Photographing Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park
Some Lessons Learned Photographing Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park
March 16, 2020

After a pretty epic sunrise above Lower Yellowstone Falls , I immediately set out north to try to grab a walk-up campsite at Tower Falls Campground, which would give me easy access to Tower Falls and I planned on photographing Lamar Valley, an area of Yellowstone that I had never even driven through.

Being home to huge herds of bison, pronghorns, grizzly bears, bald eagles, coyotes, and some wolf packs, the Lamar Valley is often called ‘America’s Serengeti.’ With these supposedly easy-to-see populations of large animals, I had some pretty high hopes and had even rented a 100-400 mm lens with a 2x extender.

After I secured the last campsite at Tower Falls Campground, I drove right back out to where I quickly learned three things about photographing Lamar Valley:

 

  • I do not have the patience to be a wildlife photographer. Turns out that your best chances to spot wildlife are to just find a pullout, park your car, and get your gear ready before just sitting there waiting for some animal to grace you with its presence. Not for me.
  • Even with my rental, I still didn’t have the right gear. Sure, 400mm with a 2x gave me some good reach, well beyond the gear I own, but if I wanted some epic wildlife shots, the animal would still have to be relatively close. Even if I had seen a wolf, I wasn’t about to get anything resembling a good picture from across the valley.
  • I’m very jaded and spoiled. I do not care about buffalo. I’m sure other wildlife lives there, but I saw buffalo. And those buffalo cause very long traffic jams because other visitors are apparently not jaded.
Photographing Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park
Photographing Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park
Photographing Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park
Photographing Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park

So after coming to those realizations, I basically just went for a drive, fighting the buffalo-generated traffic through the valley.

Eventually I found myself at the northeastern entrance to the park and after gassing up in Cooke City, MT (cheaper), I figured I’d explore the Beartooth Highway. I knew nothing about it, but had heard the name before.

But I kept seeing “US Forest Service Access” signs pointing down random dirt roads – my curiosity got the best of me again… I ended up spending the rest of the morning jeepin’ around random trails through the Sawtooth Mountains. Which are spectacular!

Beartooth Highway Montana
Cooke City Montana

Finally, after a few hours of 4-wheeling, I realized that I was jeeping up random trails, in an area that I knew nothing about, with no cell service, and nobody (i.e…. wife) knew that I had even left Yellowstone… what a terrible idea.

I flipped it around and drove back to the park, and with no major obvious photo compositions jumping out at me, I just winged it for the rest of the day and next morning, photographing Lamar Valley at both sunset and sunrise.

Photographing Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park
Photographing Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park
Photographing Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park

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