My favorite time of year is almost here, Fall in Grand Teton National Park. There are almost unlimited landscape photo opportunities with the Aspen and Cottonwood trees turning gold, against the backdrop of the majestic Tetons. The light stays warmer longer, and the skies are a deeper blue. Animals are much more active as the temperature cools, and can be very accessible. Fall is the perfect time of year for a Grand Teton wildlife tour.
The first big wildlife event of the Fall Season is the Elk rut. Typically, Elk are out grazing during the very low light conditions of early morning and late dusk, but during the mating season they tend to stay out of the trees longer during the golden hours of light. In addition to the wonderful visuals, there is nothing quite like hearing a big Bull Elk bugle!
While the Bull Moose have started to leave the river bottoms already, the best time to see and photograph them begins in early October and continues until they shed their antlers in mid January. They can be very approachable, and I really love the clean backgrounds that occur when the Moose gather in the open Sage meadows.
If you are interested in exploring Grand Teton National Park during the magical Fall season, I hope you can join me on a Grand Teton wildlife tour. You’ll be sure to have the best opportunity to get some amazing wildlife and landscape shots. All tours are private and can be customized. Please see information and our typical itinerary here.
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season! After a busy December, I’ve had a chance to edit some photographs and reflect on the 2018 season. The following ten are some of my favorites from last year, and not necessarily for the technical aspects of the pictures, but rather the experiences and moments that led to the creation of the images.
I’d also like to thank all of you who joined AlpenGlow Tours last year, and I hope that 2019 brings you some outstanding photo opportunities! If you’re coming back to Jackson, contact me about a trip.
In chronological order, my favorites from last year!
Bison are amazing animals, and truly an icon of the American West. This large Bull was photographed during a -15 degree morning in Yellowstone, accentuating the steam and frost. The soft light certainly helped, adding just a touch of highlights to this portrait.
I spent a lot of time with a few different foxes last year, but this was a special encounter. I came upon this one hunting, and quite close. The fox didn’t seem to mind my presence, and I was able to set up my 600mm lens in time to capture the full pounce from start to finish. And yes, this leap was successful!
It’s always a special day to see wolves, and last year I was fortunate enough to find them seven days in a row! Usually they are too distant to make good photographs, but on this day this particular wolf posed within 120 yards, and the light was just perfect.
4. Schwabachers Landing
While I’ve visited this location hundreds of times, it’s rare that we get a combination of clouds and wind at sunrise during the spring. This image was from one of those days, and gave me a chance to experiment with a 10 stop neutral density filter to really increase exposure time. I do like the effect of smoothing the water and slightly blurring the clouds.
5. Bear Cub
My favorite encounter(s) of 2018! Usually a mother bear will have a litter of two or three cubs, but this image is of a sole cub. Having no litter mates to play with, this adorable black bear was the most inquisitive and playful cub I have ever photographed. Every tree needed climbing, every stick was a new toy, and every day a new experience. I was able to photograph this cub and its mother on five different occasions last year, and hope to see them again in ’19!
While Ravens are very, very common in the area, I’ve found them difficult to photograph. This bird was cawing incessantly while we were parked waiting for a Grizzly and cubs to appear, and I finally had enough of the squeaking and took a few frames. I think that the overcast light really helped to bring out the details, as well as converting the image to black and white.
While shooting a different scenic location, I looked up at the clouds and saw what I thought might be a break developing. I took a gamble and drove the twenty minutes to this iconic location, and was rewarded with an exceedingly brief shaft of light on the vibrant Fall Aspens.
This owl may be one of my best finds ever! We were driving along looking for wildlife, and I just happened to notice this Great Gray perched 3 feet off the ground in a tangle of dead pine branches and extremely well camouflaged. After turning around, we cautiously approached the bird but another vehicle spooked it. Luckily, it only flew a short distance to a much cleaner and more photographable perch.
Moose are very common in the Tetons come October, and this Bull had the most photogenic antlers of all the animals I observed. I do like shooting early in the morning for the softer light, and the shallow depth of field and high ISO help to frame his antlers.
Another exceedingly cold day to end the year! This is a photograph of Grizzly 399 and one of her cubs, the matriarch of bears in Grand Teton National Park. I really like the frost on their fur, and the warm morning light. This image was taken just prior to hibernation, and I’m really looking forward to seeing them in the Spring of 2019!
Thanks again for the incredible memories and experiences in 2018, and I wish you a wonderful 2019!
Spring is one of my favorite times to offer Grand Teton wildlife tours, for this season gives us the best opportunity to photograph Grizzly Bears. While we’ve had plenty of snow this winter in the Grand Teton area, the bears are now coming out of hibernation. The Grizzlies tend to remain in a smaller area to conserve energy while searching for food, and I expect them to be accessible until mid June.
