Tips about Distance and Scale Relationships in the Tetons (and elsewhere)
Note: The slideshow is automatic, but you can click the right arrow to advance to the next photo!
The historic old barns on Mormon Row are some of the most photographed barns in the country. While it is common to watch tourists walk up the road and take their pictures of the John Moulton Barn on Mormon Row, I believe better images can be captured by approaching the barn from a distance and shooting from various locations along the way. Let me explain. When you park at one of the pullouts just to the east of Mormon Row, you’ll likely be around 190 yards from the barn. At this distance, the mountains loom over the historic old barn and homestead. It you were to walk at a regular pace towards the barn, you would be able to witness the effect of the barn growing and the mountains shrinking. At 25 yards, or roughly the middle of the road, the barn becomes THE subject and the Teton Range become almost non-existent.
There are barns all over the country, but what makes these barns special are the Tetons behind them. When on the road, about all people get is a barn with maybe a little of the peak over it. Sliding a little to the North lets people get some barn and some of the mountain range. They are probably tickled pink. Most only stay a few minutes and are back in their vehicles.
If you take the time to watch the slide-show above, you will see how the relationship between two objects like this are affected by the distance at which you view them. It is almost like “magic”. For the shots in the slideshow, I measured each location with a rangefinder, took an image and then moved about 30 yards closer. At about 100 yards, the barn and the mountain will share about equal billing. Move in another 30 yards and the barn starts becoming the star. At the irrigation ditch, the barn is the major element and the mountains become secondary. Jump the ditch or walk over one of the boards and you’re back to the spot most people take their photographs—roughly 30 yards from the barn.
You don’t even have to carry or own a camera to watch the phenomenon happen right in front of your eyes! Again, start at the pullout and walk towards the barn. Watch it grow and watch the mountain shrink with almost every step!
The intent of this article is to explain and document the changes in scale as you approach the barns and buildings at the homestead and not so much about how to compose each shot. Much of that is a personal or subjective call. Still, I like the north barn (the John Moulton Barn) because of the additional corrals and cottonwood tree. Having those elements allow photographers to shuffle the elements in their composition by moving left or right. Clouds and shadows will also help balance elements in the scene.
The concept works much the same at the T.A. Moulton barn just south of this barn, but it is difficult to back up too far due to the vehicles and the cottonwoods. Still, I see lots of people standing right in front of the barn, knocking out the power of the mountains behind it.
Remember, the concept works about everywhere—not just in the Tetons. For example, if you wanted to make Old Faithful look huge, stand back a long ways from the crowds and shoot with a short telephoto lens. The tourists will look much like little tiny creatures against the big plume of steam and water. You can use the same strategy at the Old Patriarch tree, at about any barn or covered bridge, or even a person and a building.
Chapel of the Transfiguration: I took this image using a Tamron 150-600mm telephoto lens from the roadway loop before entering the parking lot. Notice how large the distant aspens appear in the image.
This was taken from the driveway in front of the Chapel using a Nikon 70-200mm lens. The scale of the buildings, relative to the distant trees, changed considerably.
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