I you followed the recent hype, you’d probably know about the November 2016 “Super Moon”. It is 17% larger and 30% brighter than normal. That makes it a virtual magnet for any warm blooded photographer willing to get up early and brave the elements! The last Super Moon this large was in 1948 and the next one won’t be until 2034. As they say, “You have to get it while the getting is good!” Well, that was my plan!
Mother Nature often has a say in whether best laid plans come to fruition. She rebelled today, covering the western side of the Tetons with a thick wall of clouds. C’est la vie! All it really cost me was a few hours of sleep each morning for two or three days.
A setting full moon is always a nice touch if you can capture one, but many scenes do just fine without it. Schwabacher Landing seems to be built for photographers — with or without a moon, lightning, or rainbows.
There’s a saying in baseball that goes something like this: “Win a few, lose a few, and some games get rained out — but you have to suit up for all of them!” I’ve found photography to reflect or mimic the phrase. To capture a setting moon, you have to set the alarm at a ridiculously early hour, then make a leap of faith that conditions will work out for a successful shoot.
Don’t count on the weather report to help much either! A thick bank of clouds can thwart any attempts for a good shot. Fog is another potential villain. Mountain weather reports are unpredictable at best, and wrong more often than right. Regional weather models don’t always factor in the local micro climate caused by the warm water of the Snake River, nor the fact the clouds like to form and cling to the high peaks. A lot of factors can go wrong, and often do.
That’s the down side! It’s just part of the game. The upside? Getting up that early means you are up and out in the “Great Outdoors” — and in my case, in Grand Teton National Park! Sound the trumpets! Even if there is no moon, there’s a good chance to get other sunrise shots. Occasionally, like yesterday, clouds cover the Teton Peaks, and for my purposes, ruins the scene. I look for other peaks or head off searching for wildlife.
(Click this image to see it much larger)
Most sunrises go through several distinct changes. The “blue light” period occurs during the two hour span of time leading up to sunrise. Alpenglow usually begins around 30 minutes before sunrise, adding a purple and pink cast to the scene. Then golden sunlight, assuming it can break through clouds in the east, bathes the mountain range for a short period before changing to more of an amber or white light on the peaks and eventually the valley floor.
On this particular morning, the peaks lit up for a few minutes at a time over several different occasions. Not long after this shot, misty clouds rolled in over the peaks and the sky turned white and uninteresting.
Typically, I do what everyone else does at Schwabacher Landing…take the obligatory shots. Tourists and photographers have been doing the same since the 1920s. Still, it’s worth looking in other directions once in a while. Jackson Peak, in the southern end of the valley, might not be as spectacular as the Tetons, but it can add interest to a normal scene.
I’d love to be able to include a silhouette of a barn, a herd of elk crossing the ridge, or a windmill or farm scene in this photo, but there aren’t many such features down there. Clouds like the ones above influence the light in the normal west side landscapes.
Mt. Moran, at the other end of the valley, can also be a stand alone subject.
The top half of this shot is the scene almost everyone takes, essentially the one at the top of this post. I like to get the most “bang for my buck” when Mother Nature does pay off. I shoot wide, then closer and closer. I turn from landscape orientation to portrait orientation and shoot everything again. Most of the images near the top of the page were “stitched” panoramic images, made up of three to five individual images. Assuming photographers do everything right on location, Lightroom makes this process quick and easy.
I doubt many people do it, but I often “drop the horizon” for a few shots. Who knows when a shot like the one above might be just the perfect image for a magazine or phone book cover? How about the cover image on a folded map? It doesn’t take much to add a few to the morning’s shoot.
I made it to Schwabacher Landing this morning “early” (around 5:30 am). It was dark enough I needed a flashlight to see where I was going, and so dark I couldn’t tell if the Grand was covered by clouds. I took the first image at 6:06 am. The Teton Range was still uncovered, despite the slight breeze and ruffled water. Official sunrise wouldn’t be until 7:15 am, but it is always later due to the eastern mountain range.
I used a Nikon D5 and a Nikon 24-70mm lens for all of the shots. Typically, I used a Nikon D810 for my landscape photos, and looking back, I might have planned a little better and took that body with me. I like the D5 for my night and low light photography. It does great with high ISO images.
The first images were captured in full Manual Mode. The dark sky image was set to 15 seconds, F/2.8 at ISO 2500. I was standing “in the pool” while wearing a pair of fishing waders. There were no other photographers at the reflection pool all morning! That’s a luxury of being out that early in the morning and that late in the season. I lit the bank with a Brinkman 2 million candlepower flashlight. Later images were captured in Aperture Priority at F/8 to F/11 and ISO 100. Shutter speeds varied from 13 seconds to 1.3 seconds and faster as the ambient light increased.
The moon image at the top of the page was captured two days earlier as the moon came up two using a Nikon D5 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens.
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Schwabacher Landing is usually open through November and possibly a week or so into December. After around December 15th, no human presence is allowed along the river bottom, even for people willing to hike in