Yellowstone Photography Tour: Taking on What’s Tough

Candice Gaukel Andrews February 4, 2014 33
Yellowstone National Park bison provide excellent opportunities to hone wildlife photography skills. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Yellowstone National Park bison provide excellent opportunities to hone wildlife photography skills. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

There are probably as many different reasons to travel as there are people traveling, but some common motives include getting away for a while from a normal routine, to relax, or to see a place you’ve always felt a connection to or dreamed about.

There are also more provoking purposes for your travels: to challenge your physical abilities, to shake up your long-held views, to scare yourself, or to learn something new. My most recent trip falls into this category.

First and foremost, I consider myself a writer. My photography skills have usually been limited to what could be described as “automatic”: point the Canon DSLR in one beautiful direction, dial it into landscape mode, shoot away, and hope for the best.

So when I recently signed up for my first Natural Habitat Adventures photography tour, I knew I would be challenged. I was fearful of long discussions about f-stops (what the heck are they?), people with lenses so big that I wouldn’t have been able to lift them, and a veiled dismissal from guides who would think I wasn’t a “serious photographer.”

I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

We all need to become one-man bands

It used to be that writers write; photographers take photos. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

It used to be that writers write; photographers take photos. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

As recently as just a decade ago, the expectation in travel journalism was that writers write and photographers take photos. However, in today’s print and online media landscape, most publishers are looking for ways to trim expenses. If you have the ability to write compelling copy and take forceful photographs, your attractiveness to accounting departments skyrockets, since paying the travel expenses of one versus two people makes you highly desirable. Today, putting a text/photo package on an editor’s real or virtual desk enhances your chances for publication.

Hoping to strengthen what for me was the weaker of the two disciplines, I signed up for the Yellowstone Winter Photo Tour. I was worried that the “real” photographers on the trip would soon find out that I was only a pretender to the art.

To my surprise, I learned that not everyone who takes a photography tour is a semiamateur/professional photographer. On our adventure, there were those with the expected, gigantic 800 lenses; but there were also those who didn’t carry a camera at all. They came on the trip simply for its timing or perhaps to see the beauty of Yellowstone in winter through a photographer’s eyes. I soon began to let go of my preconceived notions of what a photography tour had to be like. It can, apparently, be anything you want it to be.

Let go of your preconceived notions about photo tours. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Let go of your preconceived notions about photo tours. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Our guides for the trip were NatHab’s head naturalist and esteemed photographer Eric Rock and premier wolf interpreter and accomplished nature photographer Paul Brown (see page 101 of the 2014/2015 NatHab catalog for a profile of Paul written by Wendy Redal). Under their tutelage, I learned how to stop depending on the automatic modes of my camera for every shot, how to experiment with the creative modes, how to meter, and how to adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO (light sensitivity of the image sensor) to meet the environmental conditions. I learned all of this without sitting through a single hotel-conference-room lecture. I absorbed it all out in the field, where lessons tend to “stick.” When you have a snow-encrusted bison standing right in front of you, there is great motivation to learn pretty quickly how to capture the moment.

Take the 2014 challenge

Mammoth Hot Springs

In 2014, I encourage you to try a different kind of trip. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Whether you write or take photographs for a living or just for your friends and social media, today’s forms of communication ask that we all do a little of both. Writers can no longer rely solely on auto-everything digital cameras and Photoshop to save poor images, while photographers need to learn how to accompany their pictures with well-crafted text. Word processing and spell-and-grammar checks won’t make a photographer into a writer without his or her having a focus on being engaged in the moment — from out behind the lens — and having an observant spirit.

For 2014, I encourage you to try a different kind of trip. If you have never taken a photography tour before, go on one. If you always take photo trips, sign up for one that doesn’t have photography as its focus.

Then, ask yourself what have been the motivations for your travels lately. Have you ever opted to go on a tour just for the challenge it personally presents for you?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,

Candy

 

33 Comments »

  1. Dudley Danielson February 4, 2014 at 12:17 pm - Reply

    Is that your reflection in his eyeball? Good stuff!. Can almost feel his breath too!

