Taste Of The Tetons Part I -> Photography Tips
One of my biggest regrets on our original route East was that we were going to miss Grand Teton National Park. More than any other Mountain Range in the USA the Large Breasts had been calling me to photograph them for years. There was something about their shape, their errrrmm “pointiness” that just seemed so terribly irresistible, photo-wise naturellement. I refer of course to their common name “Les Trois Tetons” (= The Three Breasts, now called Grand Tetons), which legend has it** was given to them by French-Canadian or Iroquois fur trappers in the early 1800’s. One may imagine the historic conversation went something like this (I’m translating into broken English for the ease of my readers):
“Claude, regarde zee mountains, zey are magnifique, non?”
“Oui, Jacques, zey are so round, so large, so pointy”
“Ah oui, très pointy. Zey are from the ground like…like zee breasts of Madelaine from ze stomach of ze earth” Keep in mind that these fur trappers had likely not seen a woman in a long time
“Claude, your eye is parfait. They are as breasts, three large and belle woman’s breasts” A reaaaaly long time…
“Oui, it is so. Ve vil name zem les “Les Trois Tetons” Jacques. It can be no other.” They then went on to talk about breasts for the next 3 weeks.
The rest, as they say, is history.
**Note/ There is some controversy in this naming thing and some sources say the Native Indian Tribe, the Teton Sioux are the origin of the name. The other version is far more interesting for blog purposes, however….
I cannot deny that the first view of these mountains is inspirational. The insanely sharp granite spires rise like, well you know, from the valley with almost zero foothills up to a high-point of 13,770 feet (4,197 m) in such a dramatic way that they seem almost unnatural. This phenomenon is the result of the Teton fault which thrust (and continues to thrust) the mountains violently upwards while the valley (Jackson Hole) sinks. For this reason they are relatively young-born mountains, a mere ~10 million years old, and so they’ve lost none of their edge.
They are indeed so pointy…so magnifique!
Coming in here we knew had limited time so we decided ahead of time that we’d focus on three key things -> photography (obviously), beer (naturally) and stuff we could do with doggie (which was a challenge). On the photography side I’d seen tons of cool pictures of the Tetons and knew what I wanted, but not exactly how to get it. What’s the best time of day to photograph? Where? How do I get to the best views? I can’t say I got ALL the shots I wanted here, but I definitely got the lowdown on the details. That’s what this post is for….how to get your first taste of the Tetons…photography-wise.
What Time Of Day To Photograph?
The one thing I had not thought about before we came here was orientation. The 40-mile long Teton mountains range runs in a north to south direction, and all the famous photographs of them are taken from the East side. What this means in practical terms is that you have to take sunrise photos if you want them bathed in light. At sunset if you have good cloud action you can get some really cool sky colors, but the mountains will always be in shadow at that time.
Even worse, at least from my point of view, is that if you want to catch alpenglow (= the cool, reddish tinge of first light on the mountains) you need to have your butt AT your photo shooting location at least 10 minutes before actual sunrise. Alpenglow only happens in the first few minutes after sunrise so you have to be in your spot, set-up and ready to shoot when the magic occurs. Five minutes too late and you’ve missed it. So, depending on where you’re staying you’ll need to be up ~45 mins to an hour before sunrise to have enough time to drive to location and get the shot.
Those who know me know that I am but a zombie of myself at sunrise. It typically takes 3 pots of coffee and much alone time before I blossom into anything resembling the land of the living. So, with our few days here I planned three agonizing sunrise shoots (the most I could possibly handle), getting up at ~5:15 am and persuading Paul to go along for the drive (there’s true love for you) so I wouldn’t kill myself on the road from blurry-eyed lack of sleep. Was it worth it? Well, you’ll see….
Where To Photograph?
Interestingly enough the best shots of the Tetons (where you can see the whole range) are actually taken from outside the park along the many viewpoints from Hwy 89. Once you get inside the park, you can get some nice views too, of course, but you’ll be too close to the entire range to get them in the shot. Of course just about ANY view of the Tetons is a good one, but there are 4 “famous” locations from which most photographers aspire to shoot:
1/ Schwabachers Landing
This is accessed via a dirt road from Hwy 89 just a few miles north of the south entrance to the park. Because the river is calm here, and has many beaver-made dams it’s the one place almost guaranteed to give you a perfect reflection of the entire Teton range in the water, all the time. If you only do ONE sunrise shot or only go shooting ONE place, this is the one I recommend. It is…to say the least…mind-blowing!
