F/1.4 and Be There!
Normally, I “plan” to stay out late for night skies. My wife sees me packing up and I tell her I am planning on heading out for stars. Occasionally, my wife modifies my plan when she reminds me of the party we are going to that night. Of course, weather can thwart my best laid plans. Thick clouds have sent me home early on numerous occasions. There’s a saying that goes something like this: “Make a plan. If the plan is not working, make new plan.” The saying works equally well for photographers and fishermen. There’s another saying, “If you can’t write your plan on the back of a business card, you haven’t thought your plan trough well enough.” Such is the nature of planning.
Grand Teton National Park can be quite busy during the Summer months. One good way of beating the crowds is stay out long past their normal visitation hours! Everyone already knows Jackson Hole has a lot to offer, and is great in the daytime, but it’s also great at night. Northwest Wyoming, which includes Grand Teton National Park and much of Yellowstone, has some of the clearest and darkest skies in the continental US.
My truck usually has most of the gear I might need for most photography. For night photography, I need a lens capable of picking up a lot of light. A few months ago, I bought a Sigma 24mm F/1.4 Art Lens. Nikon also make a good one, but it is much more expensive. The Sigma lens not too large nor too heavy, so its not much of a burden to keep it in the truck and ready for an unexpected “change of plans”. Similarly, I usually have a light jacket, a several flashlights, bear spray, water, and a few snacks in the truck. A cell phone is a good tool—if only to call my wife to let her know I will be out late. It could come in handy if I fell or get hurt. Insect repellent is usually a worthwhile addition, especially on calm nights. Last night, they weren’t a problem. In other words, I am usually prepared.
Last evening, I was waiting for a this bull to get close, or cross, the Gros Ventre. Another nice bull appeared from another zone, so I stayed out much longer than normal. By the time I made it back to the highway, it was well past sunset. Stars would be out soon if I felt like staying in the Park. You guessed it….time for a new plan.
It was calm and relatively clear, so I opted to go to a few spots with water. Reflected stars are always good feature in a night shots. The Colter Bay Marina and Leeks Marina often offer worthy and sometimes challenging possibilities. Light from the buildings and security lamps help artificially light the scene. This was one night I wanted to hit quite a few places, so I didn’t try anything “fancy” at any of them. Maybe someday I’ll go back to the Colter Bay Marina and try some of shots with multiple exposures. The lights from the Marina light up the boats nicely.
My initial “night plan” was to hit some of the easy spots near calm water, get a few captures and keep moving. I went to Oxbow Bend first, then thought about going to a location near Signal Mountain, and on to Colter Bay. The Milky Way as already high in the sky, so I decided to go to Colter Bay, then maybe Leeks Marina. While at Colter Bay, it looked like there were some possibilities along the bay, so the Leek’s Marina shoot was nixed. Mars is large this year, so I hoped to included it in some shots. I headed out the Lakeshore Trail at Colter Bay and took a few shots along the way.
It’s about half a mile to this spot. Of course, it was dark, and there were numerous “Bears in the Vicinity” signs posted along the way. I scooted my feet a bit more than normal and kept the flashlight active watching for them. I can tell you that ANY sounds in the bushes will get your all of your attention! Luckily, I made it to the point in one piece. It’s a good night time spot, and unless I were to get mauled, worth the hike. The leaves on the left in this shot were from the Colter Bay Marina lights. The distant orange glow is from the town of Jackson and Jackson Hole Airport.
This pano was created by taking five vertical captures on a Nikon D5. The images were stitched in Lightroom and tweaked in Photoshop. I used a Sigma 24mm F/1.4 Art Lens on a all the shots from last night, captured at ISO 2500. Most captures were between 20 and 25 seconds in duration. Note: This image could be misleading if you consider it is covering almost 180° of the landscape! Click it to see it much larger!
After a few dozen captures, I headed back to the truck. The brisk hike gave me plenty of time consider new plans. I could go to Leeks Marina. I could go to String Lake. Or, I could stay out all night and work more with the Milky Way as it rolled across the sky. At 1:00 am the Milky Way was directly overhead. I have a couple of places scouted out for an early sunrise from Togwottee Pass. I could do that, but I’d have to sleep in the truck—which I’ve done on numerous occasions. That would mean another Blueberry Granola Cliff bar. Or, I could head home and try to get some sleep. I chose the latter, but decided to modify that plan by stopping at Schwabacher Landing. I retuned home at roughly 1:45 am and went directly to bed. At the time, that felt like the perfect plan! MJ
If you are looking for additional night shots with reflected pools of water, consider String Lake, Leigh Lake, Jenny Lake, Hedrick’s Pond, and other locations along Jackson Lake. There are probably a few side channels of the Snake River with quiet pools such as the boat launch at Pacific Creek.
Night Time Photography and Post Processing:
I am never sure how to faithfully process a shot like this. It was taken at 1:00 am, well within the astronomical midnight period. On a moonless night, it is DARK. When I say DARK, I mean I can’t even see the Grand to know here to point the camera. If there is any color at all when shooting towards the West, it would be the amber/orange glow will be from distant lights in Victor, Driggs, and Tetonia, Idaho. The larger image above is the more accurate version, even if it is not as sexy as ones where I applied a little color!
It is not uncommon for a plane or satellite to track across the night sky on a long exposure. I usually use the Content Aware tool in Photoshop to remove a few of the “stars” in a straight line. Occasionally, a climber will have their flashlight on while on the side of the mountain. I remove them. Vehicle lights are also fair game in my book! Manmade distractions are almost always removed.
In most cases, I prefer the hour of “blue light” before astronomical midnight and the hour immediately after astronomical midnight. Click the image above to go to a site that shows the Night, Transitional hours, and Day times.
Ask Siri: Normally, I can look at my computer to establish sunrise, sunset, moon rise and moon set. It takes only a couple of clicks. When in my truck, I often ask Siri, “What time is sunset today”, or “What time is moon rise tonight”. As long as I am in a service area, she will respond with the necessary information. I simply add or subtract two hours to know when to expect astronomical midnight, or to know when the moon will begin to affect my shooting.
Safety Considerations: I should also suggest that you carry bear spray, and NOT carry a lot of food in your jacket or backpack. I usually carry at least one backup flashlight to make sure I can walk out safely. Most people would suggest to go out with a companion. It’s a good idea, but seldom fits into my outings unless doing a tour.
Related Feature Posts
I offer licensed, one-on-one customized photo tours in Grand Teton National Park. The year round tours help me continue to offer the free info on this site! Click the photo below for more information!