Fall is here and the air is finally free of wildfire smoke! So after delaying several summer photo trips we’re excited to get back on the road for a lengthy photo tour. This year the bulk of the trip will be to locations in Red Rock Canyon Country and National Parks of Southern Utah. Listed below are some of the location on the itinerary, generally in order from beginning to end.
If you have any locations or subject matter which interests you in, and we can include in our itinerary, let us know. Also let us know if you will be in any of these ares in October, it would be great to meet up with you!
Craters of the Moon National Monument
Grand Teton National Park
Dinosaur National Monument
Arches National Park
Canyonlands National Park
Cedar Mesa/Bears Ears Wilderness, Anasazi Ruins
Capitol Reef National Park
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, slot canyons and arches
Bryce Canyon National Park
Zion National Park
Great Basin National Park
*This is an ambitious trip so some locations may be omitted due to time and weather considerations.
Buckhorn Wash Pictographs, San Rafael Swell Utah #42086 Purchase
For most people bringing back photos from a backpacking trip is essential. Who doesn’t want to share their adventure with friends and family on the social media beast?
The big question is what is the end use for those photos, and what photo gear should you take to meet that end? Ask 100 photographers that question and you’ll get 100 different answers. And there really are no wrong answers here.
For the purpose of this article I’ll focus on backpacking photography gear tips for photographers that may be in the advanced amateur to aspiring pro levels.
Mount Baker Wilderness North Cascades
It’s All About Weight
Get used to it, if you’re into serious photography while backpacking your pack will be heavy, period.
Only you can determine how much weight you can comfortably carry and for how far. There are endless variables which determine what you should or shouldn’t bring, such as photography goals, trip length, elevation gain, trail or off trail routes, and seasons, to name a few.
Basically though, carrying too much weight can turn your trip into a grueling muscle cramping ordeal. And at the end of the day you won’t have any energy left for photography. Believe me I know what I’m talking about here. For 20 years I lugged around a 4×5 film camera with four lenses, 18 film holders, a film changing tent, extra film, light meter, tripod, filters, etc. All this photo gear alone was well over 35 pounds.
So here are my gear tips for helping to make your backpacking photography trip more successful and enjoyable.
Disclaimer:The following tips are offered from my personal experience and preferences after many years of backpacking photography. What works for me may not work for you.
Backcountry camp North Cascades National Park
There isn’t much you can do here for weight savings. You can’t shave off pieces of you camera or lens to cut down on weight. And this isn’t the category for scrimping on quality to save weight. My choice of photo gear may be on the heavy side, but it ensures high quality results.
One camera body. The best you can afford. It doesn’t matter if it’s digital or film or, which brand, as long you can change lenses. Make sure it has a high quality sensor with enough megapixels sufficient for your end use. A 20 megapixel body may be good enough for social media sharing, but not probably for making large format fine art prints.
Pro Tip: Pro or Prosumer level cameras are much more rugged, and have better weather seals than consumer level cameras. Something to consider if you regularly visit dusty, and or rainy environments, or are hard on your gear.
My Gear: Nikon D850 Yes, it’s heavy, but it’s well built with all the features I need and more. It’s 45.7 megapixel sensor is outstanding for night sky photography, and mural size prints. Really Right Stuff L Plate Used for quick release in conjunction with Really Right Stuff Tripod Ballhead.
Illuminated tent, Sawtooth Mountains Idaho
Wide or ultra wide to short telephoto lenses will cover most situations. Again, go with the highest quality you can afford. It wood be ideal to bring just one zoom lens with a focal length from 20-200mm. However the quality of such a lens may not be optimum.
Many photographers will swear by the quality of prime lenses, but for our purpose bringing an arm load of them isn’t practical. One wide angle zoom lens, plus a normal to short telephoto zoom lens would be a good option.
Pro Tip: High quality lenses are always more important than the camera body. The most expensive camera or post-processing editing app can’t make up for an inferior quality lens.
