Three Rams on a Rock
National Parks,  Photo Gear,  Travel,  Wildlife

Yellowstone Wildlife Photography – What Lenses to Bring?

I’ve had several inquiries on what lenses to use to photograph wildlife at Yellowstone National Park.  In this blog post, I discuss the lenses that I’ve used for my photography trips to Yellowstone and why I selected those lenses.

Two categories of lenses are needed for wildlife lenses at Yellowstone:  a long telephoto and a car lens.  These should be mounted on separate camera bodies to ensure you are ready for when the wildlife are in view.  You don’t want to miss photo opportunities while changing lenses.  The wildlife won’t wait for you.

Yellowstone Grizzly Cubs Playing

Long Telephoto Lenses

I recommend at least a 500mm lens, preferably a prime lens such as a Canon 500mm f/4.  I’ve also used a Sigma 150 – 500mm lens with some success.  A 1.4x teleconverter is also handy as some of the shots of the wildlife may be far off.  You may have some difficulty flying to Yellowstone with a large telephoto lens.  See my other Yellowstone posts for information on traveling to Yellowstone.  Links to these posts are located at the end of this article.

A sturdy tripod and gimbal type tripod head is also necessary for sharp photographs of distant wildlife.  The animals will often be in out in the distance in the sagebrush.  A sturdy tripod will help to keep the lens steady for sharp shots.

Car Lenses

At Yellowstone, you never know what you may encounter along the side of the road when driving around the park.  I came across this grizzly on the road to the East Entrance (the road to the East Entrance just after Yellowstone Lake is a good place to spot grizzly’s in the late afternoon).  He was only about 40 yards from the road.  This is much too close of a distance to exit the vehicle and it is also against park regulations.  Park regulations require that you stay at least 25 yards away from most large animals and 100 yards away from bear and wolves.

Yellowstone Grizzly

Yellowstone Grizzly taken from the car with a Canon 70-300 DO lens

A medium length zoom lens on a separate camera body is perfect to capture these photo opportunities from within the car. Lenses such as a 70-300mm, 70-200mm (with a 1.4x teleconverter), or 100-400mm are a good choice for your car lens.  A zoom lens is better for these shots as you cannot predict the distance of the animal, and it may not be safe to use your feet to zoom.

Related Posts
Photographing Yellowstone – Equipment and Navigating the Park
Photographing Yellowstone – Travel and Lodging
Photographing Yellowstone – Wildlife

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  • Liz

    Great advice, we always carry two SLR's even when hiking, one with a 100-400mm and 17-85mm. Many a time we have pulled up alongside an early monring bear in Yellowstone and had to put the longer lensed camera down and grab our 'landscape' camera!

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