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Lessons from Yellowstone

Lessons from Yellowstone

In The Slow Approach, we share individual perspectives on what it means to slow down, and how doing so can have a positive effect on our experiences as well as the images we capture.

During my photography journey, I have learned many things. Most of the lessons that I have learned, I continue to use today. Last year, during a visit to Yellowstone National Park, I learned how to slow down and let nature guide my creative process. As photographers, there are places we visit with which we feel a clear, immediate connection. Moments spent in those spaces deepen our love for nature and stir our emotions while we photograph them. When we get to visit such locations, we get excited, and it is easy to become overwhelmed. Yellowstone National Park is one place that I find very special. My first visit to the park was back in my college days when I was touring the American West while studying geology. I was in awe of this beautiful and yet dangerous world full of hot springs, thermal features, and colorful pools. 

 Watercolors / Jennifer Renwick / Colorful bacteria make up a swirl of colors in a hot spring

Watercolors / Jennifer Renwick / Colorful bacteria make up a swirl of colors in a hot spring

I started my journey into full-time photography two years ago, and going back into Yellowstone as a photographer was a clear priority. I visited last September, hoping to capture magical, grand scenes filled with great light. My stay was five days long, and I intended on photographing and seeing everything that I could. I wanted to focus on grand landscape opportunities with the geysers, swirling steam, and trickling pools. I planned on early mornings, late evenings, and avoiding as many tourists as possible!

Yellowstone National Park is such a vast expanse of territory, and I wondered how I would capture it all and make compelling images to showcase my time there.

My first morning there, I woke up early to be one of the first people on the boardwalks. I traveled down to the Upper Geyser Basin and started walking the boardwalk that surrounds it, pausing only make a mental note of the map. I was in a rush, the sounds of my footsteps echoing loudly across the boards, interrupting the quiet morning landscape. It was then that I started to realize that getting to everything I wanted to photograph would be a more daunting task than I had imagined. Yellowstone National Park is such a vast expanse of territory, and I wondered how I would capture it all and make compelling images to showcase my time there. I power-walked the boardwalk, arriving at the thermal features that I imagined would make for perfect landscape photography subjects. However, the compositions I had in mind were not materializing. I kept on, and photographed what I could, feeling stressed out that I was not coming away with anything, until I had nearly circled back to where I started.

 Icicles / Jennifer Renwick / Bacteria create an icicle pattern on a terrace

Icicles / Jennifer Renwick / Bacteria create an icicle pattern on a terrace

I chuckled to myself, thinking that this is what it felt like when the Earth breathed.

I sat down on a bench to think. I had hurried through my walk around the boardwalk, focused only on what I thought I needed to photograph, instead of enjoying the experience. As I sat, I looked around. The smell of sulfur drifted by on the breeze, and the steam from the thermal feature I sat by clouded around my face. I chuckled to myself, thinking that this is what it felt like when the Earth breathed. I looked down over the boardwalk and noticed the colors on the terrace below. Streaks of orange and brown crisscrossed the ground. Heat-loving bacteria created the bright colors of the thermal features. I got up and started walking, looking over the boardwalk below at this newly discovered world below me. I walked at a snail’s pace because I did not want to miss a single detail. I could see compositions in the abstract patterns, and each thermal feature had its own unique set of them.

 Pearls / Jennifer Renwick / Gas bubbles align with the flowing water in a terrace stream

Pearls / Jennifer Renwick / Gas bubbles align with the flowing water in a terrace stream

The ideas started flooding into my brain. I grabbed my tripod and attached my 28-300mm lens. Within the chaos of patterns, I started picking out my favorite compositions. The colors, lines, and textures each told their own story. As I photographed them, people passing by couldn't figure out why I had my lens tilted down towards the ground, instead of up around me, pointed to the geysers themselves. It didn't matter, as I was in my own little world of natural abstracts. I followed lines and bubbles.

I left the trip with a newfound appreciation for slowing down when photographing.

The second walk around the basin took me much longer, as I stopped at each thermal feature and studied it before even pointing my camera. I paused, letting the sounds and smells mingle with the sights my eyes were seeing. Working together, my senses told the story of what I wanted to photograph. I moved slowly, letting the environment guide me. When I finished, I had images that gave me a new idea of what I wanted to photograph during this trip. Over the next few days, I wandered around the other boardwalks and basins, looking down instead of up. I also spent time sitting and observing, continuing to let all my senses participate in my photography.

 Primordial / Jennifer Renwick / Bubbles trapped in a bacterial mat create an alien texture in a spring

Primordial / Jennifer Renwick / Bubbles trapped in a bacterial mat create an alien texture in a spring

I left the trip with a newfound appreciation for slowing down when photographing. I learned to take the time to look around and let my senses contribute to my creative process. The images turned into some of my all-time favorites. I walked away with images that I wanted to share with others. In this case, I wanted to tell the story of these bacteria, which were responsible for creating these wonders right below the boardwalk. Ever since that trip, my creative process has grown, and I continue to use the same technique in my photography today. Slowing down and really experiencing what you want to photograph will help you become a creative photographer. Lessons from Yellowstone that day were invaluable for my future photography, and I am thankful for learning them!

 Graffiti / Jennifer Renwick / Bacteria create a chaotic pattern on the floor of a terrace spring

Graffiti / Jennifer Renwick / Bacteria create a chaotic pattern on the floor of a terrace spring

No Signal in the BWCAW

No Signal in the BWCAW

Early Morning at Hot Creek

Early Morning at Hot Creek