My Gear: Nikon 14-24mm 2.8 This lens is considered by many landscape photographers to be the gold standard of wide angle zooms. I can attest that it is extremely sharp, and has minimal distortion and chromatic aberration. Nikon 24-70mm 2.8E ED VR There are arguably smaller, lighter weight, and cheaper lenses in this focal length. But for me this lens has proven its worth many times over. It’s tack sharp, and the VR feature is outstanding for hand held work. Nikon 70-200mm 2.8E FL ED VR Again, it’s a heavy and expensive lens, but for me it’s high quality glass and features are worth every ounce.
A tripod is an essential piece of photo gear. Night photography would be absolutely impossible without it. So would close-ups of flowers, long exposures of flowing water, and techniques such as focus stacking.
A tripod is also one item where you may be able to get away with choosing a lighter weight model. This is especially true if you camera body and lens combination is on the lighter side.
Many manufacturers offer tripods with three or four section legs. I prefer three, simpler, less parts that can fail. Also make sure your tripod is tall enough for your needs. Carbon fiber tripods are your best option, they’re slightly lighter than metal, and very durable. They also won’t freeze your hands in cold weather light metal does.
In recent years ball heads have become the standard, and I find them to be a vast improvement over older style handles and knobs.
Pro Tip: Do not opt for an inexpensive poorly made tripod with plastic components! They are not stable and break very easily. I was once in desperate need of a replacement tripod while on location. All I could purchase was a cheap lightweight model. Even with everything locked down as much as possible it was like using a wet noodle to support my camera!
Polarizing Filter. Probably one of the most indispensable filters to bring along. Just be careful not to overdue the effect of darkening a sky. Also keep in mind their limited effect when using wide angle lenses. Graduated Neutral Density Filters. I still find them extremely useful. But If you’re looking to save weight you could leave these at home, and produce their effect in post-processing. They are not always the best option in certain circumstances. However, when possible I will always prefer to use them to make the best exposure in the field, and not rely on post-processing techniques.
My Gear: B+H Polarizing Filter Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters: Four filters; 1 & 2 Stop soft and hard edge. Lee SW150 Mark II Filter System, necessary to accommodate Nikon 14-24mm lens
Extra Batteries. I always take three fully charged batteries, one in the camera and two extras. On a recent 10 day backpack I still had about half power left on my last spare. Be aware that mirrorless cameras may consume more battery power. Extra Memory Cards. Remote Shutter Release. Weighs next to nothing and helps in reducing camera shake. Micro Fiber Cleaning Cloth. Essential for cleaning lenses and filters Camera Chest Pack. I find this optional item to be extremely useful. Not only does it give me quick access to my camera while on the tail, it also has room for small items such as trail snacks and maps. My Gear: Lowepro Toploader Pro 75 AWII
Backpacker Glacier Peak Widerness
Here is where you’ll have the most opportunities for saving weight while on the trail. It’s also where you can spend or save lots of money. Once again how light you go depends on your destination, how long you will be out, and what season you’ll be backpacking in.
Going Ultralight is the catch word of the day, and gear manufacturers are cashing in on it big time. Just be aware that that ultra expensive ultralight gear may not be ultra durable, especially when the weather turns nasty, and after a few seasons of use.
Absolutely nothing is worse than sitting out wind, rain, and or snow for days at a time in a flimsy leaking tent.
Nearly every tent, backpack, or rain jacket on the market today will perform well in adverse conditions, at least for their first season. What gear reviewers won’t tell you is how well they hold up after a few seasons of use!
A high quality good fitting backpack is one of the most essential pieces of gear you’ll need for a successful and enjoyable backpacking trip.
Pro Tip: Forget that fancy expensive photo gear backpack. They are designed foremost to protect your camera and lenses while on the trial, everything else is secondary. You’ll quickly find that out when you’re several miles into a steep climb when that backpack has suddenly turned itself into a medieval torture device.
Go with a pack specifically designed for backpacking. Use soft items in you pack, like clothes to protect your gear. Visit a reputable outdoor gear store and try on different packs. Speak with a knowledgable salesperson about what you need, a good one will help choose and fit the ideal pack. Keep in mind that to accommodate all your photo gear you may need a larger pack than you initially think.
Pro Tip: Do not buy a backpack from an online retailer until you have already physically checked it out and tried it on! Ideally borrow a friends for a short trip first to see if it works for you.
