Northwestern Wyoming is renowned for its scenic landscapes and natural wonders. From pristine alpine meadows to vast expanses of high desert, pastoral homesteads backdropped by jagged peaks to mysterious geysers that hint at the supervolcano below – the region has always attracted my curiosity.
A particular aspect of the greater Yellowstone-Grand Teton region that has always captivated me is the turning of the seasons. The summer months are crowded, the winter is brutally cold, the spring thaw is laden with mud, and the autumn… well… paradise. This spot, located just west of Moran Junction in Grand Teton National Park is one of my all-time favorite spots to photograph. No matter the season, weather, or time of day – you can find inspiration and wonder just by sitting by the headwaters of the Snake River and watching the reflection of Mt. Moran in the distance.
I arrived at the location a little late that autumn morning and the sun was already casting fairly harsh shadows across the Teton Range. You can slightly compensate for this by using a circular polarizer (which brings out the detail in the peaks and adds more contrast to the water and sky). I recommend shooting this shot as close to sunrise as possible to get softer shadows and calmer wind for the reflection. If you are lucky and time it right, you just might see the famous Grizzly 399 and her cubs who frequent the area most years.
Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is known for its glacier-capped peaks, dense rainforests, pristine coastline, and… rain. Lots of it!
With over 140 inches of rain annually, it can be hard to find the right lighting conditions in this often untraveled corner of the country. Storms can roll in quickly and you’ll find yourself in the rain and clouds for what seem to be an eternity. Don’t give up. This park is one of my favorites due to it’s varying terrain and ecosystems. Imagine staring at the craggy, 7,980 ft., snow-capped Mt. Olympus while hiking above treeline, then meandering through the rainforest, and finally wrapping up the day by watching the sunset over the rugged Pacific Northwest coast. You can easily see why the Roosevelts fought to protect it. (Teddy as a National Monument in 1909 and FDR as a National Park in 1938.)
You can capture this shot by waiting until dusk and making sure to underexpose the composition (meaning to make the picture darker than you might initially expect). By underexposing the shot, you will capture the detail in the distant coastline. Also, make sure to set up the foreground as well. Adding the small coastal stream through the lower right portion of the shot draws your eye through the composition rather than just staring at the massive evergreen-covered sea stack in the center. (Tip: Finding foreground subjects is not hard with all the driftwood laying around.)
To avoid the 140 inches of rain and constant cloud cover, I recommend visiting in late summer (but don’t tell too many people, we don’t want it to get too crowded). And lastly, waiting until right after the sun sets below the horizon is a good way to get an empty beach since most people walk back to their cars after the sun drops out of view (but bring a flashlight). Enjoy!
Shot on a cold night in October, 2012, this shot shows the famed Old Faithful geyser at my favorite lighting condition for geysers: a moonless night. During daylight you will find yourself fighting the crowds to get a shot like all the others. After the sun sets, the crowds disperse and you can catch some unobstructed views of Old Faithful. If you can set up the Milky Way or Ursa Major in the shot it adds more to the composition and the geyser appears larger in colder temperatures due to a greater temperature difference between the steam and the outside air.
You can capture this shot with a wide angle lens, a wide aperture, and a 20 second exposure. Get out there and see the icons of the West in a “new” light!