There is a widespread notion that wildlife photographers must go traipsing through the brush and put themselves at risk to capture images of dangerous animals.

grizzly

Admittedly I am only an amateur, but that has not been my experience.

There are 92 trailheads in Yellowstone National Park leading to 1,000 miles of pristine backcountry excursions.  Hiking and exploring any one them can no doubt enlighten you with epiphanies galore.

As a landscape photographer, yes, you will stumble upon unimaginably splendid vistas, particularly if you catch the ‘golden moments’ at dawn and dusk – more so if you are willing to brave inclement weather. Angry skies add drama to an image.

grand tetons

But as to encountering bears and wolves – no. The chance of consistently getting close enough for an award-winning photo is slim-to-none.

Why?

Because these animals typically avoid the sight, sound, and smell of humans.

What’s the best strategy for a photographer, then?

Grizzly 610 with cubs

Very simple…

As any Park Ranger or professional photographer will tell you, just climb in your car and drive.  Critters use the roads, too; some will even try to hitch a ride. 🙂

In Yellowstone there are 466 miles of roads, 310 of them paved, covering 3472 square miles (larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined).

Vehicles are like a natural (albeit moving) blind, and most animals have learned to tolerate them.

Wolves are exceptions in that they are leery not only of people but cars and roads too; yearlings often sit and howl and stubbornly refuse to cross a road even when their elders have seemingly found a safe passage – but sometimes they have to bite the bullet to get back to their den or rendezvous site.

832 crossing road

If you are a first-timer out prowling Yellowstone for pictures, look for traffic jams, gawkers holding up their cell phone cameras. If you are a bit more discriminating, look for those with binoculars and spotting scopes and monster cameras on tripods.

grizzly paparazzi in the Tetons

🙂 photographing a grizzly from a platform on the roof of a car 🙂

It should go without saying that the serious photographer needs to get out & about early, stay late, and carry plenty of fresh batteries.

wolfers at sunrise in Lamar Valley

Bears & Cars & People

So now you know the secret to photographing wild animals in YNP: play your cards right & they will come to you!

That’s not to say that it doesn’t take patience and dedication.  And, of course, be sure to ‘airbrush’ the paved road out of the frame and let the world think you are an intrepid soul indeed!

That second black bear close to the road in the video above?  You zoom in close and make eye contact and the world will never suspect how easy it was to capture an image of this ‘dangerous’ beast.

black bear

There is probably now a fatwa on my head for ‘whistleblowing’ sacred secrets of successful wildlife photography on the streets of Yellowstone.

🙂 SEEKING Asylum, Please! 🙂

10 thoughts on “Secrets & Strategies

  1. Great as usual…made my Alaska trip and got many eagle and moose shots..See you in a few months…Your words and photos continue to inspire me..

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  2. Amazing photographs on the banner and landscape, and of course the critters. That was a heartstopping moment in the film, the idiot getting out of his car and the bear beginning to circle back. I remember childhood trips and warning signs DO NOT GET OUT OF YOUR CAR and stories about people feeding bears from the car and getting a long-nailed paw swat when they ran out of twinkies and the bear took offense. When I moved to Yosemite, I stopped for breakfast and they hand out a flier with the fried eggs. Pictures and headlines, YOU ARE IN BEAR COUNTRY. So though you may ‘give away’ trade secrets here, there’s a lot to be said to siddling up to something twice your size with no interest in reasoning out anything. And thanks for all the fine information, you sure are in Wonderland.

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  3. It is absolutely true about Yellowstone. If you want to see wildlife, just drive around and look for the traffic jams. My daughter, who was a park ranger in Yellowstone for several summers, has many, many “dumb tourist” stories to tell, however, of people who get too close to the animals for their photos, especially the bison and grizzlies. It can be deadly. Despite the fact that most animals ignore the hordes of people, they are still wild animals.

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    • That’s an experience I wish I had thought of earlier, being a Park Ranger, or a wolf biologist. Yes, even in my limited experience I see people do a lot of stupid dangerous things. Thanks, Angela.

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