Yellowstone is one of the premier destinations for nature and wildlife photographers. While many photographers concentrate mainly on the wildlife or typical landscape photography like lakes with mountain reflections, don't pass up an opportunity to photograph geothermal activity at Yellowstone. Yellowstone has tens of thousands of geothermal features including geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles.
Old Faithful Geyser is the most widely known and photographed geothermal feature at the park. However, geothermal activity is prevalent throughout the park and provides numerous photographic opportunities. Some of my favorite areas to capture geothermal activity are the Upper Geyser Basin, Midway Geyser Basin, Black Sand Basin, Artist Paint Pots, and Mammoth Hot Springs.
Geothermal Photography Tips
If it rains or you have cloudy skies during your trip to Yellowstone, this is a great time to photograph the geothermal features. The dark skies can add an ominous look to your photos. The middle of the day during bright sunshine is not ideal for landscape or wildlife photography. This is an ideal time to photograph the hot springs or geothermal pools in Yellowstone. The noon sun reaches deep into the pools and brings out the colors of the bacteria. Use a polarizer filter to reduce the glare on the pools and bring out the colors.
Upper Geyser Basin
Morning Glory Pool
The Upper Geyser Basin has over 50 geothermal features including the famous Old Faithful Geyser. There is a 1.5 mile trail that leads to the geysers and geothermal features in the Upper Geyser Basin. My favorite geothermal features in the upper Geyser Basin are: Old Faithful (you have to see it at least once), Castle Geyser, and the Morning Glory Pool. The Morning Glory Pool is at the far north end of the trail (the farthest from the visitor center) but it is worth the walk. The pool has stunning shades of blue, green, and orange.
Make sure you check at the ranger station for a schedule of geyser eruptions for the day.
Midway Geyser Basin
Grand Prismatic Spring
The Midway Geyser Basin contains the Excelsior Geyser, Turquoise Pool, and the Grand Prismatic Spring. But the star of the show is the Grand Prismatic Spring. You cannot get a view of the entire Grand Prismatic Spring from the Midway Geyser Basin. It's a bit of work to get an overhead view of this beautifully colored pool.
For this overhead view, park at the trailhead for the fairy falls and follow the trail toward the falls. The trail will curve around to face the Midway Geyser Basin (about a mile down the trail). From here you will need to climb up the ridge to get a view of the Grand Prismatic Spring between the lodgepole pines. This is a fairly steep climb so pack light for the hike.
Black Sand Basin
Firehole River, Black Sand Basin
The Emerald Pool is one of the main attractions in the the Black Sand Basin. It is named for it's beautiful emerald color. Nice compositions of the Emerald Pool can be found from the boardwalk surrounding the pool with the lodgepole pines and sky in the background. Try shooting between the fence rails for a lower perspective. There are plenty of other compositions in the Black Sand Basin. There are small rivers with colorful banks and small geysers erupting in the background. It is worth taking your time at the Black Sand Basin looking for compositions.
Artist Paint Pots
Mud pots at Artist Paint Pots
Artist Paint Pots is one of my favorite geothermal areas in Yellowstone National Park. Artist Paint Pots is a 1.1 mile trail through smaller and lesser known geothermal features. The geothermal area has several hot springs and two large mudpots. It is a lot of fun trying to time and compose the mud pots as they boil and bubble.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Upper Terraces, Mammoth Hot Springs
The Travertine Terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs look like giant layers of limestone birthday cake as you drive through Mammoth. Other worldy images can be made of the terraces especially with dark, stormy looking skies. In fact, since the terraces are primarily white in color, they may be difficult to photography without blowing out the highlights on a bright, sunny day.
Walk the board walk at the Upper Terraces for photos of petrified trees in limestone formations. The boardwalk is fairly narrow at the Upper Terraces so it may be difficult to use a tripod.