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.

Photographing People Part III: Putting Your Subject at Ease

In my previous post I mentioned how I ask for permission when photographing people and in my first post I discussed lens selection. Today I’ll discuss how to work with the subject to put them at ease and make the best photographs possible.

Become a Fly on the Wall

Once you’ve received permission and are “in” don’t just stop after you’ve clicked a few photos! As long as your subject seems willing, hang around and keep taking pictures. Eventually people will get bored with you and you’ll become like a fly on the wall, able to observe and photograph people as they act naturally.

Picture of cowboys at a rodeo in Texas

I had been hanging around behind the scenes at the Bastrop Rodeo for long enough that the cowboys had forgotten about me. And it didn’t hurt that all their attention shifted to some poor bull rider getting bucked when I took this picture.

Make a Connection

To make a connection with the people I meet, I find it helpful to talk with them, whether that is before, after, or during taking photos. It is amazing what folks will share with me just because I’m willing to listen. I’m always grateful for having these windows into the other amazing lives being lived out in the world. Many times strangers not only turn into photographic subjects, but into friends.

Picture of a woman dressed as Marie Antoinette at Mardi Gras

I shared a laugh with this woman at the start of the St Anne Parade on Mardi Gras Day many years ago and we’ve kept in touch ever since.

Tricks of the Trade

Picture of a waitress in Marseille, France

At le Bar des 13 Coins in Marseille, I took this shot of the waitress during a moment when she was talking with some customers.

If the above two tips haven’t gotten your subject to relax, try photographing your subject while they are talking to somebody else. Often this simple technique provides just enough distraction to make the subject less camera aware.

While taking photos a simple reassurance of, “What you are doing is great,” can help to keep people relaxed.

Know When to Fold ‘Em

Occasionally I’ll see someone, get their permission, start shooting and then realize that the person just can’t quite forget about the camera. Some people are never able to completely relax, so I move on.

Also, I never want to wear out my welcome as a photographer, so I pay attention to physical cues that tell me the person is ready to be done with their photo being taken. Wrap up your shooting before you are asked to.

In the next posts I will discuss model releases and paying for photographs, lens choice, and much more. If there is anything else you are curious to know about how I work when photographing people, please leave a comment below.