I think if you ask anyone about the Grand Tetons the thing they would remember most is how striking they are the way they jut out of the surrounding countryside, nearly 7000 feet above the valley below. The mountains themselves are amazing, but the whole area is a hot bed of awesomeness. Grand Tetons, it is said, has the highest concentration of wildlife out of all the national parks. I would tend to agree. A group of ten photographers met Scott Donschikowski and me for a fun 2 days of exploring the mountains and areas along the Snake River in search of grand vistas, and wildlife.
Our workshop begins with an introductory orientation where we get to know everyone a little more and let them know what they are in store for during the next two days. The Tetons face the east, which means they get some astounding light in the morning at sunrise. Though the forecast called for rain and snow, we still meet early as to not miss a thing the park has to offer, and we want to be in position if the weather forecast is incorrect.
The group arrives at the van early, and everyone is excited for exploration, but a little bummed by the weather. As we drive into the park the rain turns to snow, and we're able to see that there is little chance of having a memorable sunrise as the Tetons are hidden behind a wall of grey. Instead we opt to explore the Snake River for wildlife.
We find the elk herds almost immediately after departing Oxbow Bend...after watching them for a little while Scott and I prepare them with the basic camera settings to shoot wildlife. Once everyone is set we sneak out to the riverside to look for the elk, and hopefully capture them as they make their daily journey across the river to the highlands for the afternoon.
Shooting wildlife is difficult as it's hard to predict what will happen and what the heck the little creatures are thinking. We set for almost 45 minutes cameras waiting at the ready as we looked for the first elk to cross the river...but though we knew they were just above us on the flats, they never made the effort to cross....discouraged we opted to move up to the road to try and shoot them from there instead...but as we made our way up, the herd finally got the nerve to cross, and we JUST made it back down the trail in time for the group to gather a couple shots of this awesome event. Though we weren't quite where we wanted, just seeing this awesome event was a great start to our day.
The next thing on the agenda was to find the Gros Ventre moose. We had scouted the area the past two days and knew from experience where he liked to hang out. Though our initial search didn't yield a sighting, I left the van to go explore the woods a little along the river, and within 10 minutes was able to find him.
We unloaded the van and as a single file line creeped up on that moose. We were lucky that the moose was standing up and moving about as he typically will be laying down for most of the day. Another awesome bit of luck was that we were only the second group to find him, and there were only 2 other photographers there...which meant we were able to really get some great shots of this massive specimen nestled within the golden foliage.
Everyone was sky high when we got down shooting the moose so we set out to explore Moose-Wilson road in search of some more critters to photograph. The mid-morning dreary weather seemed to be keeping the critters at a distance so we opted to head back to the hotel and regroup in the afternoon when the weather would hopefully start to change.
The afternoon we spent driving down Moose-Wilson road, and exploring the wonderful area called Schwabacher’s Landing. This little area of the park has not only some great vistas of the mountains, but also some reflections in the ponds that dot the area made by a group of eager beavers. The mountains had come out somewhat so it was a perfect place to spend the rest of the day. We found the beaver family, and everyone got some great shot of these industrious little rodents in some warm evening light. We also saw a bull moose cross the pond and make his way off to wherever he spends the evenings. Scott and I also offered up some composition tips and helped with how to use the polarizing filters and grad ND filters.
It was a great way to end the first night. As we walked back to the van the beavers were still hard at work...letting us know why the phrase "busy as a beaver," was created.
he skies broke and the storm was gone leaving us with a frosted layer of snow on the tops of the Tetons. We arrived really early on Mormon Row...a historic section of the park filled with old barns and a beautiful Teton backdrop. We set up in the right spots, Scott and I went over all the last minute preparations and made sure everyone was dialed in and ready to shoot...and what a magnificent sunrise! Pink clouds, morning alpine glow, and a great barn...what more could one want!
It was a great morning and everyone was pleased they had braved the sub-freezing temperatures to get the shot. We opted to head back to the hotel to get breakfast and celebrate our morning shoot.
TOur return to the park was nothing short of spectacular. We saw a bear along Moose-Wilson road up in a tree eating berries, and everyone got some nice shots of this little tub high in the tree balancing ever so carefully as he plucked the berries from the limbs with his tongue.
We stopped at some great old log cabins with a stunning view of the whole Teton range...Scott and I gave some composition ideas, encouraged the use of a polarizer, and let them explore. We also had a fun group shot here as well! From here we shot some fall foliage on trees. Though the storm had removed a large portion of the leaves, there are still a few nice groves around with an abundance of orange and yellow...and we know right where they are.
We worked on simple compositions here using the trunks, abstract panning shots to blur the color and trees as well as capturing a sun-star with a few folks. It was a fun spot for sure.
We made a brief stop during the afternoon as well at the Kelly Hot Springs creek which we used as a leading line to help direct the viewer to the mountains in the background. It's a nice spot that many visitors do not even know exists. What a great bunch of stops for our afternoon pre-lunch run!
Once again we decided to end the evening at Schwabacher’s Landing...it's such a fantastic area with so many compositional options. The clouds rolled back in but were sparse enough that we were confidently we would get a nice sunset...and man did we ever. Rays of light shooting up from behind the mountains, reflections in the ponds, lush gold foliage foregrounds...it was all here....and there were still plenty of beaver shots to take too. As the saying goes, you can never have too many beaver shots.
Scott and I had people with us in different spots of the area, helping them balance tricky lighting with filters and bracketing...and everyone we saw really got some nice images on their cameras. Tetons did not let us go away without a bang!
The two days flew by. We saw lots of wildlife had a killer sunrise and sunset, and had a lot of fun doing it along the way. We're thrilled at what a fun group we had. Hope everyone enjoyed the days as much as we did!
Until Next Time,
Brian, Scott, and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.