Our Yellowstone trip log starts with “Hell’s Half Acre” – the place where the movie “Starship Troopers” was filmed. Remember the scenes when troopers fought with bugs in an alien desert? These look pretty darn close, don’t they? :)
I did not even know about Hell’s Half Acre until our trip to Yellowstone. We stopped on the way in one of the resting areas in Wyoming and it had some pictures of the place with some info. Since I was not too far away, I decided to drive there and check it out.
The unusual formations look kind of scary at first, but the when you look closer, you start seeing some of the beauty of this interesting place:
Textures were just everywhere and the colors were stunning!
I used the Nikon D3s with my favorite landscape photography lens, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G for all of the above shots at f/5.6 and f/8.0 apertures. When you shoot distant landscapes standing on overlooks, your aperture does not matter much. Since most lenses are designed to be the sharpest at f/8.0, I typically use apertures between f/8.0 and f/11.0 for most of my landscape work. Occasionally, I might shoot at f/5.6 or lower, but only if I need more light (for more tips, check out my landscape photography guide).
After a very short break, Lola and I went back to the car and continued our journey to Yellowstone. As we drove a few miles away from Hell’s Half Acre, I saw a large bird perched on an electric pole. First, I thought it was a red-tail hawk, but then I saw another one, perched close to a … red-tail hawk, which looked twice smaller! At that moment, I knew it was the mighty Golden Eagle! I immediately turned around and went back to where the bird was. I could not believe my eyes! I have been trying to photograph wild golden eagles for years now and this one was sitting so close to the road, it just did not care. I immediately took out my 200-400mm bazooka and took a few shots of the bird before it took off. The pictures did not turn out that great because the sun was behind the bird, but I managed to capture one shot that I like:
If you do not know about golden eagles, they are basically top predators, one of the largest birds in the world. In some countries, golden eagles are trained to hunt foxes, wolves and even deer! Check out this awesome video on Youtube of golden eagles hunting on mountain goats:
Crazy stuff, it is hard to believe the type of animals this bird can take down! There are some other videos on Youtube of golden eagles hunting in Mongolia, check them out too.
Anyway, after we arrived to Yellowstone, the first place I wanted to go to for some reason, was Mammoth Hot Springs. I really enjoyed being there last year and saw many photographic opportunities there. It was a far drive all the way to the northeast part of the park, but I stopped in a couple of spots to see if I could spot some wolves and bears. We did eventually see a wolf, but it was so far away that the images did not come out good, even with a teleconverter. Mammoth Hot Springs were a little boring this time, because it was a cloudless day and the sun was very harsh. I found a few spots here and there and took some shots:
Obviously, with all those hot springs, there is plenty of bacteria that create beautiful textures:
Lola took the above image with the D700 and the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G VR macro lens at f/8.0.
Without any clouds in the sky, the sunset was rather boring – I did not even care to use my graduated ND filter to darken the sky a little:
Our next day started with an early morning drive across Yellowstone lake. It was my dream to capture a hot spring early in the morning, so I found a few good spots and captured the following images of the Yellowstone lake:
Both images were captured with the Nikon D700 + 24-70mm lens. I had my filter set with me, but for reflections like these, there was no need for them…
We spent the last morning at the Grand Prismatic Spring, where I captured some early morning shots with the sun appearing above the mountains and casting some light on the vapor:
Apparently, some well-known landscape photographer was in the area, taking pictures of the springs (don’t remember his name). As the light was glimpsing through the vapor, I took a picture of him:
I should find him and sell him his own picture, LOL :)
Here is the last picture I took before leaving the area:
We then headed off to some other places in the park, scouting for some early morning shots. Yellowstone is full of all kinds of beautiful colors:
As we drove through the park, I found a spot where the water looked black due to black igneous rock. I just rolled down my window and took a shot:
At the time, I did not even notice that an active distant geyser was in the middle of the frame! I only saw it when I got home. After taking some more pictures of nature, we then drove through some of the 4×4 roads. On our way out, Lola noticed a bear mom with two cubs right across the road. I immediately pulled out my camera and started taking pictures. The fur-balls were super-cute (God forbid if you try to approach them when mom is around). Here is the first cub:
Then the second cub:
At one point, one of the cubs got so interested in us, that he started moving towards us. The mom obviously got very angry and whatever she did caused the cub to run away like crazy. He then hid behind a bunch of logs, looking at mom and asking for forgiveness:
After a short while, mom gave a welcome signal and the cub joined mom again. Although I did not do much video shooting, I did capture a couple of clips with the bears – here is one of them:
I was hand-holding the 200-400mm and the humming noise is actually coming from VR (Vibration Reduction), which saves me all the time when shooting with this heavy lens.
That’s pretty much the end of our trip log to Yellowstone. On the way back to Denver, I captured one more shot of a valley during sunset:
Which did not turn out so well…