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The Best Yellowstone Photos Don’t Have Blue Skies

Bluebird days are great, but Yellowstone comes alive when the sky lights up at sunrise and sunset.

Our country’s first national park is a haven for wildlife photographers, but it’s also a favorite among landscape and night sky enthusiasts. You’ll find that when you wake up early or stay up late, you’ll get some of the park’s most iconic spots all to yourself. We’ve compiled our favorite locations and tips from Tamron on how to get the best Yellowstone photos at sunrise, sunset and deep into the night.

Sunrise at Mammoth Hot Springs

Sunrise at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone
Sunrise at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone (Photo: Ken Hubbard)

From the hotel and campground at Mammoth Hot Springs, or the nearby town of Gardiner, the beautiful travertine terraces are an easy early morning shooting location. Because the area is surrounded by mountains, the moment the sun becomes visible over their tops will depend on where you’re standing. There’s two boardwalk loops to explore, so choose a spot to wait for the sunrise and then stroll the paths, watching how the light interacts with the steam coming off the hot springs.

Tamron Tips: Clean the front element of your lens when shooting into the rising sun. If there’s dirt or dust on your front element, you might end up with lens flares in your image. Sunrise is usually a high contrast situation, so be sure to expose for the highlights to maintain detail. To create a starburst effect with the rising sun, stop down your aperture to F/16 or F/22 and wait until the sun just crests the horizon. A wide-angle zoom lens like the Tamron 17-28mm F/2.8 Di III RXD or the 28-200mm F/2.8-5.6 Di III RXD is a great choice for both sunrise and sunset.

Sunset at Fountain Paint Pots

Sunset at Fountain Paint Pots in Yellowstone
Sunset at Fountain Paint Pots in Yellowstone (Photo: Ken Hubbard)

With expansive views and lots of steaming thermal features, Fountain Paint Pots is a great place to capture the sunset. The trailhead is located on Grand Loop Road, north of Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic. The trail follows a boardwalk along a 0.6-mile loop. Give yourself plenty of time before sunset to get to the trailhead as bison jams often delay drivers in the park. Keep your headlamp accessible so you can watch your footing after dark around the thermal area.

Be sure to stick around after the sun sets and the colors begin to fade for blue hour. This time of day is the hour just before sunrise or just after sunset when a beautiful blue tint envelopes the landscape. It’s a great time to take photos.

Tamron Tips: When shooting sunset, set your aperture to F/16 or F/22 to maximize your depth of field. If you’re using a tripod, use the lowest ISO to maximize quality. If you’re hand-holding, set your ISO to the lowest value that allows a fast enough shutter speed to get a clear image.

Night Skies at Grand Prismatic

Milky Way over Grand Prismatic Pool in Yellowstone
Milky Way over Grand Prismatic Pool in Yellowstone (Photo: William Nylander)

The gorgeous and vast multi-colored pool is a must for photographers during the day, but when the stars come out it’s a perfect place to capture the night skies. The ubiquitous crowds disappear and the stars are reflected on the glassy water. Use an app like PhotoPills ( to help you determine where and when the Milky Way will rise and scout the boardwalks during the day to find a good place to set up. Keep your headlamp on as you navigate the dark path and set up your tripod. There aren’t guardrails at the edge of the walkways so it’s important that once you turn off your light, you don’t move to avoid a dangerous misstep.

Tamron Tips: A fast aperture, ultra wide-angle lens like a Tamron 17-28mm F/2.8 for full-frame or 11-20mm F/2.8 for crop-sensor is best for night photography. Settings will vary based on conditions, but you’ll likely want to shoot at F/2.8 at an ISO between 1600-6400 and a shutter speed between 10 and 30 seconds. Be sure to have a stable tripod and shutter release or remote timer so you don’t shake your camera while taking a long exposure, and turn off your lens’ image stabilization.

You’ll likely need to manually focus as your auto-focus won’t be effective in the dark. Use the magnifier on your camera’s LCD screen to enlarge a bright star or planet, then move your focus ring back and forth until the point of light is sharp. Zoom in on your first few images to make sure the stars are sharp. You can use a piece of tape to secure the focus ring, so you don’t accidentally bump it out of focus.

These tips were sponsored by Tamron. Learn more and find your perfect camera lens at