Skiers and snowboarders welcome the snow each year. Many locals think of it as “white gold”. Downstream farmers welcome the snow to help guarantee a supply of irrigation water for the summer. Fishermen welcome the snowfall to help maintain minimum stream flows for the winter. I welcome October snow if for no other reason than it is “something different”. By January, the newness is well worn and I begin to wish for the first hints of green. And, so it goes!
Snow changes everything! Distant trees become silent ghosts, layered through the thousands or millions of flakes. Close objects are likewise filtered and obscured.
Early season snow storms are often wet and sloppy compared to the mid-winter storms.
“Standard” shots can have a mystical flavor when snow becomes part of the scene. Dark animals stand out against the light background and snow flakes show against their fur.
Snow can come in waves, or squalls. On days like this, tack sharp images with eyelashes, and textured fur are secondary to the mood of the moment.
A little snow is good. A lot of snow can be great! Today’s snowfall lasted only 15 minutes or so, but it was enough for some images most people never see.
Many birds have left the valley. Pronghorns will be leaving the valley soon, too. Bears will hibernate through the worst of the Winter. Moose, Deer, Elk, and Bison endure the long Winters. but of course, Mother Nature has equipped them for the seasons. By mid-October, the rut begins to slow down. Still, bulls check out the cows with regularity, but the big bulls are more tolerant of other bulls in the region. Leaves on the willows and cottonwoods are becoming less available, forcing Moose to forage more on bitter brush and twigs.
The images on this page were captured with a Nikon D5 and a Tamron 150-600mm lens, using a tripod. Autofocus can be a problem when the snow is thick. For many of the shots today, I switched to “Group Area” focus, which seemed to work better than the other options. Many of the first images were captured with a shutter speed of 1/250th second…some as fast a 1/500th second. I typically shoot “wide open” on snow days…in this case F/5.6 to F/6.3 on the Tamron Lens. I prefer a shallow focal plane. This allows the flakes to be sharp at the animal, with hints of other out of focus flakes across the moose. I usually take a LOT of photos on a snow day. This allows me to pick through the photos to find a shot without a big flake across the eye or important feature.
Motion blur on a moving animal can be an issue, but moose will typically stop and look around. The image above was slowed to 1/125th second, allowing flakes to begin to streak.
At 1/80th second, streaks are longer. For the past year or so, I have been shooting wildlife in Manual Mode, with the shutter speed and aperture set, but allowing Auto ISO to change as necessary. For shots like this one, it only takes a quick rotation of the dial to change the shutter speed. The bull moved not long after this shot, so I didn’t get to try 1/40th second. There will be more chances!
Blowing snow can also be a problem on snow days. I find myself checking the front of the lens regularly for water drops and flake. When possible, I move to a location with the wind at my back. On a typical morning, I tend to move to a location with the sun at my back, but on snow days, the light source is diffused and not really a factor.
Dark backgrounds are great on snow days, so I look for them when I can. The dark backgrounds help show off the flakes above and behind the subject. By the time I took this image, the flakes had begun to taper off and were very fine.
Antlers on bull moose turn darker and “dirtier” when they are wet. The large bull in the center is commonly called “Washakie”. He was handling two bulls at one time during a break in the snowfall.
Typically, October snow storms are just teasers! Much of the snow on the valley floor will melt, yet it will begin to accumulate in the high country. The storms signal a change to the animals. By mid to late November, high country snow will prompt Bighorns to move to the National Elk Refuge. Elk face the hunter’s gauntlet, beginning next Saturday, as then attempt to move towards the National Elk Refuge. The annual hunt brings Grizzlies to the southern end of the park as they follow the echoing sounds of gun shots. Moose are quick to learn the safe zones once bullets fly. Bull Moose will continue to make great subjects as most of them will still have antlers through November and much of December.
Many people visit Jackson Hole in the fall. Yep, I get it! The colors are vibrant and rich, but October and November offer a glimpse into another world many of them will never see or experience. The Park and the region might seem like it is getting slow and sleepy, but in reality, there’s a lot of action still to come—highlighted by changes in the scenery and seasons.