Give me your photography tips for Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, and Devils Tower

This June, we are loading up the Wagon Queen Family Truckster and taking the kids out west. Highlights of the adventure will include Devils Tower, Mount Rushmore, and Yellowstone.

I just got on Amazon and ordered two books that give tips on photographing Yellowstone.

While I eagerly await their arrival, I’d like to ask the photographers of the Dope about photographing those destinations. Things like, what are the best times of day to shoot various points of interest, what are some interesting composition ideas, lens settings, special effects, etc.

Also, do you have any interesting stories about when you were going for some photo masterpieces?

We went that way last summer. We hit Mount Rushmore as early in the morning as we could get there–about 8am (and this was mid-July). At that time it wasn’t hot, wasn’t crowded, and the sun was full on the mountain. There were some issues with not being able to take selfies with the mountain in the background, though, because the sun was so bright we couldn’t keep our eyes open. Also, there are a lot of galleries and museums around the viewing platform that weren’t open yet.

Get as long of a lens that you can afford for Yellowstone.

Are you looking to take:
a. Photographs
b. Snapshots
c. “selfies”

At the very least: please be a bit different and do NOT line the kids up beside the sign and tell them to
“Stand Up Straight and Smile!”

“selfies” do not require thought (or even brains). a single self-portrait once a year is enough to record what your face looks like. now take a picture of something else.

On the other hand, if you’re going to take pictures without people in them, you might as well buy postcards.

Doesn’t everyone already know what you look like? Do you need proof that you were there?

Very, very few of my photos have people in them; never people I know. Who do you think takes photos for postcards . . . drones?

Every year I have professional-quality calendars printed for friends, relatives and myself. Hardly any people (if any) in the pictures.

Wow, especially in the places in the OP.

Custer State Park, south of Mt Rushmore, includes the very twisty US-16A, the Iron Mountain Road. It was built at the same time as the mountain was carved, and includes several one-lane tunnels that line up with Mt Rushmore. An example from Google maps is here . There are several of these tunnels, but not always with a spot to pull over. Take a drive down the roads on Google maps to see some interesting perspectives before you get there.

The Black Hills of SD (and WY which includes Devil’s Tower) has lots of beautiful areas: Spearfish Canyon, Needles, and of course Crazy Horse; I assume you’ll have time to see these as well. The SD Badlands is similar to the Grand Canyon in that their colors “bloom” at sunset; I can’t say what they look like at sunrise!

I hope you bought your Truckster in the peat green !

With photography, lighting is everything. So plan to get out early for sunrise shots, and staying out for sunset shots. The canyons in Yellowstone are much more dramatic with not-mid-day lighting.

I’ve spent a good bit of time at Devil’s Tower, and again lighting makes a big difference - evenings where only the tower is lit up were a bit better than sunrises (but that was also based on which side of the tower I was staying). Also clouds can be really dramatic, so if there are clouds out over the horizon, line them up for background.
Another tip for the tower: as you approach, pull over and take shots from a distance. By the time you’re at the tower parking lot itself, you are limited to the “cranned neck” view shots looking straight up. So it’s harder to get a sense of just how tall it is.
Also: if you hike around to the UFO “reception” site, be sure to shoot through the cyclone fencing for unobstructed views :wink:

Devil’s Tower really needs both a fairly wide angle and a good telephoto. If the OP can find, say, a 28-210 zoom, that works well for taking in how big the thing is, but can also zoom out to find climbers clinging to the side. In fact, 300mm would probably work better on the zoom for both Yellowstone (for wildlife) and Devil’s Tower.

I found my wide-angle lenses to be more useful in Yellowstone.

YNP in June…

Some parts will be closed due to denning activity, and/ or bear sows with their Cubs will be generally grumpy. Check the YNP website for details.

For nature photog, especially wolves, check into digiscoping.

For expert advice from locals, go to to…a site for Yellowstone lovers. I could go on and on, but ynet is a better source than I could ever be.

To each their own, of course, but my experience is that I look at pictures with friends and family and self every now and again, reminiscing about the moments I’m seeing, while the pictures of objects and landforms are quickly passed over and basically ignored.

Use a tripod, and some means of shooting without touching the camera (self-timer, remote control or cable release). Your pictures will be sharper than if you shot hand-held.

A polarizing filter can deepen the color of the sky and make clouds look bolder. A quick web search will find lots of tips about the best ways to do this.

Get both; the former for wildlife, the latter for geologicals and landscapes. I’ve spent a lot of time in Yellowstone photographing mostly wildlife. The big secret for that is to try to be about a half hour drive into the park at sun-up (be careful, though – bison are big, dark, and not afraid to be in the roads), shoot for an hour or two, then return about an hour and half before sundown. You’ll know you got it right when you’re leaving the park in the morning just as the long lines are coming in.

During the “heat” of the day (even in May or September/October), you’ll usually see more animals in the couple of daylight hours right at sunup and sundown than you will the rest of the day, and they’ll be more active.

The biggest tip – no, that’s not an animal, it’s a rock :slight_smile:

Seriously. If I did an image search right now, I could find several hundred thousand pictures of Devil’s Tower. There’s nothing special about that.

On the other hand, a picture of Devil’s Tower with me or my loved ones in it would be unique in all the world. Such a picture doesn’t exist yet. And when I put all my photos on flickr, etc., all the ones that get shared and favorited usually have some people in them. The scenery ones don’t get a lot a views.

Have you done any serious photography before? What sort of camera will you be using? Most of my favorite shots were where I saw something interesting, grabbed my camera and took the shot. This requires a camera with very fast focus action. But you can get some great shots:

Road runner gets some air - I was coming out of the gift shop at Furnace Creek in Death Valley. I heard a rustle in the grass, turned and got a picture of the road runner.

Fighter plane in the thermals - also in Death Valley. I had pulled over to look up and down the valley and heard a roar overhead. I grabbed my camera and started panning until the plane came into view.

Eagle at Half Dome - I was standing on the mountain top and just looking around when I saw this eagle. It just happened to end up in a perfect location as I was tracking it with my camera.

Threatening clouds at Norris Geyser Basin - I was hiking around Norris when all of a sudden the weather changed and I started getting pelted with large cold raindrops. Head for shelter? No! Take a picture? Yes!

Bear! - I was hiking near Crescent Meadow in Sequoia NP when I encountered this bear. I didn’t even wait for the autofocus to finish - I took the shot and then quietly moved away.