Photograph the Milky Way over Yellowstone's West Thumb Geysers

West Thumb Geyser Basin

Capture the Milky Way over the iconic Geysers of Yellowstone and if you’re lucky, maybe even the Aurora Borealis!

Visiting Yellowstone National Park during the daytime is enchanting; with its geysers, lake and wildlife attracting tourists and photographers from across the world. Stay after dark however, and the park takes on a magic that is as indescribable as it is dynamic. Combine this magic with clear; dark skies, very few people, the Milky Way, and if you are extra lucky, the Aurora Borealis, and you have a photographic opportunity that is literally out-of-this-world.

If you are unfamiliar with Milky Way photography, there are a few checks to go through before starting to even think about shooting: 1) Time of the year: in the Northern hemisphere the Milky Way is not visible through the end of November to around the beginning of February; 2) The Moon; you need dark skies so that the Milky way is not washed out. New moon (i.e. no visible moonlight) is best, but the general rule of a week either side of new moon is feasible in terms of getting those epic Milky Way shots too; 3) Weather: dry skies are best, humid skies are hard to get a crisp view of the stars due to atmospheric distortion; 4) Light pollution: the more removed from human lights, the better, ‘dark skies’ are optimal; 5) And lastly, but certainly not least (and potentially the most difficult to achieve!) is that you need about 1 hour for your eyesight to adjust from seeing artificial light to viewing the stars clearly! Using a headlamp with a red light is optimal, as is not looking at a cell phone!

Camera settings for astrophotography are somewhat like Goldilocks’ porridge, with elements of necessity and those also of personal choice: 1) A wide angle lens is a must, anything from an 8 mm fisheye to a 24 mm is optimal; 2) The aperture of the lens needs to be able to let as much light to the sensor as possible. A general rule is that lenses with apertures of f/1.4 to f/2.8 are optimal; 3) The ISO can make or break a Milky Way photo. Too low an ISO and the amount of light reaching your cameras sensor will be suboptimal, too high and your shot is likely to be noisy and lack contrast. For most full sensor CMOS cameras somewhere between 2000-3200 is optimal, if you are shooting using a cropped sensor, closer to 2000 will likely be best; 4) Shutter speed, a general rule is that below 20 seconds you will not see visible star trails. A higher ISO however, will mean that you may need to decrease the shutter speed and/-or the aperture (f-stop) values.

Regardless of photography, there is nothing quite like being out in Yellowstone at night; looking-up at the universe from one of the most dynamic places on this earth!

Pack List

  • Camera (and remote)
  • Tripod
  • Wide angle lens with a wide aperture (low f-stop value)
  • Head lamp with red light setting
  • Extra layers
  • Water (snacks)
  • Be aware of local wildlife, check park information, and with rangers if in doubt!
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RT Distance 0.7 Miles
Activities Photography, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Loop
Features
Bathrooms
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Food Nearby
Handicap Accessible
Hot Springs
Romantic
Scenic

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Wonderful Show

Yellowstone affords many opportunities for low-light pollution night shots. Make sure you take advantage of this while in Yellowstone.


Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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