Exploring Yellowstone with Fuji X

By Lane Erickson

Introduction

I work as an attorney. While rewarding, it is also stressful. The good news . . . I am fortunate to live in an area in the United States within just a few hour’s drive of some of the most iconic and diverse landscape locations in the world.  When the stresses of work reach a boiling point, I take a day or two off to rejuvenate my soul through photography. In October 2017, I got away from courtrooms, judges and other lawyers and spent 3 days in Yellowstone National Park. The camera system I took with me was the Fuji X. I explored many of Yellowstone’s well known landmarks and also found some hidden surprises along the way which I was able to capture with my Fuji X system. I invite you to share my journey.

October 17, 2017
6:58 pm – I am on my way to Yellowstone National Park for what I believe will be an adventure in photography. I have a few of the Fuji X system cameras and lenses with me. As I’m driving north I see an opportunity to potentially create an image with sunset light on the Teton Mountains which are far to the east. I find a road that leads towards the Tetons and begin chasing the light. However, clouds cover the Tetons making the photo I want impossible. As I’m packing up to leave I turn and look at where the sun had just set in the west and see an amazing array of colors down the road I had just driven on. Quickly I grab the X-Pro1 with the XF 100-400mm lens and capture the shot. It’s a difficult exposure but the X-Pro1 handles it easily.

Old dirt road with power lines and sunset
X-Pro1 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR, at 133mm, f/5, 1/45 sec, ISO 200

October 18, 2017
7:24 am – I entered Yellowstone National Park through the West entrance 5 minutes ago.  As I round a turn I am forced to pull over. The road is completely blocked . . . by a herd of Bison! The Park Rangers are on the other side with their truck shining its headlights trying to get the herd to move off the road. It is still pretty dark but I grab a shot anyway. I find that the blurry movement of the photo lit by the truck’s headlights perfectly captures the chaos of the moment. The Bison walk past me (they are HUGE) and after they are behind me I move on.

Early morning herd of Bison being moved off the road by Park Rangers in a truck
X-E1 + XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, at 172mm, f/4.7, 1/6 sec, ISO 200

7:50 am – I drive further up the road along the Madison River.  Sunrise peeks over the horizon lighting up the steam rising from the river.  I see a person standing in the distance, near the river’s edge watching geese. The light is amazing. I pull off the road, set up on a tripod and compose an image of the golden morning light illuminating the rising steam, the person, the forest and the river. I review the image on my X-Pro1 camera screen and know this is going to be a fantastic trip!

Person near Madison River bathed in early morning light
X-Pro1 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR, at 400mm, f/5.6, 1/30 sec, ISO 320

7:54 am – I am about to pack it up when I notice a mountain ridge with dead pine trees silhouetted by the sunrise lit sky.  The tree limbs look like lace. I swivel my tripod, compose and capture the image. When I review the image I’m pleased with the vivid colors and sharp details. Once again, the X-Pro1 doesn’t disappoint.

Early morning sunrise with ridge of dead pines silhouetted
X-Pro1 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR, at 235mm, f/9, 1/350 sec, ISO 200

8:59 am – Further up the road I move past Madison Junction and drive onto Firehole River road so I can zero in on an image of the waterfall. I compose several variations but I’m not happy with my images. I just can’t seem to create an image that captures the soothing emotions I feel. The composition isn’t right. One image isn’t enough. Then I realize I can shoot several images and stitch them together later in a composition that captures the quiet, almost reverent emotions I feel. I dial in the manual exposure on my Fuji X-E1 camera and use a tripod to ensure the images I take will match exposure and will also overlap. Later, when I stitch the images together into one I know I am close. I convert the image to black and white rendering  the pine tree the exact shade/tone I want to convey the soft sentiment I felt when I created the image.

Firehole Falls, 3 images stitched together and converted to black & white
X-E1 + XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, at 78mm, f/22, 1/8 sec, ISO 100

11:49 am – It’s just before lunch and I am at Artist’s Point overlook in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone trying to capture an image of Lower Yellowstone Falls. The morning light is gone and the image doesn’t look right. In frustration, I am about to give up when I notice the sunlight striking a single pine tree in the canyon with the amazingly blue river down below it.  Using my tripod, I compose and create the image. The light on the pine tree and the river seems to work together as a contrast in warm and cold colors. Although I feel disappointment in not being able to create an image of Lower Yellowstone Falls I am happy with this image.

