Photographing Yellowstone National Park in winter feels like a behind-the-scenes tour of nature: you have it all to yourself and everything slows down, opens up, and invites you in. Even the bison seem more relaxed and willing to get close to you (but don’t get too close).
This creates a majestic tableau for snapping the photos of your life, and to see how it’s done I tagged along with Ken Geiger, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who was leading a National Geographic Expedition of the park. The incredible photos from this slideshow were all taken by Geiger during our six days around the Lamar Valley, Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful, and elsewhere in Yellowstone. Each photo includes a winter photography tip that explains how he captured the shot.
There’s no better way to develop an inferiority complex, but also no better way to learn the craft, than to watch a pro work and do in a split second what it would take an ordinary photographer years to get right. Blink in the wild and you might miss Geiger sneaking off to catch a fox in mid-dive for its prey, or getting on his belly to capture a vantage point you never would have thought of.
This was Geiger’s first winter visit to Yellowstone, as it was mine, and we got spoiled during our first full day in the park. Riding toward Lamar Valley, in the northwestern portion of the park, we struck white gold in the plains: a huge herd of bison, who would have been picturesque enough, began to get dusted with falling snow.
“The magic started for me when we made that first stop,” Geiger said. And everybody was out on the side of the road. And I had this kind of “OK we’re on the side of the road and the light’s not great and I want things to be a little more special. And then it got that way – it started snowing. Bison in the snow with that fluffy snow where it lasted quite a while, made some lasting images. A lot of people responded to that moment and that maybe even set the bar for the rest of the trip.”
Geiger was generous with his time in helping me learn how to frame a shot, and I had a few takeaways from the trip: my snow photos were too underexposed, my sunset photos were too overexposed, I was taking too many vertical photos when horizontal or square ones were better, and I needed to be sure to frame each shot with an entry point to draw the eye.
Geiger used an array of toys on this trip: He carried three Canon 5D Mark III cameras – one was converted to infrared for black and white photos, and one was equipped with a massive 600 F4 lens that I could barely keep steady. He also used his iPhone for square photos, and a GoPro to capture a herd of bison walking in front of our snow coach.
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