In my opinion, the Grizzly is true symbol of the American West. There is nothing quite like seeing a wild bear in the beautiful surroundings of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.
In addition to photographing bears, Spring is a wonderful time for other wildlife species. The Elk, Pronghorn and Bison are giving birth, and the Raptors have returned to the area. While a wildlife tour will concentrate primarily on the animals, we will also have the opportunity for some landscape photography. The Tetons look great this time of year, with a full covering of snow contrasted by the new vegetation.
Grand Teton Wildlife Tours
If you are interested in Grizzly Bears or the many other species of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, I hope you can join me on a tour. You’ll be sure to have the best opportunity to get some amazing wildlife shots. See a typical tour itinerary here.
Of all the animals I encounter during my Jackson Hole wildlife tours, the Great Gray Owl has to be one of my favorites. Although they are not common, once located they can be very cooperative subjects. The Great Gray Owl is an ambush hunter, and will stay on their perches for extended periods of time while listening and looking for prey.
This behavior can give photographers more time than usual with birds to capture some nice portraits. Once I feel that I’ve captured some interesting images of a perched owl, I’ll increase the shutter speed in anticipation of the bird taking flight. The owls swoop down on their prey, and if unsuccessful will often stay in the same general area to perch again and continue the hunt.
Jackson Hole Wildlife Tours
If you are interested in Great Gray Owls or the many other species of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, I hope you can join me on a tour. You’ll be sure to have the best opportunity to get some amazing wildlife shots. See a typical wildlife tour itinerary here.
A favorite time of year, winter wildlife tours in Jackson Hole can offer some unique opportunities. To begin with, the animals are much easier to spot! With a heavy blanket of snow covering the valley and the trees being leafless, the wildlife “pops” off the landscape. The stark snowy backgrounds can also help to isolate the animals in the image by creating some nice negative space. While we do have more overcast days during the winter months, this can provide for some nice, even light on the wildlife. It can also give some reflected light off the snow, keeping shutter speeds fast and lowering ISO numbers which can yield higher quality images. Another benefit to the winter wildlife photographer is the animals are less active. The animals are trying to conserve energy , and by keeping a distance that doesn’t disturb them I’m often able to photograph for a longer period than in summer.
Although some of the summer wildlife have migrated, there are plenty of animals about during winter wildlife tours in Jackson Hole. I seem to find more fox and coyote during the winter, and it’s really nice to have some Bighorn Sheep spend the winter here on the National Elk Refuge. Bison, Elk and Moose winter here, and there is always the possibility of a wolf sighting!
If you need a break from our incredible skiing or are here to experience the Grand Tetons, I hope you can join me for a winter wildlife tour in Jackson Hole.
Historically, April and May are the best months for Photographing Grizzly Bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. As the snow melts and the temperatures begin to climb, the bears emerge from a long hibernation. Although we have had some unseasonably warm weather and there have been confirmed sightings of Grizzlies already out in Yellowstone, I expect that the region will receive some more snow and that the majority of the bears will emerge in early April. Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks offer some great locations where the Grizzlies have tended to concentrate in the spring; just off the roads so I’ve been able to photograph them while having the safety of my SUV nearby. The bears tend to stay in these areas for a few weeks, grazing on exposed grasses and looking for carcasses of Elk and Bison.
I’m very fortunate to reside in an area that has such an abundance of wildlife, and photographing Grizzly bears is an absolute, singular thrill. I hope that you can join me this Spring when the bears are most accessible, as there is nothing more exciting than observing these true symbols of the American wilderness.
Yellowstone in the winter is simply an amazing experience. I’ve just returned from a six day tour of the park with two excellent photographers from England; the trip was everything that I’d hoped it would be. We started by taking a snowcoach from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful, following the Madison River. The coach stopped for every wildlife photo opportunity, which included three locations of Bald Eagles, Trumpeter Swans, Elk and Bison. After two more stops at Fountain Paint Pot and Black Sand Basin for some landscape shots, we arrived at the Snow Lodge at Old Faithful. Yellowstone in the winter is, in a word, peaceful. It was a completely different experience watching Old Faithful erupt in the company of six other people as opposed to the crowds of hundreds during the summer.
After travelling to the North Entrance of the park to our lodging in the historic Mammoth hotel, we began to explore the Lamar Valley. With the roads clear and absent of traffic, we were able to drive slowly to search for wildlife. Like many others who visit the park in the winter, wolves were what we wanted to see. Although we observed wolves everyday through the spotting scope, none came close enough for good photography. It was still a real thrill listening to their howls and calls across the open spaces of the valley.
Some of the parks other wildlife were much more cooperative. My clients were able to get some outstanding images of Coyotes every day, as well as Bighorn Sheep, Bull Elk, Bison and Bull Moose. The weather couldn’t have been better, sunny skies and great light with some rather mild temperatures. The stars are bright over Yellowstone, allowing for some fantastic night photography.
