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Best of the Tetons

Night Barns

While Most People Were Sleeping:

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Images Captured Either Late in the Night or Early in the Morning.

2017 Update: While we haven’t seen firm documentation yet, it appears Grand Teton National Park will be enforcing part of the compendium that prohibits “artificial light”—without first obtaining a “Commercial Photography Permit”. This hasn’t been strictly enforced since I’ve lived here, and in fact Law Enforcement Officers have been present while I was lighting barns and even the snowman in one of the photos below. A lone “still” photographer can photograph in the park without a permit, but once artificial lights, props, or models are included, the Commercial Photography Permit regulations kicks in.

After the sun drops behind the clouds, most photographers and tourists are diving home or heading into town for dinner. When conditions are right, I might just be getting started. Who needs sleep! Images on this page are augmented with a little artificial light—usually a flashlight. The size of the flashlight varies based on the subject, the distance from the camera, and the amount of ambient light. I used a small pen light on a few and a 2 million candle power flashlight for others. The image above illustrates how just a little light can help tremendously.

Note: I processed the images for this post larger than normal. Click each image to get a better view!

T.A. Moulton Barn

T.A. Moulton Barn: When I set up to take this image, I never knew the bison were there! I started the 10 second timer, then ran down the little trail on the left side of the scene. I turned on the flashlight and lit the scene as normal. That’s when I saw the dark shapes. I only got one capture before they moved off to the right.

Chapel with Night Stars

Chapel with Night Stars: Several of the popular spots work well for light painting. Man made objects like barns, windmills, and fences make good subjects.

Oxbow Gold

Oxbow Gold: You can image most photographers and tourists were long gone as I was making this photo. The “window of opportunity” for a shot like this is typically very short and you have to be a bit on the lucky side to hit it right.

Moulton Barn and Milky Way

Moulton Barn and Milky Way: Royce Bair was in town last year doing a night photography workshop. We had lunch together and he showed me an image he had captured. It presented a bit of a challenge, so I went out to see if I was up to it. This is actually a stitched “panoramic” image consisting of three or four vertical, wide angle captures.

Schwabacher Landing

Schwabacher Landing: In 2013, the Park Service closed Schwabacher Landing to vehicles and bikes for the summer. I drove to the pull-out at about 3:00am and walked down the road in the pitch black darkness—armed with my bear spray of course. I photographed it during the dark skies, but liked this one captured during the “blue light” period an hour or so before sunrise. I stayed for the morning sunrise. Others were walking in as I was heading back to the vehicle. In the light of morning, I could see lots of bear tracks in the mud along the road. The road has been reworked and, beginning again in May, people can drive to the parking lots as in previous years.

Snowman

Snowman: For this shot, I rolled up three snowballs at home and loaded them into my truck. I made a “snowman kit” complete with hat, scarf, arms, corn cob pipe, and the face elements. The hat came from a Halloween shop on the Internet. I added the band and holly sprig. We used this image for our Christmas cards that year and we had a custom puzzle made for the Grandmas and Grandpas.

Carriage

Carriage: One of the advantages of living here is being able to make friends with ranch owners and concessionaires. I doubt many people could get access this property for a night shot like this. A bright light at the ranch cast a strong green cast into the scene. I would have preferred it to be off, but that’s sometimes asking too much!

Saddle and Tack

Saddle and Tack: Other shots like this one are a little easier to set up. Last year, I bought this old saddle, lariat, blanket, bridle and cinch strap. One of the local ranchers gave me a worn out pair of gloves and I borrowed the chaps (chinks to be specific). I also found an old hat off eBay, for for this shot, the hat was too white and dominated the shot. I took this shot at the buck rail fences at the Shane Cabin last fall.

Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade: Unlike the other images on this page, I set this still life up in my office. All the items have a lot of character and texture. This particular image is a composite of maybe six images, lit at different times.

Twin Barns

Twin Barns: These two beautiful historic barns are well off the beaten path here in the Tetons. It took a little work to obtain permission to shoot there. The property went up for sale not long afterwards and I probably couldn’t get access again.

Night Barns

Night Barn: I probably have hundreds of night shots of the two Moulton Barns taken over the past six or seven years. I like the clouds mixed in with the starry night on this one.

Cactus Flowers

Cactus Flowers: Not all night shots need to capture a large scene. Wildflowers work well, too. It helps to try to photograph them on a windless night, but that can also mean doing so with swarms of mosquitoes buzzing around and biting.

Columbine

Columbine: I had to go back several times to get this shot. Wind was a problem on the earlier attempts.

December Barn

December Barn: Winter light painting usually requires just a “touch” of light. I typically don’t do much light painting on full moon nights. A crescent moon is normally okay, but it doesn’t take much of a moon to overpower the night scene.

Boise Penitentiary

Boise Penitentiary: I included this image to illustrate there are light painting opportunities just about anywhere. You don’t need Tetons to go out at night! Still, if you are IN the Tetons, why not include them!

Chevy Truck in Color

Chevy Truck

Chevy Truck: Some subject matter works well “grunged” to taste in post production. A little contrast, grain and texture can add some interest and mood.

Old Patriarch

Old Patriarch and the Milky Way: After taking the shots, this capture requires a 3/4 mile walk back to the truck in total darkness. The golden/green light in the lower left is light pollution from the town of Jackson. Even so, our little corner of Wyoming contains some of the darkest, least polluted night skies in the country.

Comments: It’s easy to lose a lot of sleep to get images like these. During the summer months, it is not uncommon to be dragging into the house after midnight or getting up at 3:00am. I prefer the evening shooting the best because I have a bigger window of time to take the photos. Light gets too bright too quickly in the morning. Spring and Fall are great times to stay out late. I prefer the “blue light” period, but many Milky Way photographers thrive on the time between the two blue light periods. Typically, I start shooting after I can see the first dozen or so stars. If photographing objects like the saddle and fence, I can start a little earlier, but it takes a while to balance the mountain silhouette with the subjects. Exposures range between 10 seconds and 30 seconds on most of the images on this page. ISO can go up to 4500 to 6400, but I prefer 3400 or below. Most of the images on this page were captured with one single image, but I am not against taking two or three and merging them if it takes the extra frame to get the better final image. That’s a personal call. And speaking of personal calls: I tend to like to keep my night shots at least somewhat believable. For my way of thinking, they still need to look like night shots—dark and moody. It is possible to brighten the sky, milky way, and stars to a point the scene becomes unbelievable. On a personal level, that point of believability swings from one extreme to another from year to year. Over the years, I’ve begun to fall back to “a little light goes a long way” and I like my night sky to look like a night sky.

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Comments (5)

  1. Mike I would love to go shooting with you some night this summer. I tried night photography this past winter in Arizona and failed. I need someone who can say use this setting, not that one for different things. Please?

  2. Lowell Schechter

    Mike, outstanding night time images.
    Love the barns and the old Truck.
    Lowell

  3. Very, very nice set of images Mike. The Ox Bow bend shot is outstanding and I’m assuming this is the one you used the 2MM candlepower light on. Barney

  4. Yes…probably the 2mm Candle Power flashlights. That one was taken in 2009. I had a jumbo 2mm candle power unit about then. The newer ones are smaller. Sometimes I use two of them at a time. I have “grids” on them and can add warming or cooling gels or even ND gels to cut back light some if needed. I used one of the 2mm CP the other day on the shot of the Chapel.

  5. I wonder how are they going to enforce the “no artificial light” rule? Having patrols in the middle of the night? Does it also mean that you can’t use a flash for fill-flash on a flower? What is going to be next – no people allowed in the park?

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