Best of the Tetons

Layered Landscape

Embracing Fog and Low Clouds

Always Challenging—Sometimes Rewarding!

Alpenglow

It’s easy to want to roll back over in bed and sleep through a foggy morning. That could be a mistake!

Fog usually settles into the lowest portions of the valley. If the weather reports forecast fog, I can usually count on it, but we regularly get fog without their forecast. During the summer and fall months, I can almost always anticipate fog in the morning after a late evening or overnight rain. Throughout the winter and spring months, fog can be “generated” by the relative “warm” waters of the Snake River, Gros Ventre, Buffalo River, and Flat Creek. Some mornings, the entire Jackson Hole valley can be blanketed with a thick layer of fog.

Foggy Basin

Much of how you experience a foggy morning depends on where you are at the time. (Click this image to see it much larger!)

The image above might shed some insight on foggy morning opportunities. It illustrates three “zones”. On the far right, there’s a thick layer of fog in the river bottom across from Triangle X Ranch. Anyone there, or at Cunningham Cabin, Moosehead Ranch, and probably Elk Flats would think the entire world is socked in with fog. Their chances of getting a sunrise shot is almost non-existent. The center section of the image above is the area I’d be searching for on most foggy mornings. I think of it as being along the “edges” of the fog. There are lots of possibilities for photography there. Lastly, the area on the upper left has very little fog. Someone standing of the sage flats might have no clue there is fog anywhere in the valley. They’d be looking at the featureless blue sky towards the mountain range.

Moose and Elk

Thick Fog: The photo above shows a few of the possibilities while in the thick fog. The following four or five images were taken at the “edges” of the fog or as the thick fog is lifting.

Cunningham Cabin

Fog can come in many colors, depending on the time of the morning and how the sunlight is being filtered. About 30 minutes before first light on some mornings, Alpenglow light is often lavender, rose, and pink. It takes a half mile snow shoe hike to get to Cunningham Cabin in the winter.

GrosVentreSunrise (1 of 1)

Aiming through fog and back into the sunrise can bring out both cool and warm colors. This period doesn’t last long. Interestingly, I have very few fog images with clouds above the mountains. The areas near Triangle X and along the Gros Ventre might be the two best places to get both in the same scene. This image was taken along the Gros Ventre River.

Fence Line

As the sun clears the eastern hills and mountains, the light is often amber or gold for a few minutes and the fog picks it up beautifully. I believe this shot was captured next to Cunningham Cabin.

Bison Herd

By mid-morning, fog is often a variation of neutral gray. Detail is removed as distance increases. Taken along Mormon Row road.

Steam

Even small bodies of water can create steam or some form of morning fog. Taken along the East Boundary Road.

Gros Ventre River

This isn’t your normal summer, mid-day tourist’s shot of the Grand. At the edges, fog can become a welcome ally. With no wind, it can linger in the valley for hours, and it can change from light fog to thick fog and back again over periods of only minutes. Taken on the Gros Ventre River near the town of Kelly.

Wrangler

It takes a little patience and luck to get the elements to work. I waited for the fog to start lifting to expose the Cathedral Group, but there was no guarantee the tops of the peaks were going to be visible. Many fog shots are called “high-key” images. In other words, they are heavily weighted towards the white or light side. On those kinds of shots, the camera is trying to average all the white down to neutral gray, resulting in underexposed images. It’s a good idea to check the histogram on the back of the camera regularly and add some “plus EV”…as much as a full stop.  Still, I don’t like overdoing that step as there usually isn’t a lot of noise in the lights and most fog shots have a fair amount natural grain. Taken at the Old Patriarch Tree east of String Lake.

Set Black Point

This is the exact same image as the one above it. Besides the initial capture, which is an artistic endeavor all by itself, I later get to take some control of the image in post processing. Without seeing he bottom image, you’d know there is a layer of fog between me and the wrangler in the top image. That’s the more natural version. In the lower image, I simply adjusted the “black point” slider in the negative direction. In some images, going too far with the adjustment can strip the fog element out of the capture in a negative manner.

Bull and Cow Moose

This bull moose was roughly 40 yards away. Details are missing, but that’s exactly the point on a foggy morning shot. Taken on the floor of the Gros Ventre River bottom.

Pondering Wrangler

Fog is a fairly important “player” in this shot. It helps emphasize the buck rail fence and thus the cowboy way of life still going on in the Tetons. Taken of a Triangle X wrangler.

Running Horses

There are no “wild mustangs” in GTNP. These trail horses were photographed near Triangle X Ranch a few years back. I have lots of photos or running horses, but adding fog, Mt. Moran, and buck-rail fences can help “build” an interesting shot. Normally, I’d want to hold some details in the black horse, but on a foggy morning, I can live with losing some of the features.

