Winter Landscapes 2018

The Jackson Hole valley is magically transformed into a “Winter Wonderland” following a big overnight snow storm. Four to eight inches of the white powder is perfect—allowing the new layer to blanket the old dirty snow and clutter. When this happens, the world looks pristine again. It’s a great time to be cruising the Park’s available roads and trails!

Alpenglow at Snake River Overlook

There are plenty of landscape opportunities, both after a Winter storm and during the storm itself.

Hansen Barn

A lot of Grand Teton National Park’s 310,000 acres is closed to human activity in the Winter. Likewise, many of the roads and pullouts are closed to vehicular traffic. It occasionally feels like we have little access, but there’s a fair amount of GTNP open to hiking, snow shoeing, and cross-country skiing. Additionally, I like to augment my Winter photography by traveling some of the area’s county roads.

Tetons and Setting Full Moon

Varying Conditions

You’ve probably been to a sub shop with a paper order form and a small pencil on the counter top. You check your choice of meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, salt, pepper, mayonnaise, mustard and so forth. They assemble the sandwich to order based on the checked boxes. Wouldn’t that be nice for landscape photography! It doesn’t work that way, of course, but there are a few elements that we all wish for—and would check if we could.

Grand Pano

Winter landscapes in Grand Teton National Park often include views of the Grand and the Teton Range. That’s why people come here! Ideally, Mother Nature offers up some great morning light and clouds behind the snow covered peaks. Clouds and dramatic lighting often separate an every day image into something special. Early morning shots typically offer more chances to get the romantic lighting, but it can happen at any time of the day.

Sun and Branches

Conditions do not always have to be perfect!

On days I can see the mountains, I am looking to put some sort of subject, like a small barn, in front of a wide view of the valley. The barn or stand of trees might simply be an accent or foreground element. On overcast days, the snow covered barn or stand of trees might be THE subject.

Snow Banks

Just like photography in the other seasons, it helps to be flexible and adjust to the conditions.

Jackson Lake Sunrise Pano

I think there are two scenarios for landscape photography. In the first one, you find a location and composition you like, then wait for the dramatic light and clouds. It might even take several trips to get the shot. In the second scenario, you are driving around and “presto”, the dramatic scene is staring you in the face. Stop, set up, and take the shot. Few people viewing your photo will ever know which scenario was in play when you captured the image, but you’ll know! There is never an apology needed for the serendipity shots.

Winter Night

Snow

Not all fresh snow is the same. It can wet and sticky or dry and fluffy. Additionally, with no wind, the snow can gently settle on any horizontal plane or it can be windblown and drifted. Sticky wet snow can cover the sides of vertical planes during a windy storm. There’s so much variety and so many opportunities!

Photography during a snow storm can be more challenging. The size of the flakes and the distance to the subject are two of the big factors. Exposure time can be adjusted for artistic, streaking effects. It helps to check the front of the lens regularly. Blowing snow always seems to find the glass!

Bronze Elk

After a storm, the prime “window of opportunity” can be limited. Wind can blow fresh, light snow off the branches and structures. Sun often begins the melting process.

Wedding Trees

The Winter Season

Winter often feels like our longest season. That, of course, depends on where you are in the valley. By May 1st, some people have already mowed their yard at least once, but snow banks and berms near String Lake can still be higher than most vehicles. By late Fall, I am always ready to see fresh snow and by late Winter I am ready to see hints for green grass and budding trees.

Snake River Overlook

Even as Winter wanes, I almost always think about the shots I didn’t take or places I wish I had gone. There’s always next year.

Landscapes and Photographic Considerations

Daylight hours are limited during the Winter months. The shortest day is usually December 21, but it takes a month or two either side of that date to see much of a change. The low sun, when you can see it, casts long, beautiful shadows. Bounce light from the snow helps reduce harsh shadows. On overcast days, morning can start out quite dark, yet by midday, the clouds can act like a county sized light box. Filtered sunlight can all but eliminate shadows.

Teton Range

I particularly like the Winter days with patchy clouds. The clouds cast shadows in some areas, but allow the sun to create bands of light in others. On those days, chances of getting a dramatic landscape are greatly improved.

Mt. Moran Colors

During the Summer months, most Alpenglow happens at the far south end of the valley. During the Winter months, Alpenglow usually occurs between the Grand and Mt. Moran. Perfect! Snake River Overlook offers a good chance to capture Alpenglow, and the parking lot is usually plowed.

Sleeping Indian

In a nutshell, Winter photography can be challenging. Cold temperatures can push the equipment and the photographer’s ability to withstand the conditions. Heavy coats, insulated underwear, lots of layers, and hand warmers help on many mornings.

Box L Ranch

I augment the GTNP photographic opportunities buy frequenting some of the county roads around the Town of Jackson. Not many of them offer vista views of the mountains, but the barns, fences, and landscapes can offer some great shooting.

Lockhart Ranch

Both short and long telephoto lenses can be used for landscape photography. They are great for “getting to” subjects on private property or to subjects that might require shoe shoes if using a standard lens. Telephoto lenses can help isolate and compress a scene and can be used for panoramic images.

