The Tetons and surrounding mountaing ranges recieved a nice bit of snow last night as we had an early June snowstorm come through the area. Personally, I’m still trying to get used to the concept of being 7,000 feet up here on the valley floor. The oxygen is pretty thin, and as you can see, its likely to snow any day of the year.
I had been out all morning photographing raptors on the National Elk Refuge when I decided to head on up to Moran Junction and make my way back down through Grand Teton National Park to the Moose-Wilson road. It had been storming in the valley all morning and the surrounding mountains had been cloaked in clouds since yesterday afternoon.
By about the time I made it to the park entrance, the skies had finally cleared up a bit and the tops of the Teton range were begining to poke through sporadically. The original plan was to look for moose and pronghorns but with the dramatic lighting and potential for some unique peak shots, I decided to fogoe the big ungulates and scope out a good view of Grand Teton.
A lot of photographers had already begun to line up at Oxbow Bend in hopes for that classic shot of Mt. Moran reflecting into the oxbow on the Snake River, but the wind was blowing at about 15mph and so the surface of the water was distorted – thus I kept on cruising. I knew the type of photograph that I wanted to make, something dramatic, and really to be honest Moran is not dramatic in my opinion. Its a beautiful mountain, especially covered in snow and reflecting into Jackson Lake or the Oxbow, but you have to catch it around first light and when there is no wind.
I finally foud a rather non descript place to pull off near the Jenny Lake loop rd that I hoped would have the right angle on the Tetons that I wanted. At first I decided to stick with my 200-400vr for the photograph (which would have worked fine for the most part) but within 2 mins of setting up, I had 20+ cars pulling over trying to figure out what I was shooting. People see a big lens, and they think – Grizzly Bear! – or big foot, or a brontasouras, or maybe bigfoot riding on the back of a brontasouras. So, I hopped back into the truck, stuck on the old 70-200 and decided to just shoot from the window. This wasnt really a pull out or anything and so toning things down a bit was just safer it seemed.
As the clouds began to rush through Cascade Canyon revealing the peaks, I made quite a few photographs, but none of them were really what I was looking for. Isolating the peaks is nothing new for many photographers and I was getting what I would call standard shots of the peaks with clouds. So, I decided wait it out in hopes that something unique might occure.
As luck would have it, this scene that you see above began to unfold after about an hour of sitting there. What makes this photograph work, in my opinion, aside from the dramatic nature of the lighting and subject matter, is the basic compositional figure S that the ridge line creates. Starting at the bottom the ridge curves upwards leading the eye to the peak of Grand Teton.
Noticing this S curve in the ridge line, I then waited for the clouds to isolate the ridge and peak. The clouds parted only for a moment, and then covered either the ridge or the peak for the rest of the time that I was there. I only managed to get off 6 or 7 photographs.
In regards to making this photograph, as I mentioned earlier, I had already previsualized what I wanted – dramatic peaks wreathed in swirling clouds. This helped me simplify things a bit by knowing where I wanted to be and what exactly I wanted to create. Then it was simply a matter of waiting for the clouds and the weather to cooperate. Previsualization was key.
With that said however, I did not know that this S curve in the ridge was there untill the clouds revealed it as such. But, as soon as I picked up on it, that became my primary focus.
Many people came and went, as they do when they see someone else photographing. The snapped a couple of photographs and off to the next attraction they went. Commiting myself to wait for the right combination of clouds and light however, offered me a chance to make a unique photograph. Its all about patience.