Stormy sunset, Yellowstone NP, WY, USA

Stormy sunset, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming. 26mm, 1/125 sec. at f/11, ISO 320.

It’s been a busy year. Looking back through my images I see lots of work that I haven’t had a chance to post yet, including some favorites from our September trip to Yellowstone.

Yellowstone doesn’t have many iconic views, or the kind of dramatic mountain vistas that photographers are often attracted to. But there are endless photographic opportunities – if you look. And I think it can sometimes be easier to find scenes and images that express your own vision in a place like Yellowstone, where there’s lots to photograph, but nothing is laid out for you. You have to explore and find your own path, which tends to naturally lead you in different directions than others might take.

And in Yellowstone things are constantly changing. Compelling scenes are often created by fleeting moments of light and weather combined with erupting geysers, or shifting patterns of steam and mist. That dynamic nature creates endless variety, and more room for personal interpretation.

The photograph at the top of this post was one of those fleeting moments. Firehole Lake Drive was closed this year, apparently due to deteriorating road conditions. So reaching Great Fountain Geyser, White Dome Geyser, and all the other interesting thermal features along this road required a bit of walking.

On this evening I thought Great Fountain Geyser could erupt near sunset, which would be fantastic timing. But the only sure way to find out what was happening was to make the mile-long walk out there.

When Claudia and I arrived in the late afternoon it looked like Great Fountain had already started erupting. We found another couple there, and they confirmed that it had already erupted. But Great Fountain can erupt for a long time, in a series of bursts that gradually diminish in height. So we decided to hang around for a bit.

Soon after we arrived it started raining. There were showers and thunderstorms in the area, and one of the showers had caught us – a mile from our car. We huddled under a tree for awhile. Then as the rain eased I tried to photograph a series of bursts from the geyser, but it was difficult because the wind was blowing raindrops onto the front of my lens. And it was still overcast, so the light wasn’t great anyway.

The other couple decided to leave. Claudia and I opted to hang around for a bit, even though more rain seemed likely.

After awhile the clouds started to break up a little. Then eventually the whole sky lit up as the orange ball of the sun appeared through the clouds behind the geyser. It wasn’t erupting at that point, but the beautiful, terraced pool around it was full, steam still rose from the crater, and that was enough.

You’ll find a few more images from Yellowstone below, including other geysers, and some wildlife.

— Michael Frye

Backlit geyser, Yellowstone NP, WY, USA

Backlit geyser, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming. As the sun set behind a ridge it backlit this geyser while throwing the background into deep shade. 70mm, 1/750 sec. at f/11, ISO 100.

Castle Geyser by moonlight, Yellowstone NP, WY, USA

Castle Geyser by moonlight, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming. I photographed a lunar rainbow from the other side of this geyser, then decided to see what it looked like from this side, backlit by the moon. Pretty cool, as it turns out. 20mm, 15 seconds at f/5.6, ISO 400.

Terraces and cloud reflections, Yellowstone NP, WY, USA

Terraces and cloud reflections, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming. I saw these beautiful cloud reflections with golden light catching the edge of the terraces, so I grabbed a photo with my iPhone (in raw mode of course). Then I got out my big camera and focus-stacked this scene, but by then the clouds had changed, so I like this iPhone version better. iPhone 12 Pro Max, 7.5mm lens, 1/180 sec. at f/2.2, ISO 20.

The happy couple, Yellowstone NP, WY, USA

The happy couple, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming. It was still mating season for the bison, and these two seemed quite infatuated with each other. 200mm, 1/1500 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 2000.

Bison calves roughhousing, Yellowstone NP, WY, USA

Bison calves roughhousing, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming. We spent some time photographing bison on this foggy, frosty morning, and these two calves with their mom caught my attention. 194mm, 1/750 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 1000.

Young bison bulls tousling, Yellowstone NP, WY, USA

Young bison bulls tousling, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming. A herd of bison moved along this ridge at sunset. I waited for them to do something interesting, and these young bulls obliged. 400mm, 1/500 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 100.

Forest elk, Yellowstone NP, WY, USA

Forest elk, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming. We spotted this bull elk as early-morning light started to filter through the trees. 400mm, 1/750 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 2000.

Related Posts: Yellowstone Aurora; Morning Mist in Yellowstone: Part 1; Morning Mist in Yellowstone: Part 2

Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.