“Planning” for Night Photography in the Tetons!

F/1.4 and Be There!

Oxbow Bend

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.

Bull Moose

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.

Colter Bay

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.

Lake Shore Trail

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.

Jackson Lake Night Pano

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

Schwabacher Landing

Schwabacher Landing

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.

Night and Day

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.

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August 2018 Daily Journal for GTNP & JH

Summer Days—But with Hints of Impending Changes

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August 1st: Wednesday  – First of the Month!

Schwabacher Landing Sunrise Pano

Schwabacher Landing Sunrise Pano: Welcome to August. Check in regularly as I add photos daily throughout the month. Thick clouds in the east blocked most of the early morning sunlight, but then put on a nice show for the few that waited for the clouds to clear. (Click this image to see it much larger)  Nikon D850 and Nikon 24-70 mm lens, Tripod. 

Monthly Overviews Banner

Click Here to view the 12 Monthly Overviews! August is the Bison Rut month. Be out early for Moose, Elk, and Deer. They will be growing their velvet covered antlers throughout most of the month. Some will begin stripping the velvet late in the month.

August Fires and Smoke:

Unless weather patterns change and the NW gets a lot of rain, I expect haze and smoke from regional fires throughout much of August. Don’t let that scare you away! The sunrise and sunsets can be even more dramatic and the haze can help soften the often harsh mid-day images.Fire Danger Increases to High

Bison Jumping Fence

Bison Jumping Fence: Bison are in the rut in August. If they are unpredictable any month of the year, but figure they can be even more so during the rut. It is not uncommon to see rows of tourists lining the fences along the highway near Elk Ranch Flats—with Bison only yards away on the other side. This shot should illustrate how the fences offer no protection. Look for Bison around Elk Ranch Flats and along Mormon Row in August. Nikon D850 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens, Handheld.

Uinta Ground Squirrel

Uinta Ground Squirrel: Mid-sized predators like Badgers, Foxes, and Coyotes prey on these small critters (AKA: Chislers) They are also a favorite target for Hawks and Eagles. Interestingly, Chislers spend roughly seven months of the year underground. Nikon D850 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens, Handheld.

Startled Pronghorn

Startled Pronghorn: I was following this Buck this morning when he spooked by a large bird. Nikon D850 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens, Handheld.

Scratching Pronghorn

Scratching Pronghorn: This Buck moved from tall thistle to tall thistle plant to scratch and thrash around. This one was spotted along Mormon Row. I missed a nice shot of a Northern Harrier on a Mormon Row fence post. He had a field mouse at the time, but I didn’t see him until it was too late. An American Kestrel let me drive up slowly, then flew as I lifted the camera. Nikon D850 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens, Handheld.

Pronghorn Buck

Pronghorn Buck: I saw around 20 Pronghorns in the fields north of Kelly and East of Mormon Row this morning. You can also find Pronghorns this time of the year in the Lupine Meadows area. Nikon D850 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens, Handheld.

Other Wildlife

Moose have been seen regularly in the morning at Blacktail Ponds Overlook and occasionally along the Gros Ventre River.

Hummingbirds: I have been hearing lots more Hummers in my neighborhood lately. It has been quiet all summer.

Baby Ducks: Watch for them at Schwabacher Landing and along Flat Creek. The Trumpeter Swans and three Cygnets are still parading by along Flat Creek.

Fly Fishing opened August 1st along Flat Creek on the National Elk Refuge, along with the springs at Blacktail Butte and along Cottonwood Creek below Jenny Lake and onward to the Snake River. There were lots of vehicles along the highway this morning with hoards of fishermen heading out to the fish.

Current and Upcoming Events and Social Activities

  • Talon Tuesdays: See the Raptor Center’s hawks, eagles, kestrels, and owls up close and personal. Noon to 2:00pm at the Visitors Center. Free.
  • People’s Market at Snow King:  Held each Wednesday. Food, vendors, music. Free!
  • Farmer’s Market: Each Saturday morning to noon on the Town Square. Free!
  • Music on Main: Each Thursday in Victor, Id. – Small donation requested.
  • Concerts at the Commons: Free concerts on Sundays at Teton Village.

Compare Months! The first part of August will resemble the last week or two of July. Click any of the months below to compare months or use them to plan your trips to JH.

Daily Updates Archives: ~
2018: Aug: | July:June: | May:Apr: | Mar: | Feb: | Jan:
2017: Dec: | Nov: | Oct: | Sept: | Aug: | July: | June: | May: | Apr: | Mar: | Feb: | Jan:
2016: Dec: | Nov: | Oct: | Sept: | Aug: | July: | June: | May: | Apr: | Mar: | Feb: | Jan: 
2015: Dec: | Nov: | Oct: | Sept: | Aug: | July: | June: | May: | Apr: | Mar: | Feb: | Jan:
2014: Dec: | Nov: | Oct: | Sept: | Aug: | July: | June: | May: | Apr: | Mar: | Feb: | Jan:
2013: Dec: | Nov: Oct: | Sept: | Aug:

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A One Day Family Trip to Yellowstone

It’s impossible to see all of Yellowstone in one day! But, when you have only a day, you can still see a lot of the popular hot spots.

