September 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment
While many photographers hope to get a stunning image of a grizzly or wolf in Yellowstone, the park was actually established in 1872 to protect the incredible concentration of thermal features. Yellowstone not only has more thermal features than anywhere else in the world, but also had highest number of large geysers and hot springs. Photographing these features isn't difficult, but there are a few things to pay attention to when trying to come up with nice images of geysers and hot springs. So here are a few tips from what I've learned over the years.
LIGHTING- For geysers, early morning and late evening light is best, just as with any other landscape photo. While a colorful sunrise or sunset is a bonus, clear blue skies work great too. The column of water contrasts nicely against a clear blue sky. Conversely, geysers photograph poorly on cloudy days since the water and steam don't stand out against the grey sky. That geyser you want to photograph isn't predicted to erupt until several hours after sunrise? No worries, as long as the sky is blue and you don't overexpose the water and steam, the photo will still look nice, just not as nice as that early morning or late evening light. Contrary to most thinking, to get the best color in photos of hot springs, especially those deep blues in the middle of a lot of the pools, close to midday light actually works better than early or late, as seen below in the photo of Morning Glory Pool.
TRIPODS- For many situations, using a tripod is important and many articles for beginners recommend using a tripod all the time. When photographing around Yellowstone's geyser basins however, a tripod is often unnecessary. Depending on time of day and year, potentially many people are walking on the boardwalks and all those footfalls cause vibrations that will result in blurry photos as the vibrations work from the boardwalk to your tripod to your lens. Additionally, with potentially a lot of people walking around, your tripod will probably be in the way, get bumped, or just block the narrow boardwalk.
WEATHER- Besides cloudy days being less desirable for geysers, wind is also a consideration. When waiting for an eruption of a geyser, watch which way the steam is moving. If it's moving towards you then the steam will overwhelm the water column and you'll have no detail in the eruption. Some geysers, like Old Faithful, have a path all the way around so changing your position is easy but for other geysers, you might be out of luck, which leads to the last tip.
SAFETY- Never leave the boardwalk. The ground in thermal areas can be extremely unstable. What appears to be a solid surface could be a thin, weak layer over a cauldron of boiling water. And don't touch the water. While in some cases it may not be hot enough to scald you, in other instances it very well might burn the flesh right off your hand. Best not to take that chance.
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