Grand Teton:  An Icon Worthy of the Name

Grand Teton: An Icon Worthy of the Name

Photography Icons.  You know the places I’m talking about…the ones with their images plastered all over the magazines and websites catering to photographers… heck, you even see them in TV commercials!   The photos are awe-inspiring, entrancing and amazing… but it often seems that when I finally get the chance to actually see them in person, I’m disappointed.  Sometimes, the reality just can’t live up to the hype.

But sometimes it does.  This summer, I went on a wonderful road trip to photograph a dozen or more of these icons in the western US.  Looking back on the trip, one place in particular stands out in my mind:  Grand Teton National Park.  Perhaps the reason is because the photos I had previously seen actually failed to do it justice…it was far more impressive than I had anticipated.

Now, I love to write detailed how-to-photograph articles about new locations, but honestly, I only spent a couple of days at Teton, so I’m simply not qualified.  Just the same I was so enamored by this park that I wanted to at least share with you some of my thought and images.

Grand Teton:  An Icon Worthy of the Name   Grand Teton Photo Tips
“Welcome Party” I came upon this Grizzly foraging next to Blackwater Creek a couple miles before I got to the border of Grand Teton…great way to start a visit!

So why did Teton hit my hot button?  Well, the Tetons themselves are dramatic mountains…and they dominate the landscape.  Sharp, angular and huge.  Plus there is the added bonus of the Snake River and a number of lakes which make wonderful foregrounds.

Grand Teton:  An Icon Worthy of the Name   Grand Teton Photo Tips
The Oxbow Bend Overlook on Highway 287 is well known to landscape photographers and with a view like this, it’s small wonder why…

Another popular spot is Schwabacher’s Landing.  In fact. even well after sunrise, Grand Teton:  An Icon Worthy of the Name   Grand Teton Photo Tipsthere were still a half-dozen photographers trying to find an unobstructed spot for their tripod *see photo to the right)…

But when you have a view like the one below, it is easy to understand!

Grand Teton:  An Icon Worthy of the Name   Grand Teton Photo Tips
Schwabacher’s was my favorite vista at the Tetons. The placid water (thanks to a beaver pond) make a perfect reflector for the splendor beyond.

Teton isn’t as well-known as Yellowstone for its wealth of wildlife photography, but I found myself swapping my landscape lenses for zooms on a regular basis.  In addition to the Grizzly already mentioned, I stayed busy snapping Elk, Bison and all kinds of waterfowl.  Perhaps my favorite wildlife shot, however, was this beaver I surprised early one morning at Schwabacher’s while waiting for the sunrise.

Grand Teton:  An Icon Worthy of the Name   Grand Teton Photo Tips
Check out the look in this little guy’s eye! He wasn’t expecting me to be hiding behind that shrub!

So, mountains, water and wildlife…I thought I was in heaven.  And then it just got better…flowers!  I found this spot just off a gravel road near Oxbow bend one morning…

Grand Teton:  An Icon Worthy of the Name   Grand Teton Photo Tips
Just Incredible….Even though I wasn’t there during prime wildflower season, I was pretty impressed with this beautiful field in the lowlands near the Snake River.

Unlike many National Parks, I didn’t see a swarms of tourists (although I did run into a number of fellow photographers).  Teton was peaceful:  at many sites, I was the only soul around, like when I stopped by the historical Cunningham Cabin.

Grand Teton:  An Icon Worthy of the Name   Grand Teton Photo Tips
Location! Location! Location!

Although it was nothing but a simple cabin, it certainly had a million dollar view out the back!  J.P, Cunningham was a lucky man.  I spent over an hour there photographing the landscape and the nearby prairie dogs.  But I kept getting drawn back to the cabin.  Something about the juxtaposition of the raw-framed log home and the soaring mountains was palatable.  The shot above was perhaps my best effort to capture the view.  I used a 7 frame HDR to balance the severe dynamic range between the dark cabin interior and the morning clouds outside.

A bit south of the Cunningham Cabin is the bend in the Snake River made famous by Ansel Adams.  I ‘channeled’ my inner Ansel and came up with this effort:Grand Teton:  An Icon Worthy of the Name   Grand Teton Photo Tips

After I got home and started processing my shots, I converted a lot of them into black and white.  Something about the Tetons just seems ‘right’ when viewed this way.  Perhaps the drama of the landscape and intense weather just made color unnecessary.

There was so much to see that even though I was up before dawn and didn’t stop shooting until well after dark, I never got the chance to photograph some of the famous spots at Teton, like Jenny lake and  “Mormon Row.”   And the weather wasn’t exactly cooperative:  clouds prevented a chance to shoot the Milky Way and the sunrises/sunsets weren’t exactly epic.  Despite those challenges, the landscape provided a weath of photo ops.    Unlike some places that I visit and ‘check the box’,  I will be visiting Grand Teton again..and I’ll be staying longer next time!

Grand Teton:  An Icon Worthy of the Name   Grand Teton Photo Tips

 Grand Teton photography tips

Grand Teton photography tips

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Each and every of your photos is exceptional, but I have a weakness for the black and white work, which reminds me of Ansel Adams.
    The bear and the beaver (it is a beaver, right?) are excellent too.
    I’ve never been to The Tetons but this is very tempting…

    1. Hi Evelyne and thanks for the compliments! I hope you get to visit the Tetons…it is truly magical! (and yes, that is a beaver!)

    2. Jeff how long were you in the Tetons?

      1. Hi Frank,
        I was only in the Tetons for a couple days. Not nearly enough time to cover it as well as I’d like. Hoping to get back there next year!

    1. Thanks Ed. The Tetons are magnificent. I don’t think anyone could take a bad photo there!

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