Yellowstone’s Black Sands, Biscuit and Midway Geyer Basin are located on the lower western portion of the park loop road just minutes from the Upper Geyser Basin. All three basins contain many beautiful thermal features with each having some star attractions.

So let’s begin at Black Sands, then work our way north on the Yellowstone Loop Road.

Black Sands Geyser Basin

Black Sands is a small geyser basin just a mile north of Upper Geyser Basin.  It is home to the stunning Emerald Pool as well as lesser known Sunset Lake, Cliff Geyser, Rainbow Pool and more.  As an added bonus, in fall bugling elk and bison frequently emerge from the early morning mist around the basin.  In fact one morning I saw a wolf walking the boardwalk!

Emerald Pool

This pool is also referred to as Emerald Spring.  The unique green water color of Emerald Pool is due to the presence of yellow bacteria. In fact, this  bacteria provides the stunning distinctive yellow edge around the pool.  

Photo Tips:

    • Emerald Pool is best photographed in the morning with a wide angle lens in the range of 16-24mm.  
    • The boardwalk is so close to the pool that the interesting mineral colors that surround this pool can’t be completely captured without an ultra-wide angle lens.
    • Tripods are difficult to use here due to the tight space so I recommend handholding the camera.
    • Photograph Emerald with a small aperture for maximum DOF and be sure to use a polarizer.

Sunset Lake

Photo Tips:

    • This is obviously a sunset location although I found about 2 hours before sunset also produced good light on the lake.  
    • Again a wide angle lens is best although there is a bit more room to work than at Emerald Pool.  
    • Lastly don’t forget your polarizer.

Biscuit Basin

Continuing north on the Yellowstone loop road for about a mile we arrive at Biscuit Basin.  It is another relatively small basin whose main attraction is Sapphire Pool, and just like Black Sands, it is loaded with cool thermal features.  Biscuit Basin originally was named for the biscuit like deposits that lined Sapphire Pool. Sadly the earthquake of 1959 changed the landscape of this basin and destroyed the “biscuits”.  

Be sure to leave plenty of time to photograph this basin as there are many cool thermal features to photograph here such as Shell Geyser pictured below.

Sapphire Pool

Photo Tips:

    • Sapphire Pool is a bit difficult to isolate and photograph due to it’s proximity to the boardwalk.
    • Again, a wide angle lens is essential in order to photograph the entire pool.
    • I also highly recommend a polarizer, tripod and a small aperture for maximum DOF.  
    • Be sure to include interesting foreground objects such as the dead tree that lead viewers eyes into the pool.
    • Lastly “watch your edges” and carefully compose your shots to eliminate distracting elements. Adjacent to Sapphire are other pools as well as a river that can distract from the main subject.

Shell Geyser

Photo Tip:

This geyser is very close to the boardwalk and easily photographed with a 70-200 lens or even a shorter lens.  Exposure can be a bit tricky due to all the white so I encourage readers to photograph in manual mode, spot meter on the brightest spot and expose accordingly.  I spot metered the white in the left top corner and overexposed by 1.5 stops to ensure the highlights were not blown out. 

Midway Geyser Basin

Midway Geyser Basin, home to Grand Prismatic Pool is probably the next most popular basin in Yellowstone after the Upper Geyser Basin.  However, with the exception of Grand Prismatic and Opal Pool, the rest of the basin is just moderately photogenic.

Grand Prismatic Pool

Grand Prismatic Spring/Pool is the largest hot springs in the United States and the third largest in the world. This is a must photograph destination for photographers.  It is 370 feet in diameter and over 10 feet deep with an amazing array of colors unlike any other thermal feature.  

There are two entirely different ways to photograph Grand Prismatic: 

  1. Fairy Falls Trailhead

About 1 mile into the hike to Fairy Falls, a .6 mile short trail leads to a great overlook of Grand Prismatic Pool which I highly recommend.  However, it is beyond extremely crowded on the overlook so do not bother with a tripod.  Bring lens in the range of 28-200mm and handhold the camera.  I must point out that as of this post, I have heard the park is planning to close the parking lot at this trailhead but as of May 2021 all reports indicate it has not yet been removed. Lastly, be sure to carry bear spray on this trail.

2.  Midway Geyser Basin

Photographed from the basin boardwalk, this image illustrates a ground level view of Grand Prismatic Pool.  As you can see the steam is obscuring most of the view of the hillside and the rest of Grand Prismatic.   Although the pool may have less steam at midday, finding a parking spot later in the day is extremely difficult.  Arriving very early and staying a while is the key for photographing this geyser. Due to Prismatic’s size, there is no way to capture the entire pool in a single image. Instead, work on compositions that focus on Grand Prismatic’s interesting lines and colors. Be sure to also stand on top of the boardwalk benches to obtain a slightly elevated view of Grand Prismatic.  Lens wipes and a polarizer are essential here.

Opal Pool

Opal Pool is a hot spring with beautiful blue water and vibrant orange edges that sits on the northwest side of the Midway Geyser Basin boardwalk.  From the boardwalk, expansive views of Yellowstone Park’s northwestern terrain can be seen behind Opal Pool. For the above composition, I chose a small aperture setting on my camera to ensure edge to edge and background sharpness.   Also a lens in the 28-70 range is ideal for this location.  Mornings and evening both work for this location but I am particularly found of the late afternoon light when the orange minerals around Opal Pool glow.  A tripod or monopod work well here as well as a polarizer.

Summary

I have only had a chance to scratch the surface of Yellowstone’s thermal features in my Yellowstone blog series.  So before I close this post, let me leave you with a list of few other basins to be sure to include on your photo stops.

  • West Thumb
  • Fountain Paint Pots
  • Firehole Drive
  • Norris Geyser Basin

To view some of my Yellowstone images, be sure to check out: YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK

Thanks for joining me on another stop along my Mountain to Sea Photo Journey. If you have missed my other Yellowstone posts be sure to check out: Yellowstone Geyser Basins- Mammoth Hot Springs and How to Photograph Yellowstone’s Upper Geyser Basin.  My next two posts will be a bit different as I address the challenges of full time travel as a photographer and also RVing with a pet.  

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