Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park have to be the premier nature photography location in the lower 48 states. Subjects range from stunning and otherworldly landscapes to abundant free roaming wildlife. The best time to visit the parks is either in early spring (June) or my favorite time of year in late September to early October as the leaves start to change. The large summer crowds are gone and the park takes on a much slower pace, as it gets ready for the approaching winter. The image above is of the Teton Range just off the outside road. This image is at first light and I used a Singh-Ray, 3 stop, reverse graduated neutral density filter to help balance the foreground with the much lighter sky and mountain range.
I have visited the parks over 12 times with each visit lasting about 10 days. I am always amazed how even familiar places can take on a different look when the clouds and weather cooperate. I have stood at Oxbow bend countless times but it looked extremely dramatic one afternoon as I was driving by. I usually use filters, even stacked, to capture the dynamic range of the scene but I also like to use new technology available to us as photographers. I bracketed 7 images to ensure I captured the entire tonal range but wound up only using 2 images, manually blended, for the image you see above.
As usual when photographing in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, you find yourself constantly changing lenses because one moment you are photographing a dramatic landscape while a few moments later you find yourself photographing wildlife. The image above represents one of hundred of images of this very cooperative moose which is the best I have ever gotten in all my visits!
I am always amazed when I see photographers headed in when the weather is rainy or stormy as that is the best time to be out photographing! The image above of white dome geyser had some awesome clouds behind it so I changed over to the Sigma 12-24mm lens to capture as much of the dramatic sky as I could. I used a higher ISO to freeze both the eruption and the very fast moving clouds.
I was also traveling with a crop sensor body so that I could try out some other Sigma lenses. In the image above of Undine Falls, I used the extra reach of the Sigma 17-70mm f2.8-4 lens to compose Undine falls and use a slow shutter speed to give the falls a silky look. I really like the lens feel and sharpness so I spent a good amount of time using it for images like the one below. I like pushing the boundaries of photography and after spending one afternoon photographing traditional images of fall colors, I decided to see what kind of sunburst the Sigma 17-70 would give me. You can see below that the lens gives a very nice sunburst pattern when stopped down but remember to be very careful when pointing at the sun looking directly at the sun for too long can ruin your eyesight.
People always ask me how I travel with all my gear and they are usually surprised to hear that I don’t travel with that much! This trip was the exception as I had the Sigma 17-70 and the Sigma 150-500mm lens with me, but normally I just travel with the Sigma 300-800mm, the 120-300mm, and the 12-24mm lens and two pro bodies. I am really excited about the release of the Sigma 24-105mm F4 as this will fill in the gap in my lens lineup but as you can see from the lenses I already own that I can cover a very large range! I primarily use the Sigma 300-800 when the animals are very far away but sometimes it is nice to be able to handhold such as in the image of the pronghorn below. I was using the crop factor body with the Sigma 150-500mm and keeping it a 500mm allowed me to keep a safe distance. I use the Sigma 120-300 when the animals are very large or they approach very close. In the coyote image below the pronghorn, he was hunting in a field right beside the road no even paying attention to the crowd of photographers who were gathered to photograph him. He was on the move so the ability to handhold the Sigma 120-300 is a real treat even in low light.
None of my trips would be complete without a bit of a night shoot! The weather wouldn’t cooperate with us for most of the tour so it was a real treat that we were able to head out the last night for a shoot in the Tetons. I hope to give you a blog on night photography in the coming months but if you want more information earlier, you can download my e-book on photographing the nighttime landscape here.
All my night images are one shot, in camera. I normally try to photograph these at a lower ISO but after some test shots at high ISO and given there was no moon, I settled for ISO 400 to illuminate the Teton Range just from the Milky Way! We were so short on time that I also cut my exposure to about 25 minutes to get one of my clients into the airport to catch his flight! I would have left it open for about an hour or more otherwise.
As you can see, the variety of subjects is unrivaled anywhere else in the lower 48 states and the Sigma zoom lens lineup allows me to cover whatever situation arises!