Behind the Shot: Gallatin Canyon

On a cold winter day after a snow storm had passed through Gallatin Canyon, I decided to get out and photograph the Gallatin River and Castle Rock. I had been waiting for just the right conditions for the image to come together. The Gallatin River is a small river flowing out of Yellowstone National Park through rocky Gallatin Canyon.

gallatin-river-web Gallatin River, Gallatin Canyon, Montana. Wista 4×5 DXII, 135mm Nikkor Lens, Fujichrome Velvia 50, exposure unrecorded.

I anticipated that Castle Rock, a high-altitude block of limestone pillars, would pick up the evening light and reflect it onto the dark blue pools of the river. I found an area where many large boulders were exposed above the water. On top of each boulder were piles of snow like they had been topped off with a large scoop of melted ice cream. The pine trees laden with snow shimmered in the sun with a fresh coat of snow on every branch. I waded out into the river with pack boots on, which (I found out later) were not waterproof. In the winter, the river is very shallow. It’s about a foot deep closer the shoreline.

Tip: Leave your pack boots at home. Get some seamless boots if you are going to be in or near water. I recently bought a pair of one-piece, no-seam Muck boots. They work great.

WARNING: Walking in streams or rivers in the winter is potentially dangerous to your health. You cannot see what’s hiding under the snow or ice. Be very aware of your surroundings and where you are stepping and what you are stepping on. Once you become wet, hypothermia can set in very quickly.

My fingers were already numb because I was wearing fingerless gloves. Whoever came up with that idea? Aren’t gloves made to have fingers? As I pulled out my older Olympus film camera from underneath my coat, I fumbled around and dropped it in to the freezing water. I quickly grabbed my camera from the water. Afterwards, my hands felt like frozen slabs of meat hanging from my arms.

Tip: Make sure you have a camera strap on your camera. I hate camera straps, but it would have saved me a lot of trouble that day and I would have said a few less cuss words.

I was using my Olympus 35mm film camera to preview through the viewfinder the best composition I could find before setting up my 4×5 view camera on my tripod. After I had looked around for a good composition with the help of the Olympus, I took several shots with my 4×5 field camera

Tip: If you are going to be setting your tripod in a moving river or stream, add some weight to it. Span the legs out if possible. My tripod has a hook in the bottom of the center column so I can hang a bag of rocks, providing more stability.

When I got home, all I could do is take the lens off the camera and let it dry out in our warm house. Once it dried out, I looked through the viewfinder and I could see little bugs crawling across my viewing screen inside the camera. I couldn’t believe it! My camera became the home of tiny microbial insects. Lo and behold, days later I was still able to use the camera even with all bug carcasses floating around inside. Had it been a modern digital camera, I believe it would have become a nice paper weight on my desk.

Tip: Consider insuring your equipment.

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” That day I was unprepared. Preplanning is the key to taking successful photos in the winter. For even more specific tips for ensuring a safe and successful winter photography outing, make sure to read my article on the subject: Essential Gear and Tips for Winter Photography.

Stay warm and be safe!

dean-sauskojus-new About the author: Dean Sauskojus is a professional nature and landscape photographer with a passion for capturing the beauty of the great outdoors, particularly Yellowstone National Park and surrounding areas. His photography has been published in Smithsonian Nature Guides, Browntrout Publishers Calendars, Outdoor Photographer, and many regional publications like Northwest Travel. Dean’s images have appeared in galleries and at art fairs, and have sold nationally and internationally. You can find his brand new portfolio at

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6 Responses to “Behind the Shot: Gallatin Canyon”

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  3. Mark Michener

    I was photographing my dog swimming just off shore with a new film camera that had a digital display. I slipped on a wobbly rock and fell with the camera just dipping in the water as I quickly pulled it up. I left it out in the Don to dry hoping it would work. The last time I turned it on to check it, the message read “Help me”!

  4. Katherine

    I'm glad you survived and got the great shot. They do make knitted wool fingerless gloves with a mitten pocket attached to the top. The top is held back with Velcro so it's easy to pull over your fingers. You may still find them at L.L. Bean. I've also seen then made by local artisans and sold seasonally at The Common Market, a cooperative natural food store, in Frederick, Maryland.

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  6. Jerry

    Fingerless gloves. Have you considered the fingerless gloves stuck inside mittens, then when you are ready , pull off mittens [attached to a string so they don't fall into water] , then shoot , then pull mittens back on?