Drive down to either one of the parking areas and then walk the trail around the river to find a spot. If you come at sunrise it helps to have a ND filter, or plan to take multiple exposures (and blend them later in a photo program) since the foreground will often be much darker than the background. If you come mid-morning everything will be nicely lit and you don’t need anything special to get a good shot. Be prepared for company here. This is a popular place, and for good reason! See on a map HERE.
2/ Snake River Overlook
This is located just a few more miles north of #1 off Hwy 89 and is not really the most scenic spot in the park in my mind, but it’s perhaps the most famous since this is where Ansel Adams took his well-known shot of the Tetons in 1942. First of all, no-one can master the master, but secondly the spot has overgrown quite a bit in the past 73 years so the Snake River isn’t nearly as visible anymore. Still, as a photographer you’ve got to go here just to stand in that same spot and try to soak up some of the greatness of the man. Mid-morning is fine for this shot, IMHO since you’ve got the whole scene lit at that time. See on a map HERE.
3/ Oxbow Bend
Located at the northern entrance of the park on Hwy 89, this is another “classic” angle with generally very good chance of mountain reflections. You won’t get the whole Teton range in this shot (because of the angle), but you’ll get a partial selection with reflections in a large bend of the Snake River. You can get the shot right at the turn-out, but you can also walk a little ways down for a slightly different angle. Once again sunrise is the time to get the mountains in light and once again, be prepared for company in this popular location. See on a map HERE.
4/ Mormon Row & Moulton Barns
The mormon’s settled the area around Antelope Flats in the late 1890’s and a very few, select barns are still around from that time. What makes this spot especially appealing is that the barns are perfectly positioned in front of the Teton range, making for a rather postcard-perfect shot. It’s such an ideal shot in fact, that the barns here are thought to be the most photographed in the USA! Once again sunrise is the time you’ll get the barns with the mountains bathed in Alpenlight behind them, but mid-morning can be very nice too. If you’ve got cloud action going and are able to do some combo exposures sunset can be pretty darn spectacular, with the added bonus that practically no-one else goes that time of day. See on a map HERE.
There are many other, lesser-known (or lesser visited) shooting areas including Jenny Lake (scramble down to the lake-bed for the best shots), Historic Miller House (with the Teton’s in the background), and of course wildlife spots. There are TONS of wildlife all around the Teton Range, most of which is best seen either early morning or late evening. Moose will migrate to the river in the mornings, Bison roam the valley, Bear are in the woods, Pronghorn can be seen on the grassy plains and Bighorn Sheep can be spotted in the mountains. It’s best to have a long (and fast!) lens for capturing wildlife, but sometimes you can get lucky with a regular camera too.
How many ways can I say it? Frikkin Awesome? Out-Of-Body Amazing? Bloody Stupendous? Big Breasts are the best?
We hit Schwabachers Landing the first pre-sunrise outing and had perfect water-calm conditions and the most mind-blowing photo session I’ve ever had in my life (the absolute best photo place in the park IMHO). The second pre-sunrise outing we hit Jenny Lake where sadly, a breeze chopped up reflections (darn Nature), but I was the only photographer there making it a rather magical experience of its own. Mormon Row was only ~10 mins from our park so I decided to chance sunset photography there and ended up with two very satisfying outings, both of which only had one or two other photographers there. We drove the park loop and hit the other locations mid-morning, making for some very satisfying shoots, and with peeks of fall in the air (we’re probably around 2 weeks away from the “big show”) I even managed a few fall shots.
Lastly thanks to fellow RVers (and new buddies) Tales From The Back Road, I was able to track down and shoot a grainy shot of a Bull Moose early morning near the campground. By the way, Mary and Al are not only lovely people, but are both accomplished artists too and spend most of their summers around the Tetons so if you want to see some awesome stuff, DO check out their blog.
That wraps up my photo tips for the area. I’ll write about doggie stuff next and then, as usual, do a campground review. All I can say is that the Big Breasts were well worth it, even with the agony of pre-sunrise wakeup calls. Everything I expected them to be and more 🙂
Useful Grand Teton Photo Links:
- Blog -> Best Of The Tetons. Local photographer with lots of great info on the area. Click HERE.
- Blog -> Tales From The Back Road. RVers & artists that spend their summers here. Click HERE.
- Photo Map -> Cool photo map from wyophoto.com showing all the “main” photo locations in the Tetons. Click HERE.
- Photo Info -> Two great links with info & pics about the top areas. Click HERE and HERE.