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Yellowstone in Black and White

I normally don’t take black and white pictures. Aside from preferring bright, saturated color in my pictures, I don’t have a darkroom. A darkroom (along with lots of experience and patience) really is necessary for getting worthwhile results in black and white. But when I visited Yellowstone I decided to try loading my spare camera with black and white film as a creative way to deal with the inevitable overcast skies.

Rediscovering those negatives in my “digital darkroom,” I found that the black and white images offered a very different perspective on Yellowstone. They have a depth and tactile quality quite unlike color images.


Click on any picture to see a larger version

Photograph of a ranch in Grand Teton

Driving through Grand Teton National Park on the way to Yellowstone, I saw an “in-holding” ranch with a gate and fence that nicely framed the Tetons. An old truck heading toward the gate completed a picture that could have been taken 50 years earlier. I haven’t been able to find out what the “MH” stands for; the ranch may no longer exist. Picture of burned trees in Yellowstone

Picture of ancient pine tree in Yellowstone Photo of brush and aspens

In the summer of 1988, Yellowstone experienced a devastating fire that burned over 35% of the park. When I visited three years later the damage was very apparent in large expanses of charred and fallen trees.

The fire was more of a disaster for the Park Service than for the trees, since it ignited a major controversy over fire management policies. For the lodgepole pines that make up most of the forests in Yellowstone, fire is an essential part of their life cycle. Seeds can’t germinate until fire frees them from their pine cones and releases the nutrients locked in trees that might be 250 years old.

Despite the fires there were plenty of trees in Yellowstone, including ancient pines and numerous stands of aspens.

Photograph of Yellowstone River Picture of Yellowstone Falls

These two pictures of the Yellowstone River and its Grand Canyon are similar to the color pictures I have on the main Yellowstone page. In fact, I took them right after the color versions, switching cameras on the tripod. But they have quite a different feeling in black and white. The wide view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Lower Falls becomes almost abstract in black and white. Picture of snowy bank, Yellowstone River

Although I visited Yellowstone at the end of May, snow was still on the ground. Had I arrived a week earlier, many of the park roads would not yet have been plowed. The snow provided interesting contrast with the trees and dark ground— and with the Yellowstone river.

Photo of a mud pot, Yellowstone Picture of travertine in Yellowstone

Finally, here are two geothermal features. At left is a mud pot. As the name implies, it’s a fumarole crater full of mud. There’s not quite enough hot water to make it a liquid boiling pool, but just enough to shroud it in a sulphurous fog. At right is the base of a geyser that wasn’t erupting at the time. Its travertine formations still have interesting textures.


Some notes on black and white photography
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