Last week’s meeting: Winter in Yellowstone with Ivor Porter and Helen Stewart

Last week’s meeting: Winter in Yellowstone with Ivor Porter and Helen Stewart  


Ivor and Helen visited Yellowstone on a 10-person trip organised by Natures Images which is run by Danny Green and Mark Sissons. They spent nine days in the depths of a January winter and, if you thought the current cold snap was chilly, there was one morning on their trip where the temperature was minus 25 degrees C. Hands, feet, arms, legs, body, and especially camera batteries, had to be well insulated.


Photographing the scenery and the wildlife were well worth the travails of the cold weather and we were treated to some excellent images as well as educated on the area and the animals and birds.


Yellowstone National Park lies on a dormant super-volcano, is nearly 3,500 square miles in area and was set up in 1872 as the world’s first national park. The Native Americans called it Yellow Stone due to the colour of the rocks. Though the national park protects the wildlife within it, many of the species are under threat.


Ivor showed shots of trumpeter swans, the heaviest bird native to North America, its wingspan is massive, between 6 ft 2 in to 8 ft 2 in. The bird was hunted to near extinction and there have been successful efforts to reintroduce it to parts of North America, but numbers remain perilously low.


He had shots of the swans in flight and some superbly composed images of a pair of swans on the icy snow surrounded by nothing but white – something that certain camera club judges would be cropping with a vengeance. This artistic compositional theme of a small subject within a large minimalist frame was picked up in other, equally impressive images.


In this great expanse Helen chose some shots that were inspired by what she called the ‘volte face’ approach. In this vast landscape as all other photographers were capturing the magnificence of the landscape Helen took time to turn her camera the other way and focussed on the detail of the hoar frost with exquisite results.


Despite all this cold weather there were lots of areas with steam billowing out from the volcanic ground which gave great opportunities for shooting subjects in misty landscapes. This vapour freezes immediately on contact and there were some sublime shots of ice encrusted plants.


There were lots of wildlife to photograph: the pronghorn, looks like an antelope but the fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere, the shy and elusive bobcat, the big horn sheep, whose horns didn’t look all that big compared to the magnificent moose, cayote, wolves and the common and garden red fox. Ivor’s shot of a red fox, his third favourite image he has ever taken, showed that you don’t need an exotic subject to produce a stunner. The fox was small in the frame at the bottom left of the image, caught in the vastness of the white wilderness. It was superb. Ivor also showed his all-time second favourite, a study of ‘Tom’s tree’. Again a superb minimalist composition which exuded a sense of solitariness, a sense of scale. The dark tree alone in a vast white winter wonderland.


Helen also showed her favourite shot of the trip. A photograph of a bison. Helen said that technically the shot may not be perfect but to her it echoed down the ages when we painted bison on cave walls, and tens of thousands of years later we continue to capture this noble beast.


There were lots of shots of bison, like the trumpeter swans they were hunted to near extinction and are now recovering but to numbers that no way near the levels before Europeans invaded the continent.


Many thanks to Ivor and Helen for such an enjoyable evening and for sharing such outstanding images.

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Oxford Photographic Society