Yellowstone River in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
X-E1 + XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, at 90mm, f/8, 1/55 sec, ISO 100

3:33 pm – After a light lunch and a short nap I am exploring again. I pull into the parking lot at Biscuit Basin and see an amazing sight because my timing is perfect. A gust of wind blew steam into a tree next to the parking lot. The sunlight shone through the steamy backlit tree and created beams of light. It was spectacular and I knew I had to capture this phenomenon. I ready my camera and lens, I compose the image and then I wait . . . and wait . . . and wait some more, but nothing happens. Apparently, the wind was blowing the steam in a different direction and I just happened to pull into the parking lot when a weird shift in wind occurred creating the beams of sunlight in the steam through the tree. I wait for nearly an hour and then the magic finally happens again. The wind shifts for nearly 30 seconds blowing steam through the tree and I create this image.

Wind blowing steam from Biscuit Basin Geysers into tree with sunlight
X-E1 + XF14mmF2.8 R, f/16, 1/240 sec, ISO 100

3:53 pm – After creating the steamy backlit tree image, I wander on the boardwalk that winds around the steam geysers and hot pots at Biscuit Basin. The late afternoon sun backlights all the steam and the geyser water that shoots into the air. The bright steam and water are in stark contrast to the mountain side in the background which is in total shadow. I find a few compositions that include people to give the image scale. In my mind I can see these as monochrome images so I convert them to black and white when I get home. I try a few more compositions that evening but nothing really comes together, so I review my map and make a plan for the next morning

Person standing on boardwalk surrounded by steam and geyser water at Biscuit Basin
X-E1 + XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, at 200mm, f/8, 1/350 sec, ISO 200

October 19, 2017
8:03 am – After a good night’s sleep I am back in Yellowstone National Park, again driving along the Madison River from the West Entrance. Just like yesterday, the morning sun peeks above the horizon and lights up the steam rising from the river in a golden glow. However, this time, there are several people fly-fishing. The light is irresistible and I pull over to create some images. The golden light is amazing and my Fujifilm X cameras capture it all in sharp, vivid color.

Fly Fishing in the steamy Madison River with early morning golden light
X-Pro1 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR, at 270mm, f/5.6, 1/120 sec, ISO 200

8:25 am – This time when I reach Madison Junction I drive north, stopping at Gibbon Falls along the Gibbon River.  No one is there. It’s a rare treat to not have other people around when viewing such a stunning natural wonder in Yellowstone. I find that I am still all alone when I set up my tripod and camera to capture a slow shutter speed shot of the waterfall. My goal is to create an image with silky smooth water cascading down the rocks. By using the manual settings to select a 1 second exposure, my Fuji X system doesn’t disappoint. With a cascading drop of nearly a hundred feet, the water is smooth, the rocks have detail, and the scene is pure serenity. I am the only one enjoying the beauty of it all.  

Gibbon River cascading down Gibbon Falls
X-E1 + XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, at 67mm, f/11, 1 sec, ISO 100

9:31 am – After enjoying that little slice of heaven, I continue driving up along Gibbon River and arrive at the Artist Pots’ parking area, intending to do the short hike to the colorful mud pots. However, when I start hiking along the trail a motion to the left catches my eye. It’s a coyote. I have the wrong lens so I sneak back to my car and get the right gear for wildlife. I spend the next 30 minutes capturing images of the coyote. With the Fuji 100-400mm lens I am able to stay a good distance from the coyote who isn’t bothered by my presence. Watching this wild animal scurry around looking for food as if I wasn’t there was pure bliss!

Coyote peering off at the trail where other people are walking – no one else saw the coyote while I was there
X-Pro1 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR, at 335mm, f/5.4, 1/250 sec, ISO 400

10:11 am – The coyote moves behind some trees ending my portrait session.  I put my gear away and drive further north to Norris Geyser Basin where I explore an other-worldly landscape of steam, hot pots, and geysers surrounded by forest. The early morning sun backlights the steam as it rises up through the Lodgepole pine trees. In this area you can’t wander off the designated walking areas which can limit creative options.  However, by using the excellent XF 18-55mm “kit” zoom lens I can construct images by zooming in and out until I have just what I am trying to capture. I find a good composition and stop the aperture way down to create a sunstar in the dark blue sky.

