Color In The Forecast: Photographing Fall Color in Yellowstone National Park

Color In The Forecast: Photographing Fall Color in Yellowstone National Park

September 17, 2018

As the warm summer days fade away, there is a feeling of excitement in the air, knowing that fall, with its cool crisp mornings, will arrive overnight. Some sure signs that fall is upon us include a dusting of snow in the higher elevations, fog enveloping low lying meadows and the sounds of the elk bugle reverberating through the forest. Just envision steam rising above the thermal basins as the colors of the landscape morph from greens and yellows to shades of red and gold. Fall is one of the most beautiful times to capture images in the Yellowstone National Park.

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Get Out Early

Start out before daylight to catch a sunrise at West Thumb Geyser Basin. The basin will be filled with steam from the thermal features and you can incorporate the sun coming up across the lake into your images. You may also find the resident elk meandering through the basin. Another place for sunrise greatness is along the Firehole River. With steam rising into the trees and sunlight bouncing off the canyon walls, the potential images can be breathtaking. Early morning is also one of the best times to discover wildlife moving across the landscape. Swan Lake Flat is a great area to photograph elk during the fall rut. Plan on arriving at your desired location early so you can mentally compose multiple scenes to shoot. The fog or steam will burn off quickly once the sun comes up and the temperature rises. Besides capturing wonderful images, be sure to listen to the wildness around you and marvel at the fall morning unfolding in Yellowstone that you have the privilege of witnessing.

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Where to Find Fall Colors

The palette of golds and reds can be found across the park. The aspen groves south of Mammoth Hot Springs will be quivering with golden leaves soon. If you travel the road from the High Bridge to Floating Island Lake in the northern section of the park, the underbrush appears to have been splashed with scarlet. If you want to incorporate water in your image, stop along the Gardner River, Yellowstone River, or Lamar River, all located in the Northern Range. A tripod is an essential piece of equipment early in the morning for creating images with a small aperture to maximize depth of field. Be sure to include a polarizing filter in your bag to reduce the glare from wet rocks or foliage and to help with a slow shutter speed to blur the water if you wish to incorporate this effect in your image.

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Get Off the Beaten Path

Take the mile trail that begins across from the Norris campground and leads into the Porcelain Basin portion of Norris Geyser Basin. You’ll encounter very few, if any, folks along the trail. If you’re in the northeast portion of the park, hike up and around Trout Lake. To get further away from other hikers, consult a map and proceed on up to Buck Lake.

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Wish for Snow

A dusting of snow is like frosting on the cake. It adds another dimension to your images with fall colors peeking through the fresh white snow. If snow is not in the forecast, look for frost glistening across the landscape.

It is time to grab your camera gear and get out early to immerse yourself in the beauties that fall has to offer in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.


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Special thanks to local photographer Ann Skelton for these tips. Ann is a landscape and wildlife photographer residing outside of the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner, Montana. Website: www.natureinpixels.comAll images courtesy of Ann Skelton.

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