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Yellowstone - The workshop that almost didn't happen, and we are glad it did!

With our Yellowstone night photography workshop scheduled for the end of June, the news was a bit devastating when we found out about the "atmospheric river" event that caused massive flooding and damage within the park between June 10th and 13th. I wasn't too concerned about myself and my plans but we had workshop students traveling from all over the world to attend the event, our furthest student coming from Austria. We kept our fingers crossed, stayed in close contact with park officials and even had a conference call a week before the event. All in all, we really lucked out and the lower portion of the park opened just 2 days before our event started. Not one of our students cancelled because of the event and we had a great group for 5 nights of pure bliss under the dark skies of Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone weather can be a bit challenging at times. When I arrived the morning the day the workshop started it was pouring down rain. It rained all day and we were supposed to meet our first group that night. As Mike and I were waiting for the first group to arrive for the extension one of the other students pulled up in her car and said hello and then said, "I sure hope this rain lets up for you". We were thinking the same thing.. Keeping calm and knowing how the weather can change we stuck to our plan. Our group arrived on time and we loaded up the cars and drove about an hour or so to our first location of the night. As we drove through the park we could tell the clouds were starting to clear up and the rain was getting less intense. By the time we arrived at Biscuit Basin the clouds were starting to fade and stars were showing. As we grabbed our gear and walked to our shooting location we could tell the night was going to be good.

Biscuit Basin offers a lot of good composition and fun foregrounds to include in your images. Our workshop students spread out, each finding something they wanted to shoot, and began to take test shots while Mike went over a few basics as a refresher. In 9 years of doing workshops, this was the first workshop where all the students were repeat students. It was an honor for us to have this group together and it made the workshop easier on everyone. As we were shooting we noticed some slight aurora (northern lights) to the north. The pink you see in the above image is aurora and the green and magenta bands above to the right are air glow. Andromeda galaxy is just to the right of the stem from the geyser. Seeing the aurora and intense air glow was pretty fun and the students sure enjoyed it. After having started the night off in the rain, this was a wonderful surprise.

Right around midnight, a group of us were shooting to the north, some for star trails, some for stacking when I noticed this very slow moving bright object. It was getting brighter and brighter as it moved and then it began getting darker and fading out. Right away I knew it was an iridium flare. From - What are Iridium Flares - Since 1997 the Iridium SSC company has launched in orbit around the Earth a total of 95 satellites (operatives and spares) in order to realize a constellation composed of 66 telecommunications satellites (called “IRIDIUM“) that allowed the achieve of what until then had not yet been possible: to reach by phone any corner of the world thanks to the use of a satellite device.

An interesting feature of this fleet of satellites was that, having being equipped with three antennas with large reflecting surfaces, in certain conditions they were able to divert to the Earth the sunlight that invests directly generating an unmistakable bright flare of a few seconds that could be seen by naked eye at night, even in the city with a large light pollution. This phenomenon was named “Iridium Flare“.

Each of my exposures were 15 seconds so the iridium flare was visible to the naked eye for at least 30 seconds while it moved north to south across the sky. Sometimes they are mistaken for a shooting star. If a person had not seen the flare in the sky as it was being captured by the camera they may think they have a shooting star on their image. Iridium Flares are often just one solid color with the brightest portion in the middle. Shooting stars are often not white, generally a green or blue color and many times you can see rainbow like colors in the body of the shooting star. This is caused by the various temps as it burns through the atmosphere.

The first night we shot with the whole group we took them to the Fountain Paint Pot area and Old Faithful. We like to include sunsets and sunrises when we can, depending on the time of year. While our main focus is Night Photography, it's always a fun added bonus to capture some nice evening or morning light. With little wind we had nice steam rising straight up from the geysers instead of being blown in our faces.

Silex Spring is a gorgeous blue thermal pool that gently lets off steam. Our group set up here for sunset and to shoot the Milky Way over the spring once it was dark. Arriving just at sunset it was a nice surprise to have the place to ourselves. I think part of that (for the whole trip) was due to the restrictions getting into the park.