My Gear: Osprey Zenith 88 Osprey makes high quality packs for every type of adventurer. This is the most comfortable pack I’ve ever used. Its suspension system is much more comfortable for carrying heavier loads than their popular Aether 85. Perfect size for trips over three or four days in length. Although it is a bit on the large size for a weekend trip.
Backcountry camp North Cascades
A good shelter is the next most important piece of backpacking gear.
If you’re traveling light and fast, and are only concerned about making miles in gorgeous summer weather without any flying insects to bother you, then even a thin nylon tarp will do.
But it’s a different story when you’re out for a week and the weather turns sour, with mosquitoes, flies, and gnats out in biblical proportions. Then you’ll wish for something a bit more substantial to protect you and camera gear.
Look for a lightweight tent with a silicone treated rain fly. I also like a tent with a vestibule large enough to protect items you don’t want inside the tent. Like boots and a dirty backpack.
My Gear: Big Agnes Copper Spur 2. Super lightweight, easy to pitch, with two doors and large vestibules. This tent also comes in a one person size, but I like a little more elbow room.
Sleeping Bag and Pad
For years I steered clear of down bags, mainly because I felt they were a poor option in the rainy Pacific Northwest. However, now I’m an enthusiastic supporter of down. They’re like sleeping enveloped in a warm cloud. And they’re generally much lighter and more compressible than synthetic bags. A high quality down sleeping bag is not cheap so look at it as an investment. However, with proper care a well made bag will last for many years. Feathered Friends and Western Mountaineering make some of the finest bags around.
Sleeping pads are essential for keeping those roots from poking into your back while sleeping, or for insulation when camped on snow. Options here are either a foam pad or an inflatable. I’ve used Therm-a-Rest pads exclusively for many years. They are incredibly comfortable with adjustable firmness, are lightweight, and compress down very well.
My Gear: Western Mountaineering Badger Therm-a-rest Classic
North Cascades National Park
Another essential item for any overnight trip. The days of preparing your meals over an open campfire are long gone. Campfires above timberline are banned just about everywhere, and for many good reasons. Besides, cooking over an open fire takes an awful long time and is messy and dangerous.
The two options are liquid white gas (Coleman Fuel) and butane mix canisters. Canister stoves are all the rage right now and I have a strong opinion regarding them.
In my experience canister stoves are great for warm weather summer trips. However, when it starts getting cold their performance drops significantly, especially with a partially filled canister. On one winter ski trip I went through 2 whole canisters trying to boil a quart of water. The heat output wasn’t much better than a candle. Thankfully my friend had a backup stove and saved the day.
The empty canisters are also very wasteful. Some canisters can be recycled, but why even bother if there’s another better option.
Liquid fuel stoves perform well at any temperature, and do so to the last drop of fuel. They weigh only slightly more than canister stoves, and there are no empty canisters to dispose of.
My Gear: MSR XGK. Yes, I know, this model is loud. But it heats like a blowtorch in any weather. Plus it’s both incredibly dependable and well built. The one I have now has lasted over ten years and is still going strong!
Wind River Range
Proper footwear is only second to a good backpack for comfort on the trail. There is a strong debate on leather boots vs lightweight trail runners. For years I’ve sworn by stiff leather boots with lugged soles. But on recent trips I’ve gone with lighter weight boots, and will probably move more towards trail runners in the near future.
Pro Tip: Be aware that if you’re backpacking in the mountains early in the season lightweight shoes may not be the best option. Hiking in snow for only a few minutes will result in very wet cold feet. In steep snow slopes you also won’t get much traction, and step kicking will be very difficult.
Here is a list of other necessary items. They’re all important, but I won’t go into detail about them since it would require a separate article.
Weather appropriate clothing
Water bottle or hydration bag
Water filter or other purification method
Food, including trail snacks
Height of the Rockies Provincial Park
This should provide you with enough gear tips to begin planning for your next backpacking photography trip. As I mention many times in this article, cutting down on weight is important. But so is your personal comfort level. This isn’t a contest to see who can have the lightest pack and hike the farthest. So what if you choose a slightly beefier tent, or need to bring another lens? It’s your trip and you can always make adjustments to your preferences in the future.
