December 05, 2018 1 Comment
All photos by Denis Palanque.
Photographing winter wildlife in Yellowstone National Park is truly an extraordinary experience.
This is the season of nature lovers. When winter sets in, it brings with it snow, ice and polar temperatures which often discourages millions of tourists who normally invade the park during the summer months. When Yellowstone puts on its snowy coat, waves goodbye to the cohorts of vehicles, nature breathes again. The fauna recovers its tranquility and even, allows us to immerse ourselves in his daily life in peace and privacy.
For two winters in a row, I spend time browsing a tiny portion of the 9,000 km² that make up the National Park.
An exceptional geology where nature exhibits a real laboratory of creation with great reinforcement of geysers, bubbling mud pots, hot springs, and rivers with fire colors. And a amazing wildlife, probably unparalleled throughout the northern hemisphere.
Yellowstone, the world's first national park, remains one of the largest wildlife hotspots in the United States. And here, even without preparation or pre-spotting, it is impossible to miss herds of bison or elk. They are everywhere!
Nearly 5 000 bison and 15 000 elk benefit in winter from the many hot springs distributed within the park. Thanks to them, large herbivores benefit from access to non-snowy grassy patches as well as to areas where temperatures are milder.
Photographing them is not very difficult. Rather placid in winter, a lens of 200 or 300 mm is often enough. Their proximity may seem incredible but for all that, it must be kept in mind that here they are at home. And any approach too brutal or not respecting the limits of approach distance imposed by the Rangers of the park could be translated at best by a fine, at worst by a good load in the rules of the art! Because even with snow up to the knees, bison are capable of performance worthy of Olympic athletes with running peaks over 65 km / h!
And when we talk about bison and elk we also talk about the presence of predation and wolves. Winter is the perfect season to photograph these great predators. Unlike the summer period when many predators are nocturnal or crepuscular to escape the flood of tourists, in winter it is not uncommon to see foxes, coyotes, and wolves roam in the middle of the day in search of prey.
Despite the presence of 10 packs in the park, it could be hard to find them because this requires more detailed knowledge of how the different packs use their environment.
The Lamar Valley, in the north of the park is still a safe bet! This is one of the best places to observe and photograph these predators. Most of the time the long focal lengths are put from 400 to 800 mm.
Still, in this valley, the surroundings of Soda Bute are the perfect habitat for photographing Bighorns on rocky cliffs or sometimes in snowy meadows nearby.
The excitement and adrenaline rise caused by the proximity of these American mythical species should not make us forget that in this season the outside temperatures easily vary from -5°c to -35°c, and sometimes during the same day.
The lack of sun and the wind factor can easily undermine your ability to photograph.
If the three-layer system for clothing is essential, the ends of your body will be the first parts that will feel the cold bite. Hat or neoprene ski mask by wind and snowfall are essential. Stuffed expedition boots are also very useful during long shooting sessions, immobile in the snow.
But it's mostly your hands that we will have to take care of. Because once frozen you can not manipulate the camera. For me, it is essential to have gloves perfectly adapted to the cold but also to the constraints of photography. Personally, I will recommend the Ipsoot model or even better the new Skadi Zipper Mitt PSP.
And just like your fingers, you'll have to take care of your camera batteries. Always keep one or two warm, in your clothes near your body heat.
As soon as your battery camera weakens, swap it with one that you have kept in reserve. Warming the weak battery with your heat will reactivate the chemical reactions that create electricity. After a while, she will have regained some power and can be used again.
Once the cold is under control, you will be able to explore the Gardiner River Valley to the north-west of the park with all your attention in search of the iconic Bald Eagle. They are common during this period on this river because she does not freeze.
Or maybe you'll be looking for one of the 3 bobcats that hunt along the Madison River and the Gibbon River, west to Madison.
For me, Yellowstone is at its most intimate and authentic version of itself when revealed in the winter. And it is with great impatience that I wait for the return during January 2019!
This article was written byDenis Palanque. To see more of Denis's work, you can visit www.denispalanque.com and for photographers interested in photographing Yellowstone in the winter as well, Denis offers a winter photography workshop with his next one happening in January.
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