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There Should Have Been a Moon! Morning at Schwabacher Landing

Super Moon

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.

Schwabacher Sans Moon

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.

Schwabacher Sans Moon
(Click this image to see it much larger)

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.

Sunrise Pano

(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.

 Amber Peaks
(Click this image to see it much larger)

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.

Jackson Peak

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.

Eastern Sky

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

Mt. Moran, at the other end of the valley, can also be a stand alone subject.

Looking Down

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.

Lover Horizon

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.

Shooting Notes

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.

Additional Links and Posts

Teton Sunrises: It Takes Two to Tango

Night Time In the Tetons:

Cold Morning at Schwabacher Landing:

Panoramic Images: Tips for Getting More of the Tetons in a Shot

Beavers of Schwabacher Landing:

While Most People Were Sleeping:

Alpenglow: Morning’s Fleeting Phenomenon

Schwabacher Notes

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

 

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Comments (8)

  1. Michael Seiler

    Hi Mike, Just a small correction: the supermoon of November 14th was only 14% bigger but 30% brighter than lesser full moons of the past. Even less when compared to what we see on average. Overall, this supermoon hype is not really justified, as you would be hard-pressed to see this difference in any landscape shot that includes the moon. But I agree, supermoon or not, Schwabacher Landing is always super! Kind regards, Michael Seiler

  2. These are great, even if you didn’t get exactly what you were looking for.

  3. Marcy Starnes

    Great shots – but don’t you just hate it when the weather is not cooperative – however it looked like the light was very nice

  4. Michael, Thanks!!!! I’ll fix the size comment. I agree…it might have looked a tiny bit bigger, but I don’t really think I would have noticed it without all of the news stories. (still looking for a confirmation on the en-el 15 battery exchange)

  5. The “There should have been a Moon” is a nice set of photos and explanations. I really enjoy your story approach to teaching. I learn a lot and it gets me motivated. Schwabacher’s can be seen as your classic, iconic place for tourists but you have made it “look” different with this story. Keep up the good work and keep me motivated to get our when the snow comes in a day or two.

  6. Randy, Those of us that live here get to benefit from having the opportunity to “go back” numerous times to capture a shot if the first tries lack good light and/or clouds. Sometimes, it takes a lot of tries, and more often than we’d like, a special event like this Super Moon just don’t materialize. These kinds of Feature Posts give me a little more room to tell the story. When I did my initial research on creating a blog, I kept seeing comments suggesting to keep the blog “personal” vs surgical. I got up early three days in a row…no setting moon this time.

  7. Marcy, Most of the time, I just go out and take advantage of whatever shows up. For a moon, you have to get up early and hope for the best. Some celestial events work out better than others!

  8. Ed Clark

    Thanks for these great photos Mike, and for all the helpful info.. Beautiful work.. Thanks for sharing with me..

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