Now get out there and have fun!
Thanks for reading, feel free to share this post with you friends and colleagues! And make sure to check out my next post in this series: Backpacking Photography Tips
Titcomb Basin Wind River Range
If you found reading Backpacking Photography Gear Tips to be enjoyable and informative please feel free to share it with friends and family
Oxbow Bend Grand Teton National Park #67724 Purchase
A photography trip to Grand Teton National Park can be a once in a lifetime experience. It can also be one in a series of return trips to photography the park in depth, and in all seasons. Whichever it is for you, photographing this gem in the national park system can be a daunting challenge. This is especially true if it your first visit to Grand Teton.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Grand Teton National Park Trip Planning, a visit to photograph this or any other national park can be a very rewarding experience. It can also be a disappointing exercise in frustration. Good planning and having enough time available to meet your photography goals increases your chances of success.
Since I’ve already outlined trip planning in my previous post, let’s start talking about locations. Grand Teton is a big park with dozens of great areas to photograph in. However, for the purpose of this article I’m going to focus only on some of the more popular front country road accessed locations. But first.
Essential Tip #1:Nearly all photography locations in Grand Teton National Park is best photographed in early morning light and sunrise. Of course this means you’ll need to get accustom yourself to rising very early and setting up on location before dawn. However, most of those same locations are also great for evening and sunset photography. But in Grand Teton sunrise has the edge.
Essential Tip #2:Scout out your desired locations ahead of time. Leisurely walk around and previsualize compositions in advance. That way when you return in morning or evening you won’t waste precious time and light scrambling around wondering where the best compositions are.
Essential Tip #3:Throughout this post I reiterate the value of photographing during morning and evening golden hours. However certain lighting conditions can make excellent photography possible during every part of the day. Just because golden hour is over is no reason to stop photographing. Have an open mind and be creative!
Essential Tip #4:Be ready to encounter hordes of other photographers nearly everywhere you go. Plan to arrive and set up in your chosen spot an hour and a half to two hours early. Yes, that means for sunrise photography you’ll be there in position while the stars are still out. Dress warmly, you’ll be standing there for a while! And expect to be elbow to elbow and lock tripod legs with other photographers.
Essential Tip #5:Be respectful of other photographers and park visitors. For many of them this literally may be a once in a lifetime trip that they scrimped and saved for. Everybody wants to get that perfect photo from the best spot. But don’t be one of those jerks that pushes and shoves their way into the front. If you arrive late that’s your own fault, come back the next day, or better yet get creative and find a new composition nearby. And please be friendly. So many photographers can be reluctant to converse, as if they’re going to reveal a special photo secret or technique by talking to their neighbor. Grow up, we’re all here for the same reason, have fun you may make some new friends.
Essential Tip #6:PLEASE, PLEASE PLEASE, be respectful of the environment! All of our parks and wild lands are being loved and photographed to death. If there are signs prohibiting entry or are roped off for restoration, don’t ignore them, no matter how tempting it may be to get that photo. It also should go without saying, don’t alter the scene by cutting down branches that get in your way. If necessary retouch unwanted objects out in Photoshop. Read more aboutOutdoor Ethics here.
Essential Tip #7:Wildlife such as, bison, moose, and elk are abundant in Grand Teton National Park. All wildlife from bison and elk to squirrels and birds have difficult lives just trying to survive on a daily basis. Please give them a wide berth and strictly observepark regulations. Never ever, under any circumstances, for any reason, approach wildlife. They can easily be stressed and provoked into attacking. While you’re recuperating in the hospital, park officials will be busy destroying that animal. I’m sure that’s not in your trip plan.
T.A. Moulton Barn Grand Teton National Park #67410 Purchase
Mormon Row Barns / Antelope Flats
This are is one of the closest locations to the town of Jackson and offers a variety of photographic opportunities. Historic Mormon Row has several noteworthy structures, but the two iconic Moulton Barns are the biggest attractions here. Both barns are close enough that you can photograph both of them during the same golden hour session. However, if you have time available try for one and return the next day for the other. That way you can avoid rushing and finding another parking in the limited parking areas. This area also has some attractive old cottonwood trees to aid in compositions, which are especially nice in fall color.