Bull Moose

This Bull Moose was in the Kelly Warm Springs. I’ve lived here 28 years and never seen that before. Bison—yes. Geese, White-faced Ibis, kids, and kayakers—yes! I shot away, as anyone else might have done that morning. I like the shot, and I am happy to have it, but the photo leaves me wanting “more” information.

Flying Geese

Personally, I like this simple shot better. It puts the tiny flock of geese in a huge environment. Taken from the highway across from Triangle X Ranch.

Sterile BarnI walked out into the opening back in 2007 and snapped this sterile looking image of the barn. It might be the perfect shot of the T.A. Moulton barn for some purpose (like a blog talking about fog), but similar to the moose in the springs above, I think it needs something more. (click the image if you want to see it larger)

Barn with Foot Bridge

This was taken the same morning, but I chose to include some foreground subject matter. Close elements are full of detail and saturated in color, but both are reduced by the fog as the elements fall farther back into the scene. Taken at Mormon Row.

Peach House

I am always watching for this kind of fog opportunity. The fog layers various “zones of elements” in the scene. Fog can also used to simplify otherwise cluttered scenes, even in town! Of course, I captured this on Mormon Row.

Spring Gulch Horses

These domestic horses were photographed along Spring Gulch Road on my way North. Another herd is commonly seen across from Elk Flats near Moosehead Ranch. This is another example of adding something recognizable to the bigger landscape scene, even if the mid-ranged subjects are still partially featureless.

Hoar Frost

On many cold, foggy mornings, hoar frost clings to branches and twigs. This image was taken only minutes after the fog lifted along Mormon Row. Distant low clouds and fog turned blue that morning, complimenting the orange hues in the old homestead. I also like to do close-up shots of leaves, berries, and branches on mornings with hoar frost.

Oxbow

Fog can lift and reveal all kinds of hidden treasures! I captured this one at a “secret spot…er…Oxbow Bend.

Foggy Valley

I drove up Shadow Mountain on this morning to find an “ocean of fog” below. Anyone on the valley floor would be seeing white fog for quite a while, yet it was clear above it all. Skiers are always talking about inversions. They can get above the fog and cold along the valley floor and stay above the cloud line for a much warmer day. While I covered mostly ground fog on this page, it is possible on some days to drive up Teton pass and get “into the clouds”. I am sure there are plenty of distinctions between hovering clouds and low ground fog, but most of it is the same for photography.

Blacktail Butte

Thick fog can turn into ribbons of thin clouds before quickly disappearing. “At the edges” conditions change quickly. The hillside is Blacktail Butte along the Gros Ventre Road.

Shooting Comments: I don’t think there are too many special considerations for taking photos of fog. I watch the histograms on the back of my camera to make sure I am not blowing out highlights.I normally shoot with Custom White balance set to around 5200K, but Cloudy or Sunny would work, and if shooting in a raw format, I can always change it in post production. Many fog shots are taken early in the morning, so having a solid tripod gives me a few more options as far as shutter speed goes. Most of the shots on this page were taken with a 24-70 lens, though a few might have been taken with a 70-200mm mid range telephoto. The last shot above was actually taken at 200mm on a 200-400mm lens. I was out in the sagebrush taking photos of a nice bull moose when I saw this lifting fog.

barn in fog

Final Comments: Foggy days are a “great equalizer” as it strips the majestic Teton Range away. Fog can occur at various times in just about all areas of the country, so you don’t have to live in Teton County in NW Wyoming to capture it. Similar scenes to the one above are abundant across the US. This is the T.A. Moulton Barn at a slightly different angle.

Watch for the Edges!  Sometimes you can get in the vehicle and drive a few miles up or down the valley to find the edges of the fog. In most instances, that’s where most of the interesting shots will be. >>MJ

750line

Swan PlatformIf you are going to be in the area and are interested going out with me on a One-On-One Photo Excursion, check out the link and let me know! There are now 4, 6, and 8 hour options including a new PRO option.

Please note: Images on this page are fully protected with an official copyright at the US Copyright Office.  No unauthorized use is granted.

If you like this post, please take the time to click any of the Social Media icons below and share the page with your friends and associates. Hope you enjoy the images and comments. Cheers! Mike Jackson

Like This Post? Share It

Comments (2)

  1. Lowell Schechter

    Hi Mike
    wonderful images with the fog . I am sure there a many days out there that Fog commands the area. When I there I was able to get shots of the Iconic Mormon barns and did not realize I had fog in the image in front of the Tetons. Fog can make a photo a dramatic image. I like the shot of you out in the elements.

  2. We are now living in some serious smoke (8/22/2015) but this blog gives so many great suggestions for taking shots. I was at Moulton Barn this morning after leaving Schwabacher and saw this exact image but never recognized the potential. You’re going to have to teach me to see better 🙂 Thanks for pointing out all the potential in the fog – – – and the smoke.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *