Best of the Tetons

Photographing the Mormon Row Barns:

Tips about Distance and Scale Relationships in the Tetons (and elsewhere)

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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

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.

Chapel of the Transfiguration

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.


If you like this post, please SHARE if with any of the Social Media tools on this page! Thanks! MJ





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Comments (6)

  1. Leo

    That is one fine shot Mike. The sky color and light dusting of snow really adds to the barn & Tetons.

  2. Eugene Wright

    A great explanation of the not so obvious. This falls in the “stuff you can/should use” category.

  3. Hi Eugene,
    It has been quite a few years, but I took a workshop at the local Art Center with an instructor named Dave Ryan. He pointed out this relationship to us in the class. You are correct. Most of us more or less already know it, but can’t quite vocalize or visualize it completely until we see it in a slideshow like this. I was surprised how much moving from 100 yards to 70 yards made. This also works at the Old Patriarch tree. Dave Ryan also explained how photographing the moon over the Tetons with a mid-range telephoto makes the moon look larger than if you are close to the mountains. Dang! He was correct on it, too. I am hoping this post will be a “must read” for many people and that others will help me by alerting their friends to it. Thanks again, M. Jackson

  4. This is a really good educational piece that I’ll share with my peer mentors. I’ve read many articles about this but your examples and photographs of the Mormon Row barns really help the reader … especially if the reader were to go to Mormon Row and walk this out. Nice job.

  5. Thanks for the time and effort to put this together. Heading over tommorow and appreciate the tips!

  6. Kathie Ives Smith

    Interesting explanation and illustrations of scale, Mike. Thanks for taking the time to put this together. I love your snowy images of the John Moulton Barn and the Chapel of the Transfiguration. I am happy to say that when I shot the barn in 2010 it is very similar in scale as yours. I included the corrals but not the cottownwood.

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