Photographing Yellowstone with National Geographic Student Expeditions

A few weeks ago I joined 30 high school students and four fearless leaders on the 2017 Yellowstone Photo Workshop for National Geographic Student Expeditions.

I’ve been on many other photography expeditions for National Geographic but had never led a student expedition before. I was so impressed with how the students, who ranged in age from 14 to 18, brought their resilience, curiosity, and talent.

Just as National Geographic photographers push themselves when on assignment, we powered through long days where we chased the good light during early sunrises and late sunsets. We covered lots of ground to squeeze as much as possible out of each day. This often made for meals on the road and few hours of sleep, but we traded that for memories that will last a lifetime, stunning photographs, and new friends.

During our adventures together we explored the Bozeman area, went to a rodeo in Livingston, and covered as much of Yellowstone National Park as four wheels and two legs would take us. I’ll let the photos tell more of the story.

At the end of the workshop, we celebrated in Bozeman with a gallery show where we displayed large prints of the students’ images and also projected a slideshow. To see their fabulous set of images, click here.

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The 2017 Yellowstone Photo Workshop group at Montana State University. Photo by Evan Cobb.

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Teaching a group of students during a hike on the Hyalite Creek Trail outside of Bozeman, Montana. Photo by Anna Mazurek.

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Maggi and Jake, two grizzly bears from Georgia, play after a swim in the pond at the Montana Grizzly Encounter, a rescue and education facility located outside of Bozeman.

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Cowboys and bullfighters are at the ready to release a bull and rider out of the chute at the Livingston Roundup Rodeo on the 4th of July.

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Young cowboys are mesmerized by the fireworks after the Livingston Roundup Rodeo.

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The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River as seen from Artist’s Point, the view from where people mistakenly assumed artist Thomas Moran painted his 1872 depictions of the falls. The artwork of Moran, along with photographer William Henry Jackson, helped convince Congress to make Yellowstone the first national park in 1872.

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Due to the park’s popularity, traffic jams are not uncommon in Yellowstone, especially when a bear is spotted and many people stop their vehicles or park illegally to get a view. We encountered one of the more pleasant types of traffic jams, an early morning bison jam, where we had no choice but to drop the windows on the Yellowstone Forever bus and happily click away until the “traffic” passed us by.

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The historic Lamar Buffalo Ranch is now home to program facilities for Yellowstone Forever, a nonprofit institute which offers educational programs to enrich the visitor experience and preserve the park. The ranch was home to a bison breeding program which was started by the United States Army in 1906 to rescue the herd which had dwindled to numbers in the low 20s at the turn of the century. The program operated until the 1950s.

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Swallows swoop in and out of mud nests on Soda Butte Cone, a travertine hot spring formation in the Lamar Valley that still smells of sulfur.

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A female pronghorn with her babies pause before “pronking” away from curious onlookers. Pronghorn are the second fastest land mammals (after the cheetah) and can sustain speeds of 20-30mph for up to a half hour.

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A student photographs osprey in the Lamar Canyon. The Lamar Valley was named after the most magnificently titled Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II, who served as U.S. Secretary of the Interior under President Grover Cleveland.

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Josh Welter, one of the informative guides from Yellowstone Forever, took us on a hike through the Little America section of the Lamar Valley. We passed giant boulders, or glacial erratics, which had been deposited by glaciers thousands of years ago, found remains of bison (pictured) and elk, and visited the abandoned den of wolves that played a key role in the repopulation of wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

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Wildflowers, like purple Asian flax, lupine, and yellow cinquefoil, are abundant in Yellowstone in July.

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Mountains make a stunning backdrop for the Canary Spring formation at Mammoth Hot Springs. The gorgeous travertine terraces are formed from dissolved limestone, or calcium carbonate.

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Two cowboys photograph Old Faithful as the geyser ends one of its near-clockwork eruptions.

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Sunset is a stunner at Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin.

All this week I’ll be sharing more Yellowstone National Park images on my Instagram account @KristaRossow (which you can see without having your own account.) I’ll be showing two images a day that touch on the different facets of the park experience and delving deeper into issues that face America’s first national park. Visit this gallery to license images or buy prints of Yellowstone National Park.

A small ship passes through a narrow passage in Alaska.

On Assignment with National Geographic Expeditions: Photography in Alaska & British Columbia

This past May I had the opportunity to travel as a National Geographic Expert on a voyage from Seattle, Washington, along the Inside Passage of British Columbia and Alaska. The National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions A Remarkable Journey to Alaska, British Columbia & Haida Gwaii photography voyage was one of my favorites because as a Pacific Northwest native I felt right at home experiencing the lush forests and moody weather.

On September 3rd-17th of 2017, I’ll be joining as a National Geographic Expert on another Remarkable Journey to Alaska, British Columbia, and Haida Gwaii on board the National Geographic Sea Lion. Come join me on this intimate ship as we get up close and personal with the beauty of landscapes, wildlife, and culture of British Columbia and Alaska. I’ll be working with a talented photo team to provide insightful lectures and give tips and advice while on photo walks and photographing from the ship.

Here are a few images from last May’s expedition as a teaser of what the experience is like. To see more images from that voyage, visit my archive.

Two photographers on the bow of a ship.

On these expeditions, you’ll often find the photo team, like Photo Instructor Ryder Redfield (right), out on deck giving photo tips, especially during the beautiful sunset we had while navigating Frederick Sound.

A glacier calves in front of a zodiac filled with people.