Shadows

Exposures and Processing

Metering in many cameras can be fooled during the Winter. Specifically, auto metering will typically result in underexposed images. I’m a “histogram person”—checking the histogram on the back of my digital camera regularly. Many snow captures require 2/3 to 1 stop positive EV and sometimes more. I get a lot of chances to shoot in these conditions and can now make quick adjustments to the EV values. Relative to wildlife photography, landscape photography is more forgiving. Landscape photographers usually have more time to take a test shot and adjust as necessary.

Elk Ranch Flats

Digital noise is seldom an issue in Winter captures. Dark zones are usually limed in winter landscapes, and as I mentioned earlier, light is often reflected back into the shadows. High ISO settings are seldom needed. On many days, we get to use fast shutter speeds, reasonably high aperture settings, and relatively low ISO on hand held shots.

Grand Pano

No matter what time of the year you are here, Grand Teton National Park is perfectly suited for panoramic landscape images. Current software makes stitching two to nine images a breeze.

Overcast days are often dull and gray. Right? There’s seldom anything in a scene that is bright white. That’s not the case on a sunny day, but the shots taken on a gloomy day often need some additional post processing help. But, how much?

Southpark

My artist side, especially the watercolor artist side, loves the pure white aspect of Winter shots. This is especially true on photos taken on an overcast day. A watercolor artist starts with a white sheet of paper and then applies paint where they see subject matter. Some areas stay white.

Rolling Fence

Although I change my approach and attitude on this topic off and on during the year—and over the years—I still like the simplicity available to me on Winter shots. In Lightroom or Photoshop, I can usually make a dull image pop considerably by adjusting the “white” slider and then tweaking the rest of the sliders to taste. Note: JPG shooters will have less flexibility in post processing than the RAW shooters.

Sunrise at Snake River Overlook

Modern cameras are extremely forgiving when photographing in RAW format, and the software is getting so good, I seldom use graduated ND filters anymore. The white snow and reflected light in the bottom of a Winter landscape capture enough information to bypass the filters in most situations.

Teton Range Reflections

Jackson Hole

If you’ve never been to Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park during the Winter months, you are missing out! There are virtually no crowds and the pace of the day seems much less hectic. There are plenty of subjects if you are willing to be out in the cold weather. Get here, bundle up, and get some shots of your own!

Evening Barns

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March 2018 Daily Journal for JH & GTNP

“Watch for Hints of Spring During a Traditional Winter Month” 

Monthly Overviews for JH / GTNP .

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750lineCheck Out These THREE Popular Pages: If I Had Only One Winter Day in the Tetons: and A Trip to Jackson Hole and Winter in the Tetons: Tips for travel and photography.750lineMarch 1, 2018 Thursday
Sooty WolfWildlife Notes for Early March: With the recent snows, it looks like most of the Elk and Bison have finally made it to the National Elk Refuge. Still it’s a light snow year and some of the Bull Elk have moved back north to the Gros Ventre River area. Coyotes, Raven, and Magpies are on the Refuge feeding on Winter kill carcasses. Moose are seen much less often in the sage flats and appear to be moving back to the river bottoms—generally scattering into the valley. Mountain Goats have been scarce lately, but I expect good activity in March. Bighorns are still visible on most days on the National Elk Refuge. Eagles and Great Horned Owls should be on nests soon. Watch for flocks of Cedar Waxwings and Pine Grosbeaks feeding on the remaining crabapples, choke cherries, and Mountain Ash berries. There have been occasional sightings of Wolves and even a Mountain Lion around the valley. The cold nights have been freezing most ponds and slow moving portions of the streams. Swans and other waterfowl adapt as necessary, finding open water zones. Rough-legged Hawks are seen regularly on Spring Gulch Road and along the Elk Refuge fences and power poles.Continue reading "March 2018 Daily Journal for JH & GTNP"

When Things Seem Slow in GTNP: Options and Suggestions

Come to Jackson Hole!

Sunrise MooseExpect to see towering mountain peaks, panoramic vistas, moose, deer, elk, bison, pronghorns, bears and wolves! You’ll see all of them on the brochures and guide books, but it can take a bit of luck and a lot of persistence to actually see them.There are days when I am driving around and think to myself that I am glad I don’t have a Best of the Tetons Photo Tour that day. The animals, aside from a few ravens or magpies, are simply not visible. It can be perplexing—even for someone who has lived here over 30 years!If you scroll through the years of images and pages on Best of the Tetons, it is evident the animals are here. The magnificent mountain range on the west side of the valley never moves, but at times I might not seem them for a week to ten days. Sometimes it feels like Mother Nature is pushing back! So, what do you do when things seem slow?Continue reading "When Things Seem Slow in GTNP: Options and Suggestions"

Snake River Overlook Winter Stars and Sunrise :

A Sequence of Photos on a Cold February Morning

SRO StarsToday, on my 64th birthday, I jumped up at 3:30 am. I looked out my windows to see stars and clear skies. A Winter storm and cloudy skies are on the horizon. The executive decision had to be made. I headed North to Snake River Overlook. I began shooting at 4:50 am under clear skies and abundant stars. Temperatures ranged from 0°F to -2°F, made a bit colder feeling by the light breeze.For the night shots, I used my Nikon D5 with ISO settings ranging from 2500 to 6000 using a Nikon 24-70 lens. Midway through the “blue light” period, I switched over to a Nikon D850 body. Continue reading "Snake River Overlook Winter Stars and Sunrise :"