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Best of the Tetons

Fall at the Barn

Making the Best of a Rainy Day:

Ideas for photography on a day when you can’t see the mountains (or if you don’t have mountains to begin with).

Sunrise Over the Buffalo Fork

Sunrise Over the Buffalo Fork

The little store at Dornans at Moose Junction has a Deli. You pick up a small order form  where you check off all the ingredients you’ll want on your sandwich that day.  You can check the kind of bread like wheat or white, the kind of meat like turkey or ham, pepper Jack cheese or any other kinds of cheese, mustard, lettuce, pickles, tomato, olives, onions, and so forth to fit your tastes. Too bad Mother Nature doesn’t offer a similar order form! We’d check snow on the mountains, a few clouds, bright foliage, calm winds, rich morning light, and  maybe throw in a moose or elk for the spice. But, it just doesn’t work that way! And, all things considered, I’m happy it doesn’t. Imagine seeing a steady stream of only those kinds of images from every photographer visiting the park.

Buffalo Valley Rainbow

Buffalo Valley Rainbow:

Instead, Mother Nature weaves a tapestry with threads of unpredictable variety. We can accept Mother Nature’s challenge of a “lousy day” (by some people standards) and embrace them as unique opportunities. That’s how I approach it anyway. On this morning (Sept. 27, 2014), the few minutes of light peaking through the morning clouds was the last direct light of the day. If we are ready, sometimes Mother Nature pays off with unexpected nuggets—like rainbows and lightning storms.

Sunrise

First Glow

All of the images on this page were taken on a single day. I never saw the Teton Mountain range, yet with a little persistence and dedication, I was able to find subjects worthy of a shot. By the end of the day, I had quite a few pleasing images.

Rolling Buckrail Fences

Rolling Buckrail Fences:

This buck rail fence was taken along the highway near the Buffalo Valley turn off at the East edge of the Park. I like finding places with variety of terrain like this to add interest. I focused on the fence at the left of the frame and let the rest fade by using a wide aperture setting on my camera.

On an overcast day, colors are usually very saturated. It is a great day to find leaves and berries. If photographing near Black Hawthorne bushes, keep an eye out for bears that feed on them.

Leaves and Drops

Leaves and Drops:

A shot like this one would be much less interesting without the water droplets from the earlier rains. Most of the berry and leaf images were taken along the Moose-Wilson Road. If I had more time, it might have fun to try to capture the drop of water falling out of the leaf on the left. Another day?

A wide aperture is great for making the background blurry or out of focus. It helps to keep important elements like this berry and droplet on the same focal plane.

Aspen Leaf

Late Season Aspen Leaf

There literally millions of opportunities along the Moose-Wilson road, but I like to find ones like this with a lot of character and a story to tell.

Aspen Trunks

Wet Aspen Trunks:

Variety is the name of the game on a rainy day. I like to shoot a lot and pick through them afterwards.

Rain Drops

Sawmill Pond Rings:

The leaves and berries above were photographed at a period of the morning when I was getting only drizzle. At some point, the drizzle turned to light rain. I captured this image at Sawmill Pond, then returned to my vehicle to dry off the camera and lens. It was a good time for lunch. For this composition, I knew I didn’t want one dark or light streak running down the center, so I moved them slightly to the left. As I look at the image now, I plan on taking a 200-400mm to the water’s edge next time and isolate even more of the drops and rings. I think there were lots of possibilities I didn’t pursue, but hey, it was raining on me!

A Second and Third Pass: For many of the shots along the Moose-Wilson Road, I carried around a Nikon D4 and my “walk-about” 28-300 mm lens. When paired and adjusted, I get nice, sharp images and the lens focuses darned close. It has a VR setting, making it a good choice for walking around and simply looking at the forest for opportunities. With a 28-300 range, I get a lot of options, too. However, if I have plenty of time (and on rainy days, I get lots of that), I start out with a 24-70 mm lens and shoot for a while, then switch to a 70-200 mm lens and walk around the same areas. Later, I connect my 200-400 and put it on a tripod, making essentially a same path as before. You’d be amazed how you find different subjects in the same area using different lenses.

Barns are great subjects on rainy days. After lunch, I headed over to Mormon Row. This shot captures the moody feeling there. The road is wet, catching some of the bright skies, and the scene is layered with drizzle and rain.

Moulton Barn with Fall Fences

Moulton Barn with Fall Fences:

This puddle of rain caught my eye as I was driving to the T.A. Moulton barn. I liked the way it leads my eye into the scene and adds some light into the otherwise dark foreground. There’s a hint of a mountain behind the barn and an indication of Fall in the distant trees.

Fall at the Barn

Fall Barn:

The “fair weather” photographers were nowhere to be found as I made it to the barn. A few hardy souls showed up, took an couple of shots and left while I was there, but essentially, I had the scene to myself. Without words, this photo tells a lot of stories.

Corrals

Corrals:

The fences and corrals at the Mormon Row barns give me plenty of chances to experiment with proportions, balance, rhythm, unity, and dominance.

On most days, the Tetons, with all their grandeur, seem to demand a lot of attention. On overcast days, it is much easier to focus on other opportunities as seen in these two images.

The Ditch

The Ditch:

Normally, the Grand is just behind the grove of aspens. The aspens often conflict with the mountains in a vista style composition, but not when you can’t see the Grand and the rest of the range.

Log Barn Corner Detail

Log Barn Corner Detail:

I like to “work into” a subject like the Mormon Row barns. I start out in the pasture and gradually move in shooting a few images all along the way. Eventually, I get to the “details”. On a cloudy day, I can find plenty of subjects.