I have another tour scheduled for February with two clients from this past August. The excitement is already building to return to the incredible experience of Yellowstone in the winter.
Autumn is my favorite time of the year, and the Jackson Hole fall colors are amazing right now! The valley is full of yellows from the Cottonwood and Aspen trees, contrasting nicely with the greens of the Pines. The cool nights and bright days we’ve had in September have brought the colors to a peak, and the occasional thunderstorms bring some dramatic lighting to the area. Just south of Jackson, the Snake River Canyon and Palisade Reservoir have an abundance of reds among the hillsides. I enjoy shooting in the early morning, although the light is staying nice longer with the lower angle of the sun.
The mornings are also a prime time for viewing wildlife, Moose, Elk and Bison are all in the heat of the rut and are quite active. The Moose – Wilson road has seen some periodic closures due to bear activity; I’m hoping for some more bear sightings now that some have left the higher elevations. With the Jackson Hole fall colors at their best and increased wildlife activity, now is a great time to be in the area. It really doesn’t matter which way you point your vehicle, photo opportunities abound! For more images, please visit my gallery.
Schwabacher landing CottonwoodsBull Moose at Blacktail PondsAspens at the PalisadesSnake River CanyonSnake River Overlook
My clients often ask about Yellowstone photography tips. Other than getting out early and staying out late for the best light, one of my best tips is the proper use of different filters. A circular polarizing filter is quite useful for increasing contrast in the sky and also for enhancing colors. I like to use this filter when shooting the hot pools in Yellowstone; it can really make the colors pop. Polarizing filters have the greatest effect when the sun is at a 90 degree angle to the subject you are photographing. While it may seem obvious to some, here’s a top tip. I’ve had a few clients that didn’t know that you need to rotate the filter for it to work. After you’ve composed your subject, simply rotate the filter and observe the effects through the viewfinder. If you shoot the scene both horizontally and then another vertically, remember to rotate!
Graduated neutral density filters are also extremely handy, especially when shooting landscapes at sunrise and sunset. I use the Lee system which has a 2 stop graduated ND 4″x6″ resin filter. By sliding the filter up and down in its holder, I’m able to select where I want the darkening to occur in the sky, balancing the exposure. If you use Lightroom for post-processing, there is also a grad filter there in the develop module. I will sometimes utilize this tool but try to get the image right in camera.
Solid ND filters are great for reducing the amount of light reaching the sensor. This can be useful for giving water and clouds that silky feel by slowing the shutter speed, even during the middle of the day. For the header image of the lightning strike, a ten stop ND filter was used to give an exposure time of 25 seconds at f/8. As the storm moved through the valley I kept shooting, hoping to get a bolt of lightning while the shutter was open.
We used to say film is cheap, digital is free! These Yellowstone photography tips can be used on any scenic shots; experiment with the different filters the next time you’re on location. I think you’ll find that they can really transform an image. You can view more of my Yellowstone Photography here.
To darken the sun and clouds, a 2 stop Graduated ND filter was usedGraduated ND filter used to balance the dynamic range of the exposureCircular polarizing filter used to enhance the colors of Heart PoolA 3 stop ND filter will allow for a longer shutter speed, smoothing the texture of the water
Along with some other Jackson Hole photographers, I’ve been doing more night photography lately. With todays cameras, capturing the beauty of Grand Teton National Park under the stars has never been easier. I use a variety of different flashlights to lightpaint different subjects, from a small headlamp all the way up to a 1 million candlepower spotlight. After setting the initial exposure for the sky or stars, I’ll then experiment with the length of time the subject is painted. Do some experimenting and if the light is too strong try backing away. The intensity of the flashlights coverage can really fall off within just a few yards. The best part is the immediate feedback on your screen, try different ISO’s and exposure times.
Star trails are a little more complicated, requiring multiple exposures and more post-production time. I like to start with an ISO of 400 and an exposure time of 4 minutes at f/5.6. The more exposures you do, the longer the star trails will be. The image of the Moulton barn was a 12 exposure combination, using a program called StarStaX.
I think that the most difficult part of photographing the Milky Way is locating foregrounds in relation to the Milky Ways’ location. I use the program Stellarium which has all the information needed to find almost anything star related. Exposure is fairly easy, I like to start with an ISO of 2500 and a time of 25 seconds at f/2.8 with a 20mm lens. Remember that the longer the focal length of your lens, the shorter the exposure times must be to avoid blurring the stars.
While Grand Teton National Park can be a busy place during the day, things really quiet down after dark. Its quite peaceful and just a great time to capture some unique images.
Light Painting Mormon RowMilky way near Kelly, Wy Grand Teton National ParkMoonrise Mormon Row – Grand Teton National Park