Capturing the Best Fine Art Pictures of Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park is the oldest and one of the largest national parks in the United States. I included it in my list of Top Ten National Parks for Photography. With a park of that size, the question soon arises “Where are the best places to take pictures of Yellowstone?” I would certainly include the spectacular falls at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Also on a list of best Yellowstone National Park pictures would be photographs of the hot spots (literally) around Lower Geyser Basin with their endless mist and steam.
A memorable picture of Yellowstone would include steam rising off the paint pots with a colorful sky in the background, These are some of the iconic shots that come to mind when thinking about photographs of Yellowstone. (I have provided more details about the best places to take pictures of Yellowstone in my article Best Yellowstone National Park Photography Locations.)
What makes a great photograph of Yellowstone National Park? Certainly, a landscape photographer such as myself focuses on how best to capture and transmit the splendor of the landscape in front of the camera… no matter the season. The nature photography of Yellowstone National Park is not limited to just paint pots, Old Faithful, and waterfalls in the spring.
If you are looking for a winter picture, Yellowstone provides many opportunities for a great fine art landscape photograph…whether it is a view of snowcapped mountains or a lone tree on a snow-covered hill. Outstanding Yellowstone fine art prints capture the drama and rugged beauty of the park’s mountains, waterfalls, lakes, and rivers.
But beautiful pictures of Yellowstone National Park are not limited to the landscape. Some of the best photographs of Yellowstone National Park include pictures of wildlife. Yellowstone has abundant wildlife including Bison, Elk, Wolves, Coyotes, and Pronghorn.
Why is wildlife photography important? Because wildlife photography reawakens us to the wonder of nature… photographs of a Bison staring intently at you in a snow-covered valley or pictures of an Elk standing majestically…. they momentarily stop us in our tracks… pictures of wildlife in nature remind us the raw beauty that exists in a world we may know little about.
So, how does one capture the best photographs of Yellowstone…whether landscape or wildlife photographs? As I share in my article, Top Seven Reasons to be a Nature Photographer, capturing the best photographs involves truly learning to be able to see…to look at things differently. to be evaluating scenes. It is about being at the right place at the right time…. sometimes that is pure luck… and it is about being willing to try different shots, angles, and to take chances with the camera.
The end result is my Yellowstone National Park gallery prints represent some of the best photographs of Yellowstone National Park…of its mountains, lakes, rivers as well as pictures of Yellowstone wildlife as they live and thrive in a world of natural beauty. One of these prints would make a good addition to your fine art collection.
Visiting and Photographing Yellowstone National Park
My first visit to Yellowstone National Park was when I was 10 years old. It was the highlight of a family trip out west. I have returned many times in recent years for landscape photography and would like to share my thoughts and experiences of this amazing National Park.
It's hard to resist a day or two in Jackson, Wyoming, and Grand Teton National Park before heading north to Yellowstone. The Park basically consists of two large loops. On the west side of the lower loop is the Old Faithful Visitor Center and geyser basin, a great place to start your exploration and photography.
Always check with the Visitor Center for the estimated eruption times of Old Faithful and other geysers. Photographing Old Faithful is best done early or late in the day and against a blue sky, so the geyser spray doesn’t get lost in the clouds.
Continuing up the road from Old Faithful brings you to Grand Prismatic Spring. The colors in this Spring are fantastic for photography. In addition to walking around the spring, there is an elevated overlook that you can hike up to that gives you a bird’s eye view.
The road continues north and parallels the Fire Hole River until it intersects with the Madison River. The road that heads west to West Yellowstone, Montana is a great place to look for Elk, especially in the Fall. The main road continues north past Gibbon Falls, perhaps second only to Yellowstone Falls in its appeal.
Turning right onto the Norris Canyon Road, next to the Norris Geyser Basin, will take you to the Canyon Area, where you can check out and photograph Yellowstone Falls from several spots including Artist Point, and my favorite, the Lookout Point on the west side of the Yellowstone River.
South from the Falls is the beautiful Hayden Valley, with the Yellowstone River winding through its open pastures. It’s best to wait until at least mid-June to photograph here, as, before that, there can be multiple patches of snow and brown fields. A little further south is Mud Volcano, Yellowstone Lake, and the West Thumb Geyser Basin.
North from the Falls, you will travel past Dunraven Pass and Mount Washburn, a very popular area for bears. Keep on the lookout, and if you hike a trail here or at any of the other backcountry locations, be sure to carry bear spray. North of there is Tower Falls, which is just before you get to the road that heads east to Lamar Valley.