Log Ends

Log Ends:

Closer? I stopped at this shot, but a macro photographer might go even closer. Shots like this might also be great with tilt-shift lenses.

Textures and details are easy to find at Mormon Row.

Latch and Lock

Latch and Lock:

Man made objects can also be photo worthy.

If the sky had a lot of “structure”, I would have been interested in including more of it, but with essentially blank skies, I like to point the camera down and move the horizon line to the top, or even out of the frame.

String Lake Clouds

String Lake:

This is an example of finding clouds with “structure”. Mt. Moran is just behind the clouds.

String Lake Underwater Rocks

String Lake Underwater Rocks:

I took a few images of just the underwater rocks, but without the distant bank, trunks, and rock, the image looked like a green, blurry image. The underwater rocks needed some “context” to work as a photo.

The Pines as String Lake

The Pines as String Lake:

This image just begged to be taken in the vertical or portrait orientation. I went to this spot earlier in the week hoping to find some aspens to reflect back into the clear, calm water. As I mentioned earlier, the overcast light made colors so much more naturally saturated.

Lichen Rock

Lichen Covered Rock:

Grand Teton National Park is heavily sprinkled with textures and details if you are so inclined to find them. Other people walk right by them.

Pine Bough

Lodgepole Pine Bough:

The shape of this pine bough originally caught my eye. Throw in a pine cone for effect. All I had to do was move around to let the out of focus distant bough and drops accent the scene.

Bubble

Bubbles:

Large drops of water were falling into a pool of water below a big Lodgepole Pine tree. Each drop created a bubble. I rested my camera on a small rock and captured quite a few of them. My reflection can be seen in this perfectly formed bubble. I could have used a CamRanger to help remove my silhouette, but at the time, I liked seeing myself in the bubble.

Rainy Day Comments

Rainy, foggy, and overcast days offer chances for dramatic images. The actual photography is more difficult and less forgiving, yet the images can be worth the effort and inconveniences. In most cases, it only takes a few minutes of waiting for the entire scene to change. Squalls of rain usually move through fast, sometimes accompanied by thunder and lightning. Equipment gets wet and lenses can fog up. You are expected to “pay the price” to get some of the shots, I suppose. On the positive side, there will be few others out taking photos, so you have the hot spots essentially to yourself. And, if you do stumble upon one of Mother Nature’s gifts, you’ll likely to be the only photographer there to capture it.

Droplets

Rainy Day Photography

If you venture out into inclement weather, make sure to take a few extra towels, wipes, and your rain gear. An umbrella can come in handy, even if it is awkward to handle it and all the gear. Typically, I don’t shoot during an actual rain storm. It just doesn’t seem worth it, other than a quick shot, and then head back to the cover and warmth of the truck or van. It is possible to raise the back door of my van and shoot some scenes from under it. As on every other day, I keep an eye on my histograms on the back of the camera. Occasionally, I will go ahead and bracket a scene with five images. It is fairly quick and easy to capture the parts I might need later for the High Dynamic Range images even if I seldom use them. Temperature changes can cause problems. The rule of thumb is: “You can go from warm to cool/cold without fogging up the glass on lenses and cameras, but you cannot go from cool/cold to warm”. I am much more aware of the issue in the winter when I get back into the warm truck. I use a large “zip-lock” bag to put the lens and body into to let them warm up slowly. Some of my gear started to fog on this trip, so I need be more careful going forward into late Fall and early Winter.

Information on this page can apply to anyone in almost any place in the country. Once the clouds negate the Teton range, almost everything else is equalized. Please continue to visit my blog throughout the year—not just when you are planning a trip to the Tetons. I will be including similar posts which can apply to many people in other places.

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Comments (9)

  1. Trenna

    I love them all Mike. You are a fantastic photographer no matter what the weather and I’m very thankful for this blog that you do and that you are so sharing of your talents.

  2. Maarion Dickinson

    Great shots, I love the reflecting rain drops. I suspect you had to be on your knees getting soaked to get them.

  3. Mike these are all great shots. I love to find the different angle, maybe something that everyone overlooks. And closeups, are always a great shot.

  4. Michael

    This is one of your best posts. Instructive and inspiring. That you got so many wonderful “keepers” on a day that might have suggested baling out to many of us is really impressive, Mike. You not only know your area, you’re one heck of a photographer. Well done and thank you very much for showing us how its done.

  5. As always, thanks to all readers taking the time to make a comment here. It’d be easy to stay home on days like yesterday, but those kind of days offer opportunities you just can’t get otherwise. I love seeing the Tetons, but when they are covered, it frees me up to look for other options. Some of the best shots occur as storms approach or as they begin to clear, so being there gives some unique possibilities.

  6. lee

    Great shots and information, really enjoyed!

  7. Lowell Schechter

    Mike, the images you took on a rainy day have just as much impact as taking them in the early or late day light. Over cast skies really make things pop and these images are so dramatic with this kind of light and dreary weather.

  8. Mike, I don’t know how you do it. Not only do you shoot some of the most spectacular and interesting shots but your commentary is engaging and motivating. It doesn’t make any difference what season it is, what the weather is, or what time of day you shoot, you’ll always have something for me to learn. Thanks for taking the time to teach all of us the places and the tricks to take great photos in the Tetons.

  9. OK, OK, I’ll get out there today in this “miserable” weather. I guess I don’t have to live next to you for you to motivate me to get out there in what seems like the most undesirable weather for photography.

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