Best of the Tetons

Old Patriarch Tree

Where to go and when to be there?

Old Patriarch Tree

Old Patriarch Tree at first light: June 14, 2013

Advice from a long time Jackson Hole resident with strategies based on some key factors.

When to go—and where? I’ve lived in Jackson Hole for over 26 years and have been photographing extensively in the past 8 or so years. I get up early, grab something quick to eat and head north out of town. I like to go out “with a clean slate”, meaning I am allowing myself to be totally flexible and take advantage of the mornings offerings—whatever they might be. Of course, there are some days, I go out hoping to find moose and end up spending the entire evening with them. The trip down to Schwabacher Landing at 3:00 am in the morning is another example of a dedicated, planned trip. But most days, I essentially go with the flow.

There are two major factors at play about the time I make it to the Gros Ventre Junction just north of town. First: Clouds. If the Grand is covered with thick clouds, and if it looks like it will stay covered up, I start thinking about shooting images that don’t benefit by having a Grand Teton backdrop. To be honest, the lack of clouds over the Tetons also sends me in other directions, but clouds can roll in at any time and change everything. The second factor: Wind. When it is dead calm, I start thinking about finding water and reflections. Sometimes, I hear my wind chimes already making their music while I am getting ready. Half of my decisions are being made for me! There are other options, of course!


Alpenglow at Oxbow Bend: June 12, 2013

For mornings with good clouds and no wind, I might hurry to Schwabacher Landing, a few pools of water along the Snake, or Oxbow Bend, Jenny Lake, String Lake, or Jackson Lake. I’d add Bradley Lake, Taggart Lake, and Phelps Lake to the list, but I am seldom up early enough to get there in time. Even if the mountains are covered with clouds, it is possible to get great images with reflections at any calm water location.

On windy days, I look for subjects that won’t be too affected by it. The Old Patriarch tree is an example, along with the Mormon Row barns and the Chapel of the Transfiguration. Snake River Overlook images are usually fine during light winds. The buck rail fences across from Triangle X Ranch work great. Windy mornings are usually fine for photographing moving water and streams. Oh yes, you can get creative on windy days. Try setting up in front of a bunch of wildflowers and shoot with a long exposure to capture the blurry, wind blown flowers and leaves. Wildflowers are usually everywhere in the summer.

Overcast days and foggy days can be both challenging and rewarding. The fog acts as a giant light box, so it is usually a good time to photograph flowers, leaves, bark, and anything in which you don’t aim up into the sky. It is seldom windy on a foggy morning, so you get the saturated light and little movement in the subject. The Lawrence Rockefeller Preserve is a good spot for flowers, shrubs and leaves. In the fall, the Moose-Wilson road can have wildlife and berry bushes that aren’t affected much by wind and still photograph well in overcast or foggy light. If you are patient on a foggy morning, it will likely yield some very interesting shots of the valley. Not long after the sun starts hitting the fog, it will usually lift. Sometimes, the wind picks up and blows the fog back from open areas. Keep your camera ready and be ready. Magic can happen, but it usually doesn’t last long. Fog usually settles into the lower parts of the valley, including town and the low areas across from Triangle X Ranch near the Cunningham Cabin. It can help to simply drive along the highway and look for breaks in the fog. Often, it is clear only a mile or two up the road.

Cloudless days, or “bluebird sky” days are not as interesting to me. Ski photographers love it. I typically shoot something else for a while or wait for clouds. If I do shoot on the bluebird days, I typically crop in tight and leave only a little of the blue sky. It is still worth shooting a few because you never know what you might do with an image or who might like one with no clouds.

Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, try going out without an agenda. With an agenda already implanted in your head, you’ll likely feel compelled to follow it and pass up something worthy in the process. If you see something interesting, stop and shoot it! In almost all cases, that opportunity won’t be there again, and the odds are fairly high that whatever you were in a rush to get to won’t be that great.

Mike R. Jackson

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Comments (2)

  1. Lynn Shinney

    Mike: Great information and pictures on each of your posts. I have met you a few times out taking pictures. Chuck and I are heading that direction tomorrow.(Aug.2) Leo can’t make it this time. I enjoy your posts on Ynet also.

  2. Mike, I really like your suggestion “try going out without an agenda.” Typically I am thinking about where to go as I drive over the pass without letting the environment make that decision. The result is that I am likely to feel disappointed when my choice doesn’t lead to a good environment in which to shoot. I’ll try the “without an agenda” approach.

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