Photographing Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons

Here’s what I learned about photography from my recent trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons!

I went there on vacation in mid-September, and it was the perfect time with the crowds gone and the elk running all over the place. The foliage was still green in low lands, but turning in the high lands where it had just frosted.

Before leaving, I was really wondering what gear to take to get the types of shots I wanted. So, I took everything I had. But here are the items that I really used, so maybe you won’t have to take so much stuff.

Types of shots that I wanted and how I took them:

  • Scenic Landscapes
    • Drove to various locations in Yellowstone. Stopped and got out of the car to shoot.
    • Used my compact (Canon G12) 50% of the time, and my DSLR (Canon T1i) 50% of the time.
    • Used the Sigma 10-20 mm ultra-wide lens 40% of the time on the DSLR.
    • Used the Canon 18-55 mm wide angle lens 60% of the time on the DSLR. (Best choice of the two.)
    • Shot during the day and evening (almost night).
    • Used a LB Color Combo (circular polarizer with warming filter and color enhancer) during the day.
    • Always used a UV filter as outer filter. This was a mistake. Use only one filter at a time. Don’t use the UV if you’re using the polarizer.
    • Did not use a tripod – ever. Instead, increased the ISO value.
    • Removed all filters (except UV) for evening shots.
  • Animals and Nature
    • Drove around trying to spot animals from the car using some binoculars.
    • Stopped and rolled down window of car to shoot. Got out of the car often also.
    • Used my compact (Canon G12) 30% of the time, and my DSLR (Canon T1i) 70% of the time.
    • Used the Canon 55-250 mm telephoto 100% of the time on the DSLR.
    • Shot during the day and evening (almost night).
    • Always used a UV filter as outer filter.
    • Did not use a tripod – ever. Instead, increased the ISO value.
    • Removed all filters (except UV) for evening shots.

Here’s the camera gear I would recommend taking with you to Yellowstone:

Of course, also take the essentials: extra batteries, memory cards, lens cleaning cloths, etc.
I took a tripod, but never used it. There was enough light even at dusk for me to get the shots I wanted. But, if I had wanted to experiment more and get some shots after dark or with filters, then I would have definitely needed the tripod. So while I say it is optional, I would take it if I were you.
I took some panoramic shots just hand-holding the camera and they turned out great, so I don’t see a need for the tripod for those shots unless, again, you are shooting late/early and need the extra shutter time.
An additional item I took but didn’t use was my intervalometer. I had thoughts of taking some time lapse shots and making a nice video or two, but did not have time or desire enough to set up and do that.
And finally, another item I took but didn’t use was a rain cover for my camera. It was rainy while I was in Yellowstone, but I kept my camera dry under my rain coat and shot when it wasn’t raining too much and stayed dry for the most part.
Pack these things and you can’t go wrong! If in doubt, take everything (like I did).
If (when) I return, I will do things a bit differently. I will use the tripod more often and set-up my landscape shots better. Also, I will work with my camera’s white balance to offset the bluish cast that I had on my photos last time. I believe it was due to having the white balance not set to “sunny” while using the polarizer. Also I stacked the UV onto the polarizer and I believe that was a mistake. I’ll use only one filter at a time in the future.
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