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Posted by Instructor Scott Davis
Everywhere you look while visiting the Grand Tetons, there's a beautiful photo to be taken. Whether your interests be in wildlife or scenic landscapes, the Tetons provide a treasure trove of subject matter.
Many years ago, I lived and worked in this area, studying the movement and behavioral patterns of Grizzly Bears and loved every moment I spent trekking through the mountains. So every October, as our team at Aperture Academy gears up for its Grand Teton Fall Workshop, I start to get a little excited.
Although it's only two days of shooting, we concentrate a huge amount of photography and instruction into those two days. Up before sunrise and finishing up post sunset with a lot of imagery stuffed in between is par for the course on this workshop, as our newest Teton class of 2012 was about to find out.
Fortunately for the instructors, myself, Scott Davis, and Ellie Stone, this group proved to be up for anything and after a cup or two of hot coffee, the early morning wakeups proved to be child's play for this group of hearty photographers. Additionally, we noticed many familiar faces interspersed with some new faces in the group. A couple of intrepid photographers had even combined the Yellowstone in Fall Workshop with the Grand Teton workshop for a full week of spectacular wildlife and landscape images.
:: DAY ONE ::
We awoke to a very chilly morning! Sometimes fall and winter temps are hard to distinguish in Wyoming. Although there was no snow on the ground, it was certainly cold enough for it. Gathering ourselves in the pre-dawn hours into the ApCad Mercedes van with heat in full blast mode, we embarked on our journey to our first shoot location of the day.
Sunrise at Oxbow Bend is a spectacular morning destination and, as far as we are concerned, a must see location. Like El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, it's one of those locations that is beautiful anytime of the year, especially at sunrise.
Braving the sub freezing temperatures and timing it for peak quality of light, we spent almost two hours shooting this location from a variety of locations. Over the course of the two hours, we saw a variety of lighting conditions, each unique and beautiful as the morning sun peaked over the horizon and began illuminating the Tetons with a soft pinkish light.
Following our morning shoot and a serious hand warming session, we went out in search of wildlife. With a wee bit of effort and patience, the Grand Tetons gave us a wink and smiled, rewarding with excellent opportunities to photograph moose as well as the wildlife highlight of the day, a young black bear feeding upon berries up in a tree. This was pretty exciting, as the bear moved from spot to spot and we had to adjust accordingly. It was a great way to end our morning shoot.
Back out into the field following our midday break, the bear and moose images had whetted our appetite for more wildlife imagery. Deciding to find some critters for our sunset subject, we headed out to some of our traditional hotspots. Picking up on a local tip, and confirmed with a previous day's scouting, we made our way to a location where free roaming buffalo had been sighted.
When the late afternoon light was beginning to wane, we were briefly treated to some beautiful golden light with buffalo and pronghorn antelope as our prime subjects, with gorgeous mountains and colorful forests as our backdrop. I can think of worse ways to spend a day.
:: DAY TWO ::
Our second day found us up early again. No rest for the wicked, right..is that how it goes?
Our day two morning location is a very popular and traditional image for the Grand Tetons. It's called Moulton Barn and it's a classic spot. Essentially, you have a beautifully dilapidated old barn with the Tetons as the backdrop. It really does set the scene for a beautiful image, not to mention reasonably easy to get to, and for this reason it makes it a very popular destination for photographers.
Compounding this logistic is the fact there is limited real estate in which to get the best shots. This is why we leave early in the morning. We here at Aperture Academy are always determined to get our people to the best spots at the best times. Sometimes this means getting to a spot early to stake out our claim, rather than missing out. Our strategy in this case certainly benefitted us, as many photographers ended up showing up and for many, they were relegated to sub-prime spots. Not us though. We nailed the shot as Ellie and I perused the LCDs of our participants. Well done, class!!
Following our sunrise shoot, we immediately headed over to a location that I personally love. It's a lovely golden pasture that has dozens of grazing horses wandering about, with the majestic Tetons rising up as the background. I suspect you're beginning to notice a theme here. It's hard not to include these awe inspiring peaks in nearly every shot one takes in this beautiful park. Actually at this spot, we work a variety of photographic techniques, both landscape oriented, but also wildlife portraiture techniques. For many of us, horses represent an iconic western theme, so combining the two helps to create exceptionally memorable images.
With the last remaining morning light, we made our way for a short shoot at Jenny Lake, where we worked to capture reflections of the surrounding mountains in the lake. We utilized polarizers and graduated filters to bring out the detail in the submerged rocks and worked on creative compositions to bring out the best of this unique spot.
As the sun moved higher in the sky, we made our way back to Jackson for our daily siesta and hearty lunch.
Fully rested and rejuvenated from our early morning outing, we made our way back out into the field. The area where we photographed that morning is very rich in subject matter. Moulton Barn is perhaps the most famous of the old barns, but there are numerous other old barns and ranch structures there that merit closer photographic inspection, and that's just what we did.
It's nice to be able to take time to look for the finer details in these locations, and this place had no shortage of fine details. The monochrome colorations of the structures and starkness of the location also makes an excellent setting for black and white images. Not too far away, we also encountered more pronghorn, which made for a fun and productive shoot.
Our final spot for the sunset hour took us to a great viewpoint known as, Schwabacher Landing. It's a beautiful flood plain with a serenely calm pond that provides a stunning reflection of the Tetons. It's one of my personal favorites when it comes to top spots in the Tetons.
Once there, there is no single ideal spot, rather, there are numerous spots along the slow flowing river and pond. We spread out, each person finding their own composition and interpretation of this sublime location. We hung out here until long after sunset, taking advantage of the myriad viewpoints of the mountains and trees reflected in the pond. When the light was finally gone, it was still nice to just sit back and take in the sights and sounds that surrounded us. Utter contentment, that's what a place like the Grand Tetons National Park provides. Can't wait to return again next year!
On behalf of Scott and Ellie and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team, thank you for such a wonderful experience. Until next time.
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.