Yellowstone is a rugged park with varied terrain and climates. Weather is ever-changing and unpredictable, so even in spring one might expect warm sunny conditions in one part of the park, and then hit cold and snow (yes, even in June!) 10 miles away in another area. It's best to be prepared, so please make note of not only the recommended photo gear below, but our recommendations for clothing as well.
Jump to the bottom of the page to see recommendations on clothing.
Since this is a photo tour, we should discuss some essentials and other recommended gear that will let you take advantage of some exciting photo opportunities. Yellowstone provides ample opportunity for photographers to use long telephoto lenses for wildlife as well as wider lenses for environmental or landscape shots. Note that our winter tour will offer more chances to shoot some landscapes in the park interior, whereas the spring tour concentrates solely on wildlife photography.
Though it's easy to just decide to bring your entire arsenal, keep in mind that you will face baggage restrictions if you fly into the Yellowstone area to join the tour. Most flights into Bozeman (where the tour starts) are on smaller commuter planes, which makes it impossible to carry on some larger camera bags. Remember this when you decide what gear to pack, and plan accordingly to ensure you can carry on your most precious cargo.
Bring A Camera Body... Better Yet, Two!
At the very least you should have one camera body with you, but it does help to have a second one as well if you are using multiple lenses. Because much of the wildlife during our tours is seen from the road, one can often find themselves in a situation where a long lens may be too much. Having a second body with a wider lens (e.g., a medium range zoom) attached can be quite useful when it comes to capturing those "sudden" close encounters. Below is a list of some recommend top-of-the-line bodies, but "prosumer" or even beginning DSLR bodies will work just as well.
More Importantly: A Good Lens (or Two)
Most photographers will tell you that good "glass" is more important than a good body. This rings true in Yellowstone, and we could certainly explore the nuances of what makes for a good lens. However, the most important factors to consider for Yellowstone wildlife photography are aperture and focal length.
Some subjects are difficult to capture without a long lens.
Ideal Focal Length is an important consideration, and our choice of lens often depends on your subject matter. In the park many of the subjects appear at further distances than we'd like, and we're also limited by the wildlife distance regulations imposed by the park service (25 - 100 yards, depending on the species). So it's a good idea to have your "big" lens reach at least 400mm. Ideally, you have something in the 500-600mm range. Anything less than 300mm will leave you wanting in many situations.
Keep in mind that you'll likely want to bring multiple lenses to handle a variety of situations and subjects. The best combination of lenses is one big lens (500-600mm), a medium range zoom (100-400mm or 70-200mm) and a wider lens for landscape or environmental shots.
Here are some recommended lenses that work well for Yellowstone shooting. Please note that these are mostly Canon lenses, so Nikon users should look for their equivalents. For those thinking about purchasing new gear for this trip but are worried about cost, both Sigma and Tamron make decent lenses which have many of the same functions as Canon and Nikon, but cost significantly less. The Sigma 50-500mm is a great cost-effective alternative that works well for Yellowstone wildlife photography.
- Canon 500mm f/4 IS*
- Canon 100-400mm IS*
- Canon 70-200mm 2.8 IS*
- Canon 24-70mm 2.8*
- Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR
There are plenty of other options as well, if you prefer lighter zooms or perhaps shorter fixed focal length lenses for any potential landscape work. A teleconverter can come in handy as well, even on a big lens.
A tripod may be necessary for photography in darker conditions.
A tripod or monopod can add more stabilization to your photo set-up. It is highly recommended for any large lenses (400+ mm). Since the majority of our shooting is done near the road, there will be few situations where you will be required to lug your gear over long distances.
Other Gear and Accessories
Here are some additional items we recommend to fill your photo bag. All of these items can be found in Max's bag.
- Second or backup camera body
- Remote trigger cable
- Rain gear! (Even if it's just a plastic bag)
- Extra memory cards & storage (such as the Nexto DI storage device)
- Extra batteries
- Lens cloth, pen brush
- Gaffer/electrical tape
Finding a way to comfortably pack and carry all this gear can be challenging. Remember that you will need to find a way to pack your gear so it fits aboard a commuter plane flying into Bozeman... unless you want to take a big chance and check it (not recommended). For spring tour participants, there is a chance we will take a small hike or two, so a smaller backpack, waist pack or pouch system may be a good idea to carry gear.
We recommend Think Tank photo bags and accessories.
Clothing, Toiletries & Gear
Regardless of whether you're going to take pictures, you need to make sure you are prepared for Yellowstone's unpredictable weather. Your main concern should be the cold, since it can snow even into June.
Winter Tour Clothing Recommendations:
- Thick winter jacket
- Snow pants
- Fleece or sweatshirt type liner
- Polypropylene or synthetic long underwear, top and bottom (and socks)
- Smartwool or wool socks, to wear over thin synthetic socks listed above. NO Cotton.
- Snow boots
- Warm gloves, preferably ones that allow for camera manipulation
- Warm hat or balaclava (or both)
Spring Tour Clothing Recommendations:
- Rain jacket/windbreaker
- Comfortable outdoor pants or convertible pants
- Short- and long-sleeved shirts
- Smartwool/outdoor socks
- Sturdy outdoor shoes (need to stand up to mud and dirt, along with any light hiking)
- Warm hat and gloves
- Sun hat/baseball cap
- Water bottle
- Bug repellent (spring and summer)
- Essential toiletries (toothpaste, deodorant, contact lenses, eyeglasses, etc.)
- Ziploc bags
- Chemical handwarmers (for winter participants especially, useful for you and your gear)
A Note About Packing
We've already mentioned the potential space restrictions for your gear. We ask that you try to confine your clothing to as few bags/suitcases as possible. We understand that winter gear in particular takes up more space, but we are restricted to the space in our SUV or snowcoaches when transporting groups to/from hotels and into the park's interior during the winter tour.
A great way to save space in your luggage is by using travel compressor bags for consolidating clothing.