To allow access to Cooke City in the winter, the road from Gardiner, Montana to Cooke City is kept clear. It is the only road in the park open to vehicles in the winter. I have spent many days along this road in the winter, back when I was doing more wildlife photography and was in search of Wolves, Elk, and Coyotes. Bison are present there year-round, and it is a great place to photograph them covered in snow. In the winter, the snow pillows on Soda Butte Creek are just perfect.
Just south of Gardiner is Mammoth Hot Springs. It is well worth a stop and can be photographed both from below the spring and from a boardwalk at the top.
I cannot possibly cover all of the photo opportunities in Yellowstone National Park in this short summary. These are just some of the highlights, and I encourage anyone visiting or photographing in the park to do sufficient research in advance in order to make the best use of your time there.
I hope you are able to make it there and have as much fun there as I always do. As I write this, I am thinking about all the places I have missed and how I need to go back.
Fun Facts About Yellowstone National Park
We’re Number One! That is what a cheer for Yellowstone National Park would sound like as Yellowstone was the United States’ first National Park – established on March 1, 1872 by President Grant and Congress. Yellowstone was designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1976 and a World Heritage site in 1978. Most of Yellowstone lies in Wyoming but parts of it are also in Montana and Idaho.
The first person of European ancestry to venture into the Yellowstone region was American trapper and explorer John Colter, who reached the area in 1807–08. Colter had been a part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition but left the group in 1806.
One of the most iconic images that come to mind when thinking about Yellowstone Park is the famous geyser, Old Faithful—which erupts an average of every 92 minutes. The eruptions last from 1.5 to 5.5 minutes. Visitors are impressed by the billowing steam and watch as 3,700 to 8,400 gallons of hot water are ejected high into the air at each eruption.
Yellowstone is also known for its steamy, boiling hot springs and multi-colored mud pots. You can walk along the boardwalks past the blue-green pools and take in the various natural geothermal features.
You can travel south of Yellowstone via the John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Memorial Parkway, (an 80-mile drive established in 1972) to the Grand Teton National Park. Rockefeller was a conservationist and philanthropist who was instrumental in the creation and enlargement of many national parks. The drive is filled with remains of old homesteads and iconic vistas. This is a great improvement from the early years of the park when travel to and in the park was challenging.
Additionally, in the early days, travelers had to deal with the ongoing fighting between Native Americans and the U.S. government. The Battle of the Little Bighorn (June 1876) had taken place only some 150 miles to the northeast of Yellowstone. The following year Chief Joseph and followers traveled through Yellowstone in their attempt to evade capture by U.S. troops. They briefly held several park visitors hostage, before all escaped or were released.
By the numbers: Yellowstone National Park contains 3,472 square miles and measures 63 miles north to south and 54 miles east to west. The highest point in the park is 11,358' at Eagle Peak and the lowest point in the park is 5,282' at Reese Creek. There are more than 300 active geysers and more than 290 waterfalls. There are five park entrances and 466 miles of roads with 15 miles of boardwalk.
Do you like hiking and enjoy a variety of trails to hike? Then Yellowstone National Park is your kind of place as there are 92 trailheads that access approximately 1,000 miles of trails.
Besides hiking, waterfalls, and geysers, Yellowstone is also famous for its many scenic lakes and rivers—the largest is Yellowstone Lake which has a surface area of 132 square miles. It is lying at an elevation of 7,730 feet making it the highest mountain lake of its size in North America.
Last but not least, Yellowstone National Park played a behind-the-scenes role in the antics of Yogi Bear who lived at the fictional Jellystone Park which was based on Yellowstone. Yogi first appeared in The Huckleberry Hound Show (1958) and in 1961 was given his own show. Yogi, with his companion Boo-Boo Bear would often try to steal picnic (pic-a-nic) baskets from the campers in the park—making trouble for Park Ranger Smith. His trademark line—“I’m smarter than the av-er-age bear” would be said to convince himself and Boo-Boo Bear that he would be able to snatch the campers’ picnic items.
I don’t know if Yogi was smarter than the “av-er-age bear” but I would agree with him that eating a picnic lunch at Yellowstone National Park would be an experience that one would treasure. I hope the photos in this gallery will encourage you to visit the park…hike the trails….see the iconic vistas…. and eat a picnic lunch.