Oxbow Bend

Most frequent readers at Best of the Tetons already know I spend most of my time in Grand Teton National Park and the surrounding Jackson Hole area. It usually takes a little prodding to get me to drive through the Park during the busiest summer months.

My oldest son, Tyler, and his girlfriend, Laura, arrived into town last Thursday with Laura’s parents, Bill and Sally. Neither Laura or Sally had ever been to Yellowstone, and it had been many years since Bill had been there. That seems like enough of a prod! Darla and I became unofficial tour guides for a day.

Our day trip began at 5:30 am. I was trying to time the trip to be at Oxbow Bend at first light. It’s on the way, and always worth a few shots. To show them a bit of Jackson Lake, I took a quick detour to the boat launch at Leek’s Marina, then headed north.

Moose Falls

Moose Falls: This spot often gets overlooked by tourists in a hurry to get to other parts of Yellowstone. It’s just inside the park a mile or two past the South Gate.

All six of our little group were quick to exit the vehicle, get some shots and get back to the vehicle. That helps! A one day trip like this means not getting too bogged down at one spot. It also meant I had to do a lot of “hand held” photos where I might normally have used a tripod.

Lewis Falls

Lewis Falls: This is often the first stop tourists make when heading into Yellowstone. It is near the roadway and just south of Lewis Lake.

I trimmed down the photo equipment for this trip. The back of the vehicle was full of picnic supplies and cooler, so I chose to take only my D5, paired with a Nikon 24-70mm lens and Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens. I had two cards and a full battery, plus my trusty Gitzo tripod. That’s a lean equipment list for me! A Nikon 70-200mm would have been my choice for a third lens for this trip.

Mud Volcano

Mud Volcano: I should mention a bit about my route. At West Thumb, I turned right and headed along Yellowstone Lake to Fishing Bridge. It would be equally fine to choose to go to Old Faithful, but I prefer the counter clockwise route. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Artist’s Point always looks best in the morning, and would be in shadows in the afternoon.

For this whirlwind trip, I should also mention where we “didn’t go”. There’s heavy construction in 2018 at Fishing Bridge and roughly 4 miles along the road to Cody. There can be Grizzly activity along Mary Bay and along the Lake, but it would add a lot of time—made worse by the construction. At the Fishing Bridge Junction, I continued on towards Artist’s Point, with a quick stop at Mud Volcano.

Artist's Point

Artist’s Point: The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a “must see” location! During mid-summer, there can be a partial rainbow at the base of Lower Falls. There’s a hint of the rainbow in this shot taken at 9:59am. At she times of the year, one side of the canyon walls go into shadow, but in the summer, the morning sun is in the perfect location.

Artist's Point Pano

Artist’s Point Pano: This area can can “feel” crowded, but most tourists and photographers get a few shots and move on relatively quickly. I shot this one as roughly 6 horizontal captures with the 150-600mm lens, stitched later in Lightroom. If I were by myself, I would have taken a Nikon D850 for my landscape shots.

We did as everyone else does…get a few shots and moved on!

Tower Falls

Tower Falls: We stopped for a few minutes at Canyon Village, then continued on North to Dunraven Pass and down to Tower Falls. I took this photo from the upper vantage point, but it is probably better if you hike to the river. I knew we had a long way to go, so I suggested we keep moving on this trip. When I was in college, a couple of roommates and I made a trip to Yellowstone. At the time, there was a large, round boulder in the middle of falls. It has since fallen to the pool below. That was back in 1974 or 1975.

We saw almost no wildlife on our day trip! I stopped at LeHardy Rapids to see with we could find any Harlequin Ducks, but they weren’t around. I was hoping to see a few bears, but again, nothing! We saw a few Bison around Mud Volcano and in the Hayden Valley, but not the large herds.

At Roosevelt Junction, I made the executive decision to continue towards the Mammoth Hot Springs area and not to the Lamar Valley. Looking back, I might have driven out a few miles to look for Black Bears and  Bighorn Sheep near the Little America picnic areas. Unfortunately, I was paying attention to a large bull Bison as we passed Undine Waterfall. There were too many vehicles behind me to turn around. That’s usually a fairly quick stop between Roosevelt Junction and Mammoth. Next time!

