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!

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!

Photo Tip: Get Eye-to-Eye with Animal Photography

One easy way to improve your animal photography is to change perspective. Think about getting the shot from the animal’s eye level; most often that will mean to get low.

Shooting from the animal’s eye level can make an animal portrait more intimate and about personality. An added benefit of shooting from a lower perspective is that it usually makes for cleaner backgrounds.

Galapagos sea lion at sunset

In the shot above of a Galápagos sea lion at sunset, I crouched down on the beach. Along with the position of the sea lion’s head, this made the animal look more majestic. This also caused the sea lion’s body to stand out against the lighter background of water and it filled the space in the frame. Lowering my perspective made the photo more dynamic.

Galapagos sea lion at sunset

Above is the “before” picture that I took from my eye-level when I walked up to the scene. The sea lion’s head and neck are lost against the similarly colored background of the sand. Also, there is a lot of empty space being taken up by the sand and water. I knew it wasn’t a great photo, but it was a good starting point for experimentation like lowering my perspective and waiting patiently for the animal to make an interesting shape and gesture.

Galapagos land iguana

Sometimes getting low means getting dirty. I saw this Galápagos land iguana (pictured above) on the move and got onto my belly in front of him using my telephoto lens. I then snapped away hoping that I’d catch his hand in a gesture that would show he was walking. By getting so low, I cropped out the distracting brush that was in the background and made this photo all about the animal.

A dog at a pub in Salem, Oregon.

Just because our pets aren’t as exotic as some animals we’ll encounter on our travels, it doesn’t mean the same techniques won’t apply. Try getting onto your puppy’s perspective or crouching with your cat. And this is where I’ll spare you from having to look at endless images of my own pet!

For more stories behind getting a successful photograph, head over to National Geographic’s On Assignment blog to read about capturing the essence of San Francisco and unexpected encounters.

And I’d you’d like to learn photography in person with me, come to the Galápagos Islands or Alaska on a National Geographic Expedition or meet me in Texas this summer. Read more of my photo tips here.

Austin skyline at twilight

Photo Workshop: Deep in the Heart of Texas

I’m excited to announce Picture Austin, a photo workshop I’ll be teaching with photographer and educator Jennifer Davidson this summer in Austin, Texas. Join us this July 30th to August 2nd to explore this unique Texas city.

We will spend time lecturing and reviewing images in the classroom as well as time in the field. We’ll not only explore Austin, but we’ve timed this workshop to coincide with the Bastrop Rodeo, where we will photograph the culture of a small town celebration.

To learn more about this workshop and sign up, click here. Please feel free to email me with any questions.

We hope to explore Austin with you this summer!