Old Faithful is amazing to see in the day. People gather all around to wait for it to erupt every 35-120 minutes... Arriving at night is always a guessing game. You don't want to be walking up to the viewing area as it's erupting because then you will need to wait for it to go off again. When we arrived it was starting to gurgle a bit which is generally a sign that it's about to erupt. We quickly found our spots based on the sky behind it, set up, took test shots and we were ready to go whenever it decided to do it's thing. We didn't have to wait long. In fact our timing was just about perfect. As soon as we were all set up and had our test shots and exposures dialed in it started to erupt. The eruption lasted roughly 3 minutes and all our students were able to get some great shots. It was a wonderful experience for all.

The 2nd full night of the workshop was probably the most thrilling to say the least. We decided to visit the Black Pool in the West Thumb area. This is a location we have shot several times before and we know it's good for Milky Way Photography. This night proved to be my favorite. Not only did we have amazing views of the Milky Way reflecting in Black Pool, we also got to hear a pack of Wolves howl very close to us as well as see the northern lights dance across the calm waters of Yellowstone lake, all from one location. I will say that the wolves howling was really cool at first, but then it went on a bit longer than what I deemed as safe and it was easy to tell they were having one heck of a good time... Being on the boardwalk away from our cars made the situation a little scary, I'll admit.

After the excitement at Black Pool had cooled, we finished our shoot and decided to visit Castle Geyser. Castle Geyser is a beautiful area with lots of thermal pools, geysers and dark skies, even though it's close to Old Faithful Lodge. Having shot Castle Geyser in the past I wanted to make sure our students got the most from this location. After getting everyone set up and comfortable shooting I enjoyed the night sky for a while and answered any questions they may have had. Meanwhile, Mike had an idea stirring in his mind of a shot/timelapse he wanted to capture. After everyone was shooting, Mike went down the path a little ways and set his camera up to capture this amazing timelapse sequence. This video is the result of seeing a location and coming up with various ideas on how to or what to shoot. I think Mike's vision worked well here and I really enjoyed watching this video.

I, on the other had did something completely different. One of our students actually had the idea to shoot Castle Geyser from the south looking north. When I went to check in on Scott I could see why he wanted to shoot it from this direction. The North Star (Polaris) was directly above the geysers. I took a few test shots and then did a super long exposure to create star trails over the geyser. The image on the left is one of those test shots. It was shot at 12800 ISO for 15 seconds and I am very pleased with how clean it came out. I've been working on using multiple techniques combined to remove noise from high iso images. I think it worked very well on this one. The image on the left is a long exposure result of the test shot. It's a 40 min shot at ISO 100. I hope you appreciate and enjoy the differences each one shows.

Night 3 - The don't call it "Prismatic Spring" because it's more than just a spring, It's huge! It's roughly 370ft across and 121ft deep. It's the largest hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. Temps in the spring hover between 145 and 188 degrees. Absolutely DO NOT EVER LEAVE THE BOARDWALKS. THIS IS FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY!! This image shows the grand scale of Grand Prismatic from an overview. Mike took the liberty to walk up and capture this multi shot panorama.

If you look close at the image you can see the people on the boardwalk. You can also see their reflections in the very shallow water as well. This is where we like to take our students to capture some reflections and Milky Way over the spring.

This birds eye view of Grand Prismatic was shot in 2016 by one of our workshop students who has joined us for 10 workshops over the last 9 years. Max Paul took this image on his own time and I feel this image is one of the best of Grand Prismatic as it shows the huge scale and how big it really is. You can see a few more of his images in the student section below.

In this single image shot at 10K ISO, workshop students Elizabeth Elliot, Warren Lee and Scott Ruck are shown taking full advantage of an incredible scene before them. One thing I really enjoy about shooting the springs at night is the steam that rolls off the top. If it's too windy then the steam can be a nightmare and just blow in your face all night.. We didn't hardly have any wind on this workshop and the experience was more than enjoyable. After shooting up on the boardwalk we slowly all made our way down to the footbridge that crosses the Firehole River from the parking lot. It's hard to explain in pictures but this is probably one of my favorite places to shoot in the park at night. Standing on the footbridge as the water from the upper springs flow into the Firehole River as the Milky Way rises above it all is just a very calming scene to me. Seeing it in the daytime makes it a bit more enjoyable because you can actually see what you're shooting.

