Why Photographing Yellowstone in Winter - Part 2
A Special Atmosphere Because of the Snow and the Cold
Winter is an extraordinary season to discover Yellowstone.
On one hand, few people go there because of the very low temperatures which discourage many. They are often between -5 and -20 degrees Celsius (between 23 and -4 degrees Fahrenheit). They are very bearable with adequate clothes but when the north wind begins to blow, it becomes almost impossible to stay more than 15 minutes outside to photograph. I cannot tell you what the temperature is, but it is freezing cold. These weather conditions are normal because the Yellowstone is located at more than 2000 meters of altitude (more than 6 000 feet). Rangers told me that the record to date was -54 degrees Celsius (-65 degrees Fahrenheit). But it's exceptional when they fall below -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit).
On the other hand, the snow that covers the park creates a very special atmosphere. The snow depth is very variable depending on the year. But on average is about 3.5 meters a year (10 feet). The trees, the meadows are enveloped by immaculate snow that creates a cozy atmosphere. The silence is incredible.
As there are few people and snow covering the entire park, winter is the perfect time to create photographs that are out of the ordinary.
The Yellowstone is not only a paradise for landscape photographers but also for wildlife photographers. Indeed, finding the animals is much easier than in summer because they are more easily detached on the immaculate snow. It is therefore easier to photograph them.
Snow is certainly the best asset for me to create minimalist and very creative nature photographs.
When you arrive in Yellowstone, the first thing you see is the landscapes covered with trees, meadows and rivers. The Yellowstone is characterized by distant mountains quite high and by immense wooded plains.
The first photos are quite difficult to make because the snow makes the landscapes quite flat and not very contrasted. The trick is to take paths to try to find points of view a little elevated that will create scenes with reliefs and volumes. I use my 200-400mm a lot to capture the atmosphere of snow-capped peaks. At this time of the year, they are almost inaccessible and must be photographed from afar.
Click on a thumbnail to enlarge the image.
How to Make Photos at Yellowstone in Winter
But photographing Yellowstone in winter is quite complicated as only one road is open to traffic. Only the northern part of the national park is open to cars. This route represents 4 hours of travel back and forth. This may be a good distance, but if you are going to take photos for a week, the time will seem a little long.
Other ways are available to discover the treasures to photograph. We use the snow mobile a lot. It allows you to move on already marked paths or in snow-covered areas but without risk. For us, it is a means of extraordinary freedom even if the noise is sometimes a little strong in this universe where silence reigns. But the use of the snowmobile lies in the ability to move from one point to another. That is why we always have snowshoes and sticks with us.
Indeed, snowshoes in my opinion are the best way to make photographs on snow-covered terrains. With snowshoes, you can walk snow depths that can reach 1.5 meters (3 feet). You sink very little. Sticks help you stay balanced and move forward.
When a scene of landscapes or an animal is in sight, you just have to prepare the photographic equipment which is in the backpack to realize the photos.
Often when we go snowshoeing, we take with us food and drink for two days. Even if the ride lasts only 4 or 5 hours, you never know what can happen in this universe which is still quite hostile.
We always walk in places we know, and we have spotted in summer when the snow is absent. If we arrive in an area we do not know, we do not venture there. The main danger in Yellowstone are the pools of water that are covered by a thick layer of snow. Walking on the layer of snow makes it easy to get through and get wet. Which is not recommended when it is -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit).
The Yellowstone in winter is a real paradise for photographers in search of thrills and difficult conditions. Wildlife photography is spectacular because animals are easily seen in the snow. Moreover, they move a lot in search of food.
Personally, every year, I leave a week to recharge my batteries, to find the energy to start my year.