Steam rising through forest in Norris Geyser Basin with Sunstar
X-E1 + XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS, at 21mm, f/16, 1/320 sec, ISO 100

2:02 pm – After lunch I wander back towards the Lower Geyser Basin which I had driven past the day before. In this area the ground can either swell or depress over the decades due to the geothermal activity below the earth’s crust. As a result, areas that were once lush pine forests may now have boiling hot water running in above-ground creeks or in a water table just below the surface. This change results in the forest dying and the tree trunks bleaching to almost pure white. I find this fascinating and work to capture the contrasts in texture and color.  I move around next to the road to create a composition that works and once again reach for the truly spectacular Fuji XF 100-400mm lens. I zoom to just the right composition and stop the lens down to get maximum depth of field.

Dead trunks and branches of Lodgepole pine forest of once living trees in tall grass
X-Pro1 + XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR, at 196mm, f/16, 1/30 sec, ISO 100

October 20, 2017
9:38 am – It’s my final morning and I want to capture the image I’ve had in my mind for nearly a year. To do it, I hike to the overlook of the Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin area. However, the view is disappointing. In previous years I have been able to hike up the mountainside to just the right height and find a view between the trees. I was hoping to do this again because I want to capture the iconic image of the Spring with its famous rainbow of colors.  However, instead of an open mountainside a guided path now exists, with a fence that blocks my ability to climb up the mountainside. I am forced into an overlook area that isn’t up as high as I want to go. To make matters worse, the light and the steam simply do not work. With the earth’s rotation, the light isn’t ideal in October for the image I envisioned. Despite all of this, by using the versatile XF 55-200mm zoom I create a few images of the Spring that I do like.

Steam rising above Grand Prismatic Spring with view from hiking overlook
X-E1 + XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, at 86mm, f/8, 1/500 sec, ISO 320

9:52 to 10:02 am – I am hiking back to my car from the overlook, ruminating on my disappointment about not getting the image I really want.  As I do, I can see the rising steam acting as a backdrop to several dead pine trees in the area. The difference in the trees is enticing. I love the lace-like texture of the pine tree with long elegant branches and pine cones but I also like the stubby trees with few branches. With the same camera system as before I zoom in and out until I find just the view I want and create images of these trees and the rising steam. 

Lodgepole Pine trees with long branches and pinecones with rising steam in background
X-E1 + XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, at 200mm, f/8, 1/1250 sec, ISO 320
Stubby short Lodgepole pine trees with few branches in the rising steam
X-E1 + XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, at 190mm, f/8, 1/1600 sec, ISO 320

Fuji X is Perfect for Yellowstone

When I return from this soul-saving trip to Yellowstone National Park and view my images, I am convinced of several things.  First, I know that the portability of the Fuji X system I used on this trip is ideal for the kind of adventure and travel photography that breathes life back into me every time I am able to do it. Second, every worry I have about the Fuji X system’s ability to capture the kind of vivid color and detail I love is erased. Finally, I have absolute confidence in the Fuji X system of lenses, especially the zoom lenses which is what I used for most of the images I created on this trip. The Fuji X lenses were uncompromisingly sharp in every type of photography I used them for. Because of these things, Fuji X is now my system because it is ideal for the landscape, wildlife and lifestyle photography that I love.  I simply cannot praise the system enough.  

Epilogue 

As mentioned, my two disappointments from my October 2017 trip were my inability to capture acceptable images of both the Lower Yellowstone Falls and the Grand Prismatic Spring. However, in a day trip I took with my family the following May, I went back to those locations and was able to capture both of these images. 

May 25, 2018

Lower Yellowstone Falls, shot and processed as black & white
X-T1 + XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, at 172mm, f/9, 1/480 sec, ISO 200
Grand Prismatic Spring from hiking overlook (6 images stitched together)
X-T1 + XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, at 55mm, f/8, 1/1000 sec, ISO 200

Exploring Yellowstone with the Fuji X was an adventure I completely enjoyed and highly recommend. In fact, I loved it so much, I am making plans for another adventure to Yellowstone in the coming year. Maybe I’ll see you out there.

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