  2. Candice Gaukel Andrews February 4, 2014 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Dudley, and good catch! If you zoom in, you can see the van I was in! — C.G.A.

  3. Phillip Tureck - FRGS February 4, 2014 at 1:44 pm - Reply

    I have to say Candice that i agree with your comment. You do not need to be a photographer of any skill to go on a photo tour as they cater for many levels.

    I myself still like the wildlife and scenery and if i take a good image that is the bonus. Participating, memory and image in that order.

    As for Yellowstone, this is where I stared out to take some better images and it has left me wanting to return to a wonderful place.

  4. Susie February 5, 2014 at 5:29 am - Reply

    This blog post is very inspiring! I also learned that memories are of the most important thing. Sometimes I would find myself photographing without living the moment.

  5. Daryl L. Hunter February 5, 2014 at 6:33 am - Reply

    Candice, thanks for writing this, I hope it goes far and wide. As a photo tour leader myself I can assure everyone that we get the gamut of experience levels. This is an awesome time for photography. Because of todays equipment, so many can achieve good stuff with so little study.

    Many of our guests are more interested in knowing where the perfect landscape spot is or where the moose and bear live than “in the weeds” technique, and like you, are surprised at the “take away” they get while in the field.

    Digital photography has opened up a floodgate of interest and the photo tour business is booming because empty nesters want to travel and capture what they see in an effective way. – cheers!

  6. Judy Hoy February 5, 2014 at 7:05 am - Reply

    Phillip, I have gone to YNP in spring, fall and winter. I like spring the best because there are so many cute young ones to see and photograph, lots of flowers, butterflies and birds. Fall is my next favorite, because there are a lot of bears out running around getting food upon which to fatten and there are still flowers and birds. Also, the bull elk are bugling in fall. There were lots of bison by or on the roads in winter, but not nearly as many other animals, no flowers and far fewer birds. Too many people in summer. Just my opinion.

  7. Phillip Tureck - FRGS February 5, 2014 at 7:06 am - Reply

    Thanks Judy for your advice, as I come from the UK to visit I choose my time carefully and my last visit was in spring (still plenty of snow) and just like you I saw some magical moments with animals including wolves hunting and many bears. I have seen the beauty of winter in such a glorious setting in images and TV and perhaps that will be a wonderful experience if I come over. But then there are many other places still to see and enjoy.

    Yellowstone is very special.

  8. shankar kulkarni February 5, 2014 at 7:07 am - Reply

    good work

  9. Joe Cronin February 5, 2014 at 7:07 am - Reply

    I went to Yellowstone just over a year ago. It was amazing!!!

  10. Cathy February 5, 2014 at 8:59 am - Reply

    Good essay. I totally agree that it is important to challenge yourself. I have found your points to be true about birding field trips as well. Don’t hesitate to join just because you think you will be the worst one in the group. Go for it.

  11. Bambi Dingman February 5, 2014 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    A well-written piece, Candice! I really enjoyed it!

  12. Joris Christiaan Wiersinga February 5, 2014 at 12:43 pm - Reply

    Great article and wonderful pictures to with it!

  13. Larry Ehemann February 5, 2014 at 12:44 pm - Reply

    Great photos and interesting blog!

  14. kit February 5, 2014 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    I love the challenge you presented.
    “For 2014, I encourage you to try a different kind of trip. If you have never taken a photography tour before, go on one.”

    As a photographer and workshop instructor I like to teach in the field a few concepts each day that will challenge participants. And you are so right about needing to make great photos as well as write about them.

  15. Nan Park February 5, 2014 at 4:21 pm - Reply

    Marvelous pictures!

  16. Daryl L. Hunter February 5, 2014 at 4:24 pm - Reply

    Candice, thanks for writing this, I hope it goes far and wide. As a photo tour leader myself I can assure everyone that we get the gamut of experience levels. This is an awesome time for photography. Because of todays equipment, so many can achieve good stuff with so little study.

    Many of our guests are more interested in knowing where the perfect landscape spot is or where the moose and bear live than “in the weeds” technique, and like you, are surprised at the “take away” they get while in the field.

