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.

Summer Escape in Santa Fe

Come join me July 30th through August 4th in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a 5-day workshop called The New World of Travel Photography.

Santa Fe holds a special place in my heart because in 2004 I spent a year working as a course assistant at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. Week after week, I experienced the wonderful intensity of the workshop environment and saw how it produced rapid improvement in people’s photography…. and occasionally changed lives. I credit my time in Santa Fe with putting me on the path to my now 11-year career with National Geographic as a photo editor and photographer. I’m excited to come full circle and return to the workshops next month as an instructor.

In my workshop, I’ll share insights into how I prepare and execute a travel assignment for National Geographic Travel. Most importantly, I’ll be spending time with each participant throughout the creative process, from shooting to editing, which will culminate in a unique travel story. Days will be a balance of time shooting in the field and classroom time filled with critiques, discussions, and lectures.

To find out more or sign up, click here.

I hope to see you this summer in Santa Fe!

On Newsstands: Asheville for National Geographic Traveler

“How quickly can you get to Asheville?” I read the email while thousands of miles away on the deck of a tall-masted ship in the Greek Isles. I looked up at the crystal blue waters of the Aegean Sea and thought, “Soon?” Flash forward two weeks and I found myself surrounded by a different sort of blue; that of the dusky layers of forest in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Arriving almost directly to Asheville from Greece’s famous islands, I have to admit this assignment didn’t have quite the caché. But for what this small town in North Carolina lacks in international name recognition, it makes up for with delicious eats, creative energy, big heart, and Appalachian charm.

I discovered that Asheville is an addiction, so much so that people from all over have come to call it home…with no intentions of ever moving again. And after being in a place like Santorini, where its fame has at times become its folly, I can see how locals, newcomers, and visitors alike revel in a small town life with world-class perks and a stunning setting.

To see a sampling of Asheville’s allure, enjoy a few asignment outtakes and a glimpse of the magazine spread below or pick up a copy of the April/May 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveler, now on newsstands. Also, on National Geographic Travel you can delve into my experience on assignment in a “Behind the Scenes” article.

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Happily Ever Asheville, photographed for National Geographic Traveler’s April/May 2017 issue.

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Happily Ever Asheville, photographed for National Geographic Traveler’s April/May 2017 issue.

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Happily Ever Asheville, photographed for National Geographic Traveler’s April/May 2017 issue.

 

In Bookstores: The World’s Most Romantic Destinations

Last April I holed up in a house in Seattle and took a trip around the world.

Well, not literally, but through pictures. While photo editing my first book project for National Geographic, I re-visited favorite destinations like Cape Town and the Burgundy region of France, but then also fell for places that hadn’t quite caught my eye before like the Azores Islands of Portugal, Mozambique’s Quirimbas Archipelago, and San Sebastián in Spain.

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I enjoyed switching gears from photo editing for magazines and delving into the book publishing world. I’m looking forward to working on the sister book to this title later this year. Special thanks for making the photo editing process easy and enjoyable goes to National Geographic’s Moira Haney, Elisa Gibson, and Allyson Dickman.

I’m proud to say that the results are now in hard copy and, if I do say so myself, they look gorgeous. Pick up National Geographic’s The World’s Most Romantic Destinations in bookstores or online and start adding to your travel bucket list. I can promise you these tempting places aren’t only for lovers.

Post Processing: Lightroom’s Graduated Filter Tool

The following was published in the December 2016 issue of the digital-only Photography Magazine produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK Edition). Download the free app on iTunes, Google Play, or Amazon to browse more of the articles in these insightful issues.

Although the graduated neutral density filter has long been an essential tool for landscape photographers, it is never one that I’ve owned myself. Ironically I’ve come to love the Graduated Filter tool in Lightroom to selectively darken or lighten portions of my images.

One of the difficulties with photography is that the camera can’t capture the range of light that our human eyes can see. Although I we see highlights and shadows in a high-contrast scene, the camera’s dynamic range can’t capture both ends of that spectrum. While using the aforementioned “grad ND” filter or an HDR (high dynamic range) technique can solve this problem when used effectively, my preference has been to learn when a scene is too high contrast for my camera’s dynamic range and decide to either return when the light is more balanced or look for a different composition.

