointing conditions enhanced, rather than diminished the scenes. As I continue to process more of them on the second pass through, I hope to find a few more surprises.