    Digital photography has opened up a floodgate of interest and the photo tour business is booming because empty nesters want to travel and capture what they see in an effective way. – cheers!

  17. Mohammad Darvishi February 6, 2014 at 5:13 am - Reply

    The experience is very good.

  18. James Gengenbacher, CAC February 6, 2014 at 5:14 am - Reply

    Looks like a lot of fun. I would like to do that at Yosemite.

  19. Walter Botteldoorne February 6, 2014 at 5:16 am - Reply

    waw beautiful Candice

  20. Mary Collins February 6, 2014 at 5:17 am - Reply

    I like your comment that you learned in ‘the field’ where lessons tend to stick. I’ve sat through camera ‘classes’ taught in a classroom and ended up with less than modest gains in my photography skills.

  21. Candice Gaukel Andrews February 6, 2014 at 5:23 am - Reply

    James,

    I’m with you! Winter in Yosemite National Park would be amazing. — C. G. A.

  22. John Collins February 6, 2014 at 9:25 am - Reply

    It is hard to not take great pictures in Yellowstone!! So many great wildlife opportunities, and such a stunning landscape.

  23. Bobbi Beyer February 6, 2014 at 9:26 am - Reply

    Candice, I really enjoyed your article. I never thought about taking a photography tour trip. It sounds like fun. Thanks for sharing!

  24. Connie Reed February 6, 2014 at 3:26 pm - Reply

    Great article, Candice. I’ve been tempted to go on a photography tour but the kind that is supposed to be a lesson. I, too, am a Canon DSLR auto setting person, but am taking an online class to try to learn how to do more. I agree that learning in the field would be better.

  25. Tristam Sculthorpe February 7, 2014 at 9:09 am - Reply

    Unfortunately these actions are chronicling how things are now before the Ecopalypse and will end up as evidence of what we are destroying.

  26. John Collins February 7, 2014 at 9:10 am - Reply

    Tristam,
    Have been to Yellowstone? Many areas are just as they were after the last glaciers receded 10,000 years ago. I do not understand the comment. Unless the caldera blows, and that is possible, it is in a pristine state, so it is not being destroyed.

  27. Tony Bynum February 7, 2014 at 9:11 am - Reply

    I’d like to be down in yellowstone right now, it’s 30 below here in glacier national park, it may even be colder in yellowstone! I love the cold, but much below minus 10 and it gets real hard!

  28. James Gengenbacher February 9, 2014 at 2:18 pm - Reply

    Candy I really enjoyed the article you wrote at Good Nature Travel. You have one of the best jobs in the world. I was lucky and my parents use to take us to many of our nations parks, then once I got a car I was off doing the same. We are lucky to live in a country with so much beauty. It has been a while since I was last in Yellowstone, I would love to go there and spend a week or so with the people who work with the wolfs.

    BTW for an amateur photographer you sure took some nice pictures. Do you have any more posted on the web? I use deviantart.com to make money on my artwork and photos. They have a very nice setup. People can order prints, coffee mugs etc of your photo.

    I would love to see some of the photos you took of the snow-sculpting competition in your home state of Wisconsin.

  29. Kelly Roberts February 10, 2014 at 8:20 am - Reply

    Another great place for photos is Zion National Park. Not so much the four legged creatures but, the views in this park are teriffic. Visited Yellowstone a couple of years ago in June. Still having snow flurries at the time. A visit my family and I will never forget.

  30. Marlinda Verschuren February 15, 2014 at 5:27 am - Reply

    Hello Candice, Its impressive!

  31. Phillip Tureck - FRGS February 17, 2014 at 6:28 am - Reply

    Stop press: After short deliberation I took the plunge and decided to get on board Candice with a Yellowstone winter photography/animal program for next winter.

    I was in two minds as I know how cold it was when I was in Yellowstone in April a few years back but the awe inspiring possibilities of such a visit in the heart of winter for the incredible scenery and opportunities for wildlife have pushed me to make a positive decision. After being in Churchill, Manitoba early winter I can survive anything I think

  32. Candice Gaukel Andrews February 17, 2014 at 6:31 am - Reply

    Bravo, Phillip!

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