How To Photograph Geysers In Yellowstone

Photographing geysers can be tricky. Here are some do and don’ts:

First, do not stand downwind from the geyser or all you will see is steam.

Second, make sure to meter geysers correctly for accurate exposure.   On a sunny day, particularly in mid day, the steam from the geyser will be white, you can under expose the image if you meter the camera exposure directly to the white geysers.  You can also easily over expose the geyser if it was surrounded by lots of trees or darker rocks and you expose the camera’s meter directly to them. 

You can fix these with three approaches:

1. Increase/decrease exposure while taking the image

Choose spot metering if you can.  Point the camera’s meter (typically you can see it in the center of viewfinder) to an area that's darker than the geyser steam, but brighter than the trees.  If you are not sure where the spot is pointing to, just point the camera's meter (again, center of your viewfinder) to cover half the trees (dark area) and half the geyser steam (white area) and let the camera average out the meter by producing more accurate exposure.  Lock the exposure before you re-compose an image.  Your camera's manual should give you instructions on how to lock the exposure.

2. If you can't get the image correctly, you might be able to fix the problem in post processing

In Adobe Lightroom, this takes only 1-2 seconds.  See the retouching video 1 and video 2 I created a few weeks ago which included exposure correction in the process.  I still would strongly recommend getting the exposure correct while photographing, not post processing.  To be a great photographer, you need to first learn photography, then Lightroom or Photoshop.

3. Take HDR image to even out the image exposure

I love the HDR function on my Canon 5D MarkIII and tried many times for the geyser images.  It worked out like charm.  However, most beginner cameras do not have this function, although you can still do HDR by auto bracketing and stacking at least 3 differently exposed images, it is a bit time consuming in post processing compared to tip 2 above.  The output of an HDR, if you know how to create, might show more vibrant colors and appear "nicer" to the eyes.

You can find more Yellowstone geyser images on the Day 28 and Day 30 of my 2013 national park road trip.  I took most of them in HDR.


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