I made this image of a sunset over the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park just about a year ago. As you may know, the park is closed to vehicular traffic during the winter. If you want to explore it this time of the year, you must do so under your own power (cross country skis or snowshoes), via snowmobile, or via snowcoach.
As a result, the crowds and congestion – so common during the summer months – are gone. The park’s thermal features, always interesting, are even more spectacular and otherworldly when the mercury dips below zero. In short, winter in Yellowstone is magical. You just need to dress for it!
Last February I had the opportunity to spend nearly a week working in the park with a small group of photographers. It was brutally cold, with temperatures hovering at 24 below zero as we entered some mornings – but the frigid conditions created fantastic conditions. Steam billowing up from thermally heated rivers covered nearby trees with thick hoar frost. The geyser basin was even more stunning than usual, again due to the wildly contrasting temperatures between the steam and atmosphere.
Because the best sunrise locations were a significant drive from our base in West Yellowstone, Montana – and removed from the locations at which we planned to work – we did not attempt any daybreak photography. However, I had hopes for opportunities in the evening. Late on the first day, we followed the Madison River looking for wildlife while concurrently trying to find a suitable location from which to capture the setting sun – all while anxiously watching the clock.
As the sky began to pick up color, we still hadn’t found a place to make a photo.
The clock would not yield, so in desperation we opted for the nearest spot offering access to the river. No more time to be choosy! Bailing out into snow that was thigh-deep, we hoped we could move quickly enough through all that white stuff to make our way closer to the water, find compositions, and set up in time.
Spotting some reeds along the shore, I decided to use them to anchor the foreground. It was only after hastily setting up my tripod and mounting the camera that I noticed animal tracks now partially covered in fresh snow. Those were a bonus, since they would draw the eye into the shot. The color lasted for about twenty minutes, and then it was all over.
Ironically, there would be no more sunset opportunities the rest of the week due to overcast skies and/or snowstorms. That said, this one and only image featuring fiery skies was one of my favorites from six days of work.
It was later used in one of our service appreciation designs:
Now you know the rest of that story!
We’ll travel somewhere else for next week’s behind-the-scenes look at one of our images.