I just returned from an amazing week in the Grand Teton National Park leading a workshop to photograph the Fall color and amazing landscapes. Working with my co-leader, Jack Graham, our week was jam packed with an amazing group of folks who made the week fly by in the blink of an eye.
I arrived in Jackson a 1 1/2 days before the workshop after a 13 hour drive from Portland Oregon. The drive was long yes, but the weather was good so it didn’t seem so bad (compared to the winter trip). I put on a good audio book and spent my drive time engrossed in a story. Upon arrival I met up with Jack and over dinner we discussed the plan for the next couple days. We were watching the weather forecast and there was a huge storm predicted for later in the week, so we made a tentative itinerary for the group with the knowledge that we’d have to revise it each day as the weather changed.
The next day, we headed out early to scout various locations around the park. If you’ve never been, GTNP is not a huge park (compared to Yellowstone or Yosemite) so we were able to hit many of the popular locations to check on the fall color. The color was coming in, but it wasn’t at peak color yet…still a lot of green in the trees. However, it looked really promising! We also managed to shoot a couple of frames from various locations, because, well, we are photographers and that’s what we do.
After spending the day scouting locations in the park, it was back to Jackson to take care of some details before we met up with the group. Around dinner time, we met our group of folks, some new acquaintances and some we’ve been with before on previous workshops. Everyones energy was high and looking forward to the days ahead. We didn’t bother handing out the pre-printed itinerary because just in a day, the weather forecast had changed and already we had to adapt the schedule to achieve the goals of maximizing photographic opportunities, AND, providing enough classroom time for folks to perhaps learn some new information.
The next day we arose early for a sunrise shoot at Schwabacher Landing, probably one of the most iconic locations in the park. We arrived at the parking area over an hour before blue hour and already there were several cars in the parking lot. We made the short hike to the end of the trail and saw at least 6 other photographers already set up in the prime location. We all made room for one another and set up our tripods waiting for the sun to lighten the sky. It was a chilly 37 degrees, the first indications that winter was coming. As we waited, more photographers showed up. As the line of tripods filled up, people had to resort to forming a second row behind the first, shooting in between others. It was crowded! Despite the crowd, we were treated to an amazing sunrise. No clouds in the sky, other than some slight wispy clouds that did catch some color, and everyone produced some amazing images.
Personally, I like photographing this scene during blue hour, before the sun rises. The exposure is better balanced and the mood of the scene is more to my liking. Once the sun hits the mountains, the dynamic range of the scene can be tough to balance out the highlights and shadows.
After the sun rose, we made a leisurely walk back along the trail, photographing reflections in the water, beaver dens, trees and whatever else caught peoples eye. There is one other classic shot in this area showing a beautiful view of the Tetons and it was made even more special with the fall color in the trees and grasses.
We enjoyed clear skies for the remainder of the day as we traversed to various locations in the park and shot many images. Because it was a blank sky, we worked with the group to not include too much of the boring sky and focus on more of the details below the sky. Or, as in the case below, work in monochrome and play with the lights/darks in a composition.
We only returned to town once for a quick meal and bio break, then it was back in the field for the rest of the day. With the impending storm, we had to take advantage of the favorable weather. We visited barns, stands of aspen and cottonwoods, various overlooks and some hidden gems. Everyone was exhausted by the end of the day, yet happy with how much we had shot and how productive they were.
The next day dawned partly cloudy as the fringes of the storm started to move in. We headed to Mormon Row to photograph the barns at sunrise. The clouds were so amazing and brought so much drama to the scene, that it just screamed to be shot in monochrome! In fact, because the clouds were so amazing all day, I spent much of the day producing monochrome images and forgoing color photographs. Well, I shoot both RAW and JPEG, so my jpegs were monochrome and the RAW is in color which allows me to choose and I do LOVE the Fujifilm Acros film simulations in camera.
As the day progressed, we kept pushing to visit the iconic and out of the way locations. The clouds kept building and the forecast was for 1″-2″ of rain the following day.
One of my favorite subjects in the park are the trees. Aspens and cottonwoods. Whether it’s in Fall or Winter, I just love the leaves, bark and shapes of the trees. We pulled off the side of the road near Jackson Lake in the afternoon to shoot an amazing stand of trees and worked with the group for over an hour in this area. For some it was a bit challenging just shooting trees, yet once you hone your vision to see more creatively many different subjects become clear and we made some amazing photographs in this area. Brief side note…it was hilarious that while we were there with 3 cars parked and us out in the grass, so many people stopped their cars and came over thinking that we were shooting wildlife and when they found out we were shooting trees, the looks on their face was priceless.
Wildlife is a big attraction in GTNP as well as neighboring Yellowstone and there are a lot of folks driving around looking for critters. In the Fall though, the wildlife is a bit scarce and it was a treat to see anything. We did see a couple of coyotes off in the distance as well as a herd of bison way out in a field with no way to photograph them. Later on this day, we drove out the Moose-Wilson road, which is more forested and closer to the mountains. We stopped at one trailhead to photograph the trees and mountains and noticed a ton of cars stopped along the road. As we got out of the car, someone drove by and said a big bull moose was headed our way. So we quickly scanned the hillside as we swapped out our wide angle lenses for telephoto ones. I scrambled in to the brush to try and get a good angle to intercept the moose, however it was moving fast through the brush and only afforded time for a couple of quick bursts from my Fujifilm X-T3 on Continuous High shooting. I was thankful I managed to get one frame that is worthy to share. It does pay to know your camera and settings so that when fleeting opportunities present themselves, you are not fumbling with gear or settings.
By the end of the day, we had worked our way back down to Mormon row to photograph sunset on the mountains with the barns in the foreground. GTNP is not really a sunset kind of park, more sunrise than anything. Just not any great locations for sunset because the mountains block most of the sunset action. If there are high clouds over the mountains that could pick up light, that can be good, but generally, sunsets are tough in the park. However, we made the best of it and finished out the day on a good note.
Epic storms were forecast for Montana and huge rainfall predicted for Jackson, so we planned to spend this day in the classroom doing image reviews and teaching. Typically we intersperse classroom with field work, so each day as folks go out, they can apply what they learned the previous day. However on this trip, we front loaded the shooting in to the first two days knowing we probably wouldn’t get out the last day and a half. The day went wonderfully and everyone shared their amazing images. I just love seeing how other people see and photograph the same location that I’m at. We all see differently and how someone else interprets a scene can be really interesting and enlightening to me.
By the end of the workshop, everyone was feeling fulfilled, tired and extremely happy with the time we spent together. All in all, a very successful time was had by all.
About me: I am a full time photography workshop leader and creative instructor based in Portland Oregon. Leading both group and 1×1 sessions, I strive to elevate each persons creative vision and technical prowess so they can better realize their artful potential.