Black bear looking from the green grass: In 2008, the author found this black bear along the Tower Road peeking over the green grass after an evening thunder shower. With a long lens and steady tripod, he was able to capture this image in extremely low light.Black bear scratching its back on a tree trunk: Late one afternoon in 2013 and in failing light, the author spotted this black bear near the base of Dunraven Pass and waited as the bear meandered across a meadow and then stopped to scratch an itch in the middle of its back.Mallard hen comes in for a landing: The author was actually set up with his tripod and big lens for other birds at one of the ponds in Little America when he noticed ducks circling above. He waited while the ducks made several passes and came into land near his position. Luck is the intersection of preparation and opportunity and the photographer was in the right place at the right time with the right equipment to capture the beautiful wing colors of this hen mallard.Beaver swimming in Bunson Peak Pond: In this photo from 2004, the photographer set up at the water’s edge and waited more than an hour for the busy beaver to come within range in very dusky conditions.

Snapping at your own pace

Bugs, bugs, bugs. With the abundant rain and the improving temperatures, the bugs are starting to appear in earnest, mostly mosquitos and horse flies, so be prepared if you venture into the park. These pesky creatures will be with us for the duration of the summer until the first frost of early fall. A good strategy to combat the bugs is plenty of insect repellant with long sleeves and pants and a hat with a fairly long neck guard. Shirts and pants with repellant embedded in the garment are available and they seem to help. At times, I have even pulled out the mosquito net hat and cotton gloves when I am trying to concentrate on a shot and ignore the bugs. The bugs seem least active at dawn when it is cool, and they are semi dormant.

     The bears have been very active and visible in the Tower area and should be there for another couple of weeks working the new grass. Just look for the bear jams when driving in this area. 

     People often ask me about the perfect route and schedule in the park to maximize their chance of a good photo. Most pro photographers gravitate towards the area between Tower Junction and Silver Gate across the Lamar Valley. This is because many years of experience has shown that this is the densest concentration of wildlife in the park. Dunraven also can be excellent in the early part of the summer. The Canyon area south across the Hayden Valley is my next choice. The Madison Junction meadows are productive but there seems to be less elk and bear in this area the last few seasons. The zone around Mammoth is worth a look, including the Jocko Lake Road and the Swan Lake Flats.

     The schedule for good photo ops is very demanding as we approach the summer solstice because sunrise is around 5:30 a.m. I try to be in position at the Tower Junction at least 45 minutes before sunrise. It takes about 30 minutes to drive from Gardiner to the Tower Junction, which means I need to be out the door by 4:15 a.m. If you want to make coffee and pack the cooler with breakfast it can be a very early start. 

     As the heat of the day starts to build and the light gets harsh, I usually shade up by either going back to Gardiner or West Yellowstone or hunkering down at a picnic table in the park to edit and rest, but the bugs can be problematic. The eating establishments at Mammoth, Tower and Canyon are be good for editing and computer work as well as providing relief from the bugs. There is little cell service or Wi-Fi in YNP, which is another reason to go out to Gardiner or West Yellowstone during the heat of the day. I try to be back on the road by 6:30 p.m. which gives me a couple of hours to look for photo ops in the warm, afternoon light. 

     My favorite route is to be at the Pebble Creek Parking Lot a little before sunrise and then start back towards Tower Junction as the sun rises so you are driving with the sun at your back. It is easier to spot wildlife with the sun behind you. Once I get back to Tower Junction I will often turn around and go back and drive the Slough Creek Road and then go drive the Black Tail Plateau Road. Of course, this pattern is altered as needed if I come across a good photo op. Sometimes I will spend the entire morning shooting at one place if there is a good situation with promising photo ops.

     There is a lot of disagreement among YNP photographers about the proper pace while out in the park. I am a slow poke and tend to stop and glass a lot and watch to see if a situation is going to develop into a good photo. I have learned to be patient. Other photographers believe if you cover as much ground as possible and keep moving you will see more wildlife and increase your chances. I also enjoy yapping with other photographers and tend to hang around and yak when I could be driving. But that’s how I pick up information about recent sightings and conditions when I visit.   

     The photographers who keep moving tend to get some very good shots, so you must consider their results in deciding what pace to use. It becomes a personal preference over time. 


Photo tip of the week:       

     Not every trip into the park is going to render great photos. Most pro photographers are happy if they get a couple of publishable shots on each trip and often they get none. On a typical early morning or late afternoon drive I will shoot 200-300 frames and deem it a success if I can edit those shots down to two to four good images. Many of the wildlife photos you see in the area represent many hours of driving and effort. Don’t be discouraged. It takes patience and persistence to get good wildlife photos. Good shooting and I hope you get that shot of a lifetime.

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Lone Peak Lookout

235 Snowy Mtn Circle
Big Sky, MT 59716

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