Terraces Mammoth Hot Springs

Terraces Mammoth Hot Springs: I was prepared to stop to photograph the bull Elk at Mammoth, but didn’t see them. We continued on to the springs. Most of the parking spots were taken in the lower area, so I pointed the vehicle to the upper terraces and one way drive. We found a parking spot, then hiked to the active terraces. I didn’t try to carry my tripod down the busy walkways, so I hand held all of my shots with the telephoto lens.


Terraces: We had mostly clear skies all day, but had a few passing clouds while in the Mammoth area. It helped me with areas of dark and areas of bright light.

Mineral Springs

Mineral Springs: These mineral formations feel like visiting another planet or the work of a creative movie set designer.

Mineral Springs

Mineral Springs: I took enough photos of the Mammoth Springs, I could probably fill an entire Feature post on the subject.

Rustic Falls

Rustic Falls: This one is west of the Upper Drive at Mammoth. Check out this site for more info: Yellowstone’s Roadside Waterfalls

Road Work: Expect a fairly long construction delay between Mammoth and Norris Junction. It appears construction will continue there all summer, if not into next year.

There’s a point on a one day trip like this where you have to prioritize what features you want to see. We skipped the Norris Geyser Basin, and were forced to skip the Midway Geyser Basin. There were just too many vehicles to stop for Grand Prismatic. The boardwalks all looked very crowded. Tyler wanted to make sure Laura and Sally got to see Old Faithful and the other geysers and pools there, so it become an easy decision to pass on some of the other features along the way.

Gibbon Falls

Gibbon Falls: After a picnic lunch at Gibbon Meadows, we headed south to Gibbon Falls.

Firehole River

Firehole River: This set of cascades are along a one-way drive just south of the Madison Junction.

Old Faithful Lodge

Old Faithful Lodge: We eventually made it to the Old Faithful area. The sign inside the Old Faithful Lodge indicated it had just gone off and we had about an hour and a half to kill before the next eruption.

Castle Geyser

Castle Geyser: Thile waiting for the next Old Faithful eruption, we did a hike on the boardwalks to see some of the other geysers, mud pots, and springs. Castle Geyser was ready to go off when we made our way to it.

Hot Pool

Hot Pool: I didn’t try to document the specific names of the small pools and pots, but would if I were making the same photos while on my own. D4 and D5 bodies allow for a verbal note to be included with a photo.

Colorful Streams of Hot Water

Colorful Streams of Hot Water:

Old Faithful Spectators

Old Faithful Spectators: The Park Service posts the approximate eruption time, but people began filling the benches about 15 minutes before the posted time.

Old Faithful

Old Faithful: Light rain began just as the geyser began to spew, then increased during the eruption. Only a few people left! Some had umbrellas, but most simply got wet.

Kepler Cascades

Kepler Cascades: This feature is located a few miles up Sylvan Pass after leaving the Old Faithful complex. If we had plenty of time, we could have stopped at West Thumb, before heading back south towards Grand Teton National Park. Instead, we headed to Leek’s Marina for a pizza before driving the rest of the way to Jackson.

The Wrap Up: Call it a successful romp through Yellowstone! The weather was good. We found parking spots with relative ease (except at Midway Basin). There weren’t a lot of animals, but there were plenty of vistas, waterfalls, and geysers. The drive from Jackson, WY through Yellowstone going essentially around the figure 8 outer loops and back to Jackson usually covers around 340 miles. Much of trip restricts speed limits to 45 mph or less. Delays caused by a “Bison jam” or construction can make the trip feel even slower.

All the time were in Yellowstone, my “photographer” mentality was tugging at me. I would have liked to have been at each spot at first light. Of course, that would take a lot of mornings! I would also like to photograph a lot of the waterfalls on an overcast day. I’ll go back someday!


Red, White, & Blue

Patriotic Colors of the 4th of July Parade!

Red, White, & Blue

Parades are always fun for the participants and the parade watchers. At a Jackson Hole 4th of July Parade, the spectators are as interesting as the parade itself.

Red, White, & Blue

This page features the colors of the daycaptured with a Nikon D5 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens.

Red, White, & Blue

Red, White, & Blue

Red, White, & Blue

Red, White, & Blue

Red, White, & Blue

Red, White, & Blue

Red, White, & Blue

Red, White, & Blue

Red, White, & Blue

Red, White, & Blue

Red, White, & Blue

Red, White, & Blue

Red, White, & Blue

Red, White, & Blue


Red, White, & Blue

Red, White, & Blue

Red, White, & Blue

Red, White, & Blue

Red, White, & Blue

Red, White, & Blue

Red, White, & Blue

Snow King Fireworks

The Jackson Hole 4th of July Parades is always in the morning, passing through tourist lined streets in downtown Jackson. Fireworks shows are held at 10:00 pm at Snow King Resort and the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort at Teton Village. I photographed this one from Flat Creek using a Nikon D850 and Nikon 70-200mm lens.