This images were shot 40 min apart with the top being the later of the two. In the bottom shot at 14mm there isn't any airlglow in the sky. It's also possible that the cloud you see near the horizon was blocking it. When I shot the top image 40 min later the cloud had moved and there was airglow in the sky. The top shot was at 28mm. Below you will find the group shot. I liked how the people on the bridge put the scene into a grander perspective. This was shot right before we ended the night and walked back up to the parking lot where we had Bison waiting for us near our cars.

Night 4 - last night of the workshop. We visited Lookout Point for sunset and Norris Geyser Basin to shoot the Milky Way. Mike had been to Norris Geyser Basin before but I had not. I'll admit that arriving at a place I had never been before in the dark was a little iffy for me for a couple reasons. I didn't know the comps or where the good comps were and that makes it harder to show students and I really like to have a general feeling of my surroundings before I embark on a shot in the middle of the night. I have worked with Mike for 9 years and I've learned to trust him. Norris Geyser Basin did not disappoint.

Arriving at Lookout Point, overlooking lower Yellowtone Falls was a good choice. We didn't have any clouds in the sky for a dramatic sunset but the soft color did cast a beautiful glow over the whole scene. I loved the way the light was bouncing off the walls of the canyon. While we were there we also decided to take a group photo. Having a group that was not only all repeat students but also from all over the world was something pretty special for Mike and I. With the workshop starting off in the pouring rain on the first night this quickly became one of our top workshop in the 9 years of doing them. I think the smiles on the faces show a similar feeling by the students!

This group shot was shot right before a group of about 100 kids piled out of a bus and came to take selfies in front of the falls with their friends at sunset. It was pretty funny to watch and while I know they got the images they came for, I sure hope they took a small amount of time to appreciate what they were seeing and really take in the beauty of it all. This group shot is a composite image, group shot at sunset and then I did place the milky way in the sky in the correct place it would have been later that night. After our group finished shooting we moved on to Norris Geyser Basin.

Norris Geyser Basin is full of thermal and steam vents, mineral rivers which deposit various colored minerals as the water moves through the system.

From the NPS Website - Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest, oldest, and most dynamic of Yellowstone's thermal areas. The highest temperature yet recorded in any geothermal area in Yellowstone was measured in a scientific drill hole at Norris: 459°F (237°C) just 1,087 feet (326 meters) below the surface! There are very few thermal features at Norris under the boiling point (199°F at this elevation).

Norris shows evidence of having had thermal features for at least 115,000 years. The features in the basin change daily, with frequent disturbances from seismic activity and water fluctuations. The vast majority of the waters at Norris are acidic, including acid geysers which are very rare. Steamboat Geyser, the tallest geyser in the world at 300–400 feet (91–122 m) and Echinus Geyser (pH 3.5 or so) are the most popular features.

The basin consists of two areas: Porcelain Basin and the Back Basin. Porcelain Basin is barren of trees and provides a sensory experience in sound, color, and smell; a 3/4-mile (1.2-km) bare ground and boardwalk trail accesses this area. Back Basin is more heavily wooded with features scattered throughout the area. A 1.5-mile (2.4-km) trail of boardwalks and bare ground encircles this part of the basin.

Mike's image above shows mineral rivers under the boardwalk, several thermal vents and the super dark skies which showcase our galaxy, the Milky Way as 2 photographers talk about our existence in the Universe. The thermal vents were almost constant throughout the night and would get larger from time to time.

My image shows a slightly different angle as the Milky Way rises up over the mineral river and thermal vent. You can also see some thermal vents in far distance. The sounds at this location was the perfect way to end the night. It also made me think a lot about the earth under my feet... Kind of thrilling knowing how unstable the ground below me was, yet how beautiful the sky above was and how the 2 were completely different. With the workshop coming to an end it was a bit sad. Yellowstone is not only an incredible place in the day it's also incredibly beautiful at night without all the other people. You can here sounds at night you don't hear during the day because your hearing senses are more keen because your eyesight is diminished... 5 nights of incredible clear dark skies, 3 nights seeing the northern lights and we saw the Milky Way and airglow every night. Our students were amazing. I'll never forget hearing the wolves howl so close to us in West Thumb geyser basin. That was scary and exciting at the same time! With the lower loop open so soon after the floods, we were more than thankful to all the park service personnel and volunteers for all their help. It was incredible to share all these gorgeous locations with our students even though one of our favorite loop roads was closed. Yellowstone never disappoints! Thank you all for taking the time to read and experience through my blog.

