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A July Morning of Clouds:

Waves of Beautiful Clouds Accenting a Morning Sunrise in the Tetons

To me, clouds make a sunrise—especially when the morning light splashes them with color or dances across parts of them. Some people like the bluebird clear skies, but without them, I think the scene can look plain and lifeless. To each his own, I suppose.

Splashed with Purple and Pink

Painted with Purple and Pink: You might think I got lucky capturing this image. In reality, I worked hard to get it! Of course, there’s always “some” luck involved. I had scouted this shot for a couple of weeks and told myself I’d go there the next time it looked like I had good morning light and clouds. On my first scouting trip, I took a few reconnaissance shots in the daytime to check out the composition. At least three other times before this morning, I got up early and went to the same spot, only to have a large cloud cover the sunlight in the east or have a large cloud roll over the Tetons and spoil my shot. It might be difficult to say I had a “bad day” on the other mornings, but I knew they weren’t what I wanted to capture at that location. This kind of color normally only happens for a few minutes and it requires being there long before the color starts to show. (Click the image above to see it much larger)

Northeast Light

Northeast Light: The night before, I checked the weather reports. Nothing I saw indicated we’d have partly cloudy skies at daybreak, so I didn’t even set my alarm. At around 4:30 am, my golden retriever woke me up to go outside. It’s not that common for her to wake me up during the night, but when she does, she needs to go! I let her out, then stepped outside to see hints of broken clouds in the dark sky. I loaded up and headed out. I drove to my spot along the Moose/Wilson road and set up quickly at my spot. I captured the purple and pink skies, shooting a lot of panoramic parts I can stitch together as needed. At that time of the morning, I had to work very fast as the light and color is fleeting.  This image was taken while looking towards the Northeast and the rising sun. Clouds were streaming across the sky, seemingly towards the sun light.

Big Sky, Ghostly Clouds

Big Sky, Ghostly Clouds: From one vantage point, I could capture clouds in any direction that morning. I had a 70-200 mm lens set up on the Nikon D800 on a tripod for the pano image parts and then a Nikon D4 with a 24-70mm lens for the hand held wide shots like this one. Morning light was just beginning to skip along to the high tops of the clouds in this photo looking south towards Teton Village and the ski areas.

Tetons and a Big Sky

Tetons and a Patchwork of Morning Clouds: The morning color gave way to the normal morning sky and brighter clouds. On a partly cloudy days like this one, we get dark areas and occasional bands of light. Sometimes you just have to wait until specific areas light up. In this case, I got a band of light in front of the first ridge and some light on Teewinot.

Changing Light in a Big Sky

Changing Light in a Big Sky: On that morning, the clouds were the star of the show. I dropped the horizon to the lower portion—just to anchor the scene. The golden glow at the southern horizon complimented the rich blue in the higher part of the sky.

Abstract Clouds

Abstract Clouds: I took some shots straight up plus a few like this with just a hint of the mountain tops.

Ridgeline

Ridgeline: This is one of the last shots I took that morning while the clouds were still dynamic and interesting. I liked how the Tetons seemed to thrust high into the sky above the ridge of spruce trees. For the keeper versions of this scene, I was shooting from a considerable distance across the ridgeline with a 70-200 mm lens. This allowed the mountains to loom large over the row of trees. Conversely, if I had walked closer to the ridge, the trees would start feeling larger and the mountain range would appear to get smaller. Check out Distance and Scale Relationships in the Tetons (and elsewhere) for more information on this topic. (Click this image to see it much larger)

Sunrise photography is always a gamble. So many things can spoil the shots you’d like to get., When things finally do unfold properly, the rewards seem so sweet! As I drove home that morning with around 1600 sunrise images, I knew I had witnessed and captured a “special showing” put on by Mother Nature. I figured the photographers at the Mormon Row barns, Schwabacher Landing, and Snake River Overlook also had a spectacular morning. Now, I am out scouting for another “go to” place for the next possible morning light show. MJ

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Comments (2)

  1. I am going to have to try to figure out where this sunrise spot is. I will be there in late September.

  2. Lowell Schechter

    as usual Mike, fantastic images. Great dramatic clouds with the Teton Mountains .

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