The morning we spent on zodiacs photographing the awe-inspiring Dawes Glacier calve was something I’ll never forget. It was an experience for all the senses, from the crackling sound like lightening in the ice to the giant aftershock waves that rocked the ship anchored over a mile away.

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I never tired of photographing bald eagles, like this one perched on a tree branch in the Inian Islands, which were ubiquitous in the rugged Alaskan landscape.

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In Petersburg, also known as Little Norway, we had a photo walk through the picturesque fishing village, capturing scenes of everyday life.

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On the last full day of the voyage, we spent over an hour photographing orcas as they swam around the ship in nearly still waters on the Peril Straight.

I’d love to see you join the voyage with me in September of 2017. I can promise beautiful vistas, amazing wildlife, and loads of photographic learning…….but I can’t promise the same beautiful weather I had last May!

Looking Ahead: Springtime in Texas

I’m pleased to announce the Hill Country Photo Roundup, another workshop I’ll be teaching with veteran photo instructor and native Texan Jennifer Davidson in one of the most beautiful and culturally rich regions of Texas.

If you’ve been to Hill Country before, you’re already in on the secret, but if you were like me, I had a different idea of what this region outside of Austin and San Antonio had in store before my recent visit. The Hill Country has hills, true enough, but it has so much more: wildflowers, cypress-lined rivers, rock plateaus, barbecue, dance halls, and even schnitzel.

We will be based in Fredericksburg, a Texan town rich in German heritage that is a mecca for artists and wine-lovers. The location will allow us to make day trips throughout the region to photograph through barbecue smoke in Llano, search for cowboy culture in Bandera, the “Cowboy Capital of the World,” and kick up our heels as we click our shutters at the Luckenbach dance hall.

We will photograph Enchanted Rock at dawn, a beautiful pink granite formation, and float down a crystal-clear river lined with the graceful roots of cypress trees. And, if Mother Nature is kind to us this March, our vistas will be brightened with blooming wildflowers.

In between our photo excursions in the region, we will have ample time for one-on-one critiques, two group reviews, multiple lectures, and socializing to get to know your fellow photographers.

I hope to see you March 15th-20th, 2016, in Texas! To find out more and register, click here.

Holiday Special: Make your deposit by December 31st and receive a 5% discount off of the total workshop fee!

People dancing in front of the Marseille Cathedral at sunset.

Photographing People Part I: Gear and the Golden Rule

Photographing a stranger can instill terror in some photographers. Ten years ago I was one of those photographers. It took the simple act of watching a friend ask to take a stranger’s picture (and the stranger saying yes) that made me realize how easy it could be….I just needed to ask. Since that epiphany I’ve come to love taking photos of people.

In this post and the series to follow, I’ll be discussing the kind of people photography that I love to shoot. It is closer to street photography than it is to traditional portrait photography; a mix of the two that involves meeting strangers, making friends, and hopefully coming away with a good picture.

These posts are for photographers already comfortable at approaching strangers and especially for those of you who haven’t photographed people before but want to try. I know this kind of photography isn’t for everyone, but if it tickles your curiosity, I encourage you to try taking a photo of a stranger.

Gear: Wide or Long?

When I write about photographing people in these posts, unless mentioned, I’m exclusively referring to situations where I’m using a wide-angle lens and am close to my subject (from a few feet to sometimes even inches away). I’ve not only come to love the interaction gained by getting closer, but I like the way wide-angle images make the viewer actually feel like they are in the situation themselves.

Wide-angle shot of people at an outdoor bar in Marseille, France.

Don’t you feel like you can almost hear the conversation, the laughter, and the buzz? This photo takes you straight to a chill evening in Marseille, France. As a photographer I achieved that effect by actually being close to the subjects and using a wide-angle lens.

Telephoto lenses are great for getting the subject closer in the frame. They can make beautiful portraits that soften the background or can be used to isolate a subject in busy scenes. But when photographers are using a telephoto lens as a crutch because they are too afraid to actually get themselves closer to the subject, then I’m no longer a fan of these kinds of lenses. Please don’t think that the person across the street won’t notice a huge lens pointed in their direction! I’ll discuss more uses for long lenses in people photography in another post, but for now let’s pull out the wide-angle and get closer.

Telephoto shot of people collecting debris on a Hawaiian beach.

A telephoto lens is useful for compressing space and isolating an individual like in this image taken at 200mm in Hawaii during a beach clean-up during my voyage with Semester at Sea.

The Golden Rule

My philosophy with taking pictures of people is as simple as the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I figure that if someone were taking a photo of me I’d at least like to know why. And to dovetail with the sentiment above, it is much easier for someone to react suspiciously and act uncomfortably when a long lens is aimed at them rather than by being close enough to say hello.

Assuming we have a shared language, I’ll tell people what interests me in taking their picture, whether that is the colors or clothes they are wearing, the light they are standing in, or the interesting thing they are doing. Also consider telling people what the photos are for. I often have the reason that I’m working on a travel story, but it can just as easily be to build my portfolio or work on my people photography. The key here is to be genuine.

Diptych of people photos from San Francisco

While on assignment in San Francisco, I knew I wanted to photograph both of these people the moment I saw them. Although the shot on the left is taken at 70mm from some distance, I had already spoken with the woman so she knew what I was doing. When this man on the right crossed my path at a food truck event at Fort Mason, I chased him down and told him how fabulous he looked with all of his colors and patterns. Then I took this portrait at 50mm on my 24-70mm lens.

In the coming posts I’ll cover how I approach people, putting your subject at ease, model releases and paying for photographs, lens choice, and much more. Please leave your own tips on photographing people in the comments below.