I'd now like to take a look at some of our wonderful student's images

Tammy Barnard

Tammy is a 2nd time student from Kansas who has dedicated her retirement to shooting the dark skies of rural Kansas. During the workshop she wanted to try some long exposures. Her creative approach was a refreshing sight to see. The image on the left was captured as the northern lights danced over Yellowstone Lake. Combined with a long exposure as the star rotate around Polaris. The image on the right is a long exposure over Firehole River from the Grand Prismatic footbridge. A very simple yet effective technique was to combine the star trail image with a single image to showcase the Big Dipper in the sky! Well done Tammy!

Marta Ketter

Marta is an accomplished bird/wildlife photographer from Southern Illinois who was on her 2nd workshop with us. She has a love for learning and taking in the beautiful sights of the moonless nights. During her time with us in Yellowstone she created a gorgeous star trail image as well as the arching Milky Way over the boardwalk near Yellowstone Lake. I really enjoy the creative star spike she added to the north star in her star trail image.

Julie Gills

IG : - Possibly a private account

Julie is an outdoor enthusiast who spends a lot of time outdoors with her husband and their dog. These 2 images that Julie has shared really show her great eye for composition. In the top image of the Milky Way over Grand Prismatic Spring Julie did a fantastic job of using the steam as a form of leading line to point the viewer between the gorgeous sky and beautiful stars reflecting in the water. The image of Lower Yellowstone Falls is beautifully framed by the rocks and tree. This composition keeps the viewers eye in the area of the waterfall. Thank you for sharing Julie, beautiful images.

Warren Lee

Warren is an award winning, internationally published, artist and speaker. From the tiny to the vast he specializes in finding and sharing, through fine art prints, portions of the amazing wonder and joy around us. The images that Warren shared show two totally different styles of night photography. I love seeing reflections of stars in any body of water. To me there is just something magical about it. While at Castle Geyser, Warren pointed his camera towards the north star and let the exposure run as the Earth spun and the thermal vents let off steam. When I see an image like this it really gets my mind thinking about our natural world and our planet. I always feel a bit concerned when I'm in Yellowstone and all these thermal vents are all around us... makes me wonder what the ground under me is really like. Please visit Warren's website for more amazing images.

Max Paul - MP Photography Vienna

Max has been to more of our workshops than any other person. We are honored to know him as not only a student but as a friend. His love for the night sky and night photography is contagious and will make anyone want to shoot the night sky! Recently he has taken up deep space photography with a telescope and he has some great images on his Facebook Page. From top left to right - Milky Way over Firehole River from Grand Prismatic Spring. Top Right - Milky Way and Andromeda over Yellowstone Lake as a thermal vent reaches up into the sky where we see a nice band of Northern Lights. Bottom Left - Milky Way rising over Black Pool in West Thumb. Bottom Right - Ariel Shot of Grand Prismatic Spring on a gorgeous sunny day which showcases the incredible colors.


Darren is an internationally published fine art landscape & nightscape photographer as well as a photography instructor. With over 30 years experience, he brings his images and knowledge to you not only for you to enjoy but also to learn from. Seeing other photographers succeed is one of his greatest joys.

Print sales and teaching workshops are just a couple aspects of the work he does. If you'd like to schedule a workshop or purchase a print, please contact him directly.

I'd like to thank the following companies for their continued support of my work -

Sigma Lenses - I use Sigma lenses for 99% of my work

Moab Paper - Juniper Baryta Rag is my favorite paper to print on.

Robus - My tripod of choice. Amazing quality at an amazing value

You can find Darren's work around the web in these locations. I'm always happy to connect with like minded people.

You can contact me directly here -

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