Therefore, I’m not using Lightroom’s Graduated Filter to try to recover highlights or shadows where detail was completely lost, but I’m instead starting with raw images that are well exposed and using the tool to optimize the image.

For example, I photographed this landscape while riding a gondola up into the Wallowa Mountains of Eastern Oregon. I loved how from that perspective I could show the dramatic change of terrain from rugged mountains to the flat farmland. The camera, set to matrix metering, gave me an exposure that captured all tones of the image from shadows to highlights. Still, mottled clouds darkened portions of the foreground filled with trees while the clouds and sky in the background appeared much brighter. To darken the background sky, the Graduated Filter was the perfect tool.

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Version exported from original Nikon D800 camera raw settings.

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Final version after using the Graduated Filter to darken the sky, plus overall contrast.

  1. In Lightroom, with the above photo selected, I went into the Develop module. Before using the Graduated Filter, I first did universal adjustments to my raw image using the sliders in the basic adjustment panel. I darkened the overall exposure slightly by -.5 and added contrast of +22. I also opened up the shadows, to show more details in the trees, by setting the slider at +29. I gave the image a slight boost in clarity to +7 and gently bumped the vibrance slider to +10 (Warning: it is easy to make colours appear unrealistic very quickly with this slider).
  2. Then I clicked on the Graduated Filter icon in the row of icons above the basic adjustment panel, but I could also have used the keyboard shortcut M to activate the tool.
  3. Once activated, an adjustment panel popped up above the basic adjustment panel and I could see multiple adjustments options that were very similar to those in the basic panel. Although there are other uses for the Graduated Tool, because my primary goal with the tool was to recover some of the detail in the clouds and color in the blue sky, I decided to use the exposure slider to selectively darken a portion of the image. Before setting the placement of the filter on the image, I set my exposure slider at the extreme amount of -4 so that I could see the effect when placing the filter.
  4. I then clicked on the top of the image and pulled down with my cursor that had turned into a plus symbol. A horizontal row of three lines appeared, and I drug the lines at an angle until the middle line, which has a grey pin in the center, lined up just below the sky and clouds. By dragging the lines further apart, I was also making the transition of the filter effect more gradual. Tip: hold down the shift key while using this tool for a perfectly straight horizon or rotate the tool after placement by activating the double arrows when hovering your cursor over the middle line.
  5. With the middle line of the filter placed just below the sky and clouds, I next set the exposure to -.78 and increased contrast to +22. To toggle the effect on/off, I clicked the light switch button on the bottom left of the panel because I wanted to double-check that my adjustments were realistic. In general, I rarely change the exposure much more than one stop in either direction.
  6. I had the option to then layer on more Graduated Filter effects, each with their own settings. And if I had added one I didn’t like, I simply needed to hit the delete key while it was activated. Because I was happy with the one Graduated Filter effect, I clicked “Done” in the bottom right of the image panel.

While this post-processing tool cannot replicate the physical usage of a “Grad ND” filter in the field, nor can it effectively restore an poorly exposed image, I find it a useful tool to optimize my images. And as with any tool in post production, one has to be careful not to let the tool show.

On Newsstands: Croatia for National Geographic Traveller

This past September I had the opportunity to explore the coastline of Croatia. From past photo editing projects, I’d been clued into how gorgeous the country is, but it was quite something else to see it in person. I was smitten with the beautiful Venetian-influenced walled cities and dazzled by the shimmering blues of the Adriatic Sea contrasting with the fresh green of pines along the rocky Dalmatian Coast.

Now I’m fortunate enough to share part of the experience in a feature story I wrote and shot in the December 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK Edition). In it I share images from Hvar, Korcula, and, the jewel of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik. If you happen to be in the UK, pick up a copy on newsstands now, but if not, enjoy the layout here.

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December 2016 feature story on Croatia in National Geographic Traveller UK Edition written and photographed by Krista Rossow.

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December 2016 feature story on Croatia in National Geographic Traveller UK Edition written and photographed by Krista Rossow.

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December 2016 feature story on Croatia in National Geographic Traveller UK Edition written and photographed by Krista Rossow.

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December 2016 feature story on Croatia in National Geographic Traveller UK Edition written and photographed by Krista Rossow.

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!