Antelope Flats Wildflowers Grand Teton National Park #52085 Purchase
Antelope Flats is a great area to photograph carpets of yellow balsamroot wildflowers in spring. They make a wonderful foreground element to the dramatic snow covered Teton Range. Some of the best displays are in the vicinity of the Gros Ventre (pronounced “Grow Vaunt”) road. Early June is the best time of the year to photograph balsamroot and lupines in the Teton Valley. Again, you’ll want to thoroughly check out the entire area the day before to find where the best displays are.
Best time of day for photography: Morning, though excellent in evening. Best season for photography: Moron Row spring, summer, fall. Antelope Flats wildflowers, late May-June.
These include Blacktail Ponds Overlook, Glacier View Turnout, Teton Point Turnout, and Snake River Overlook. All, except perhaps Blacktail Ponds Overlook, have excellent wide open views of the Teton Range. Photography at these locations doesn’t get much easier, as compositions can be made a few steps from the parking lot. As you move from Blacktail Ponds Overlook in the south to Snake River Overlook in the North the view of the Teton Range changes considerably.
Snake River overlook is the most popular since it was here that Ansel Adams made his famous 1942 photo of the Tetons. Be forewarned that over the years trees in the scene have grown considerably. Today, because of this, the Snake River is partially obscured. The view is still wonderful though.
Best time of day for photography: Morning, though excellent in evening. Best season for photography:All Seasons
Schwabacher’s Landing Grand Teton National Park #67503 Purchase
This is one of the prime locations in the Grand Teton for photography, and one of the few accessible to the Snake River. Expects to see lots of other photographers here at sunrise.
There are several excellent options here, including the iconic view of the Grand Teton framed by trees reflected in the still waters of beaver ponds. This photo is a short walk north from the parking lot at the end of the road. It’s imperative to arrive very early, as the ideal composition is within a narrow range of only about four feet wide. Be polite, your neighbor will be photographing the same scene only inches away from you.
Schwabacher’s Landing Grand Teton National Park #67383 Purchase
There are also two creekside (actually branches of the Snake River) areas that provide great photo opportunities. The first being along the trail to the beaver pond viewpoint. The second, just as interesting but less photographed, is 1/4 mile back down the road. Both of them offer compositions where the Teton Range is reflected in the calm waters. There are also an abundance of cottonwoods trees here, making fall photography an absolute must.
Schwabacher’s Landing is a location that offers so many possibilities that you can easily just photograph just here if you only have a couple of days available in the park.
Essential Tip #8:Be aware that this entire area is in a fragile wetland environment. Please observe signs of areas closed for restoration. This is also prime moose habitat. Be alert when walking through brush, I once came across a female and her calf here. If you’ve never seen a moose in person you’ll be amazed at how big they are. Don’t get in their way!
Best time of day for photography: Morning, and evening. Beaver ponds photo, mostly morning. Best season for photography: Fall,Spring, Summer. This area is closed and off limits in winter to protect wildlife habitat.
This is one of my favorite areas in the park for photography. It has excellent photographic potential but many photographers pass it over for Schwabacher’s Landing or Oxbow Bend. The views of the Teton Range here are outstanding. The western pole fencing make a great composition element. It’s also possible to access views along the Snake River, via a long walk through pastures. Occasionally you’ll see herds of elk, or horses from the nearby Triangle X Ranch grazing here, another great aid for compositions.
Nearby on the East side of Highway 191/89 is the North access to the Shadow Mountain Dispersed Camping Area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. A wide parking lot just outside the park boundary is the only place in the entire valley available for winter camping.
Best time of day for photography: Morning, and evening. Best season for photography:All year
Oxbow Bend Sunrise Grand Teton National Park #67699 Purchase
This is arguably the granddaddy of all photo locations in Grand Teton National Park. The views of Mount Moran and the Teton Range reflected in the still waters of the Snake River are recognizable throughout the world. In addition this is a prime wildlife viewing area. You can often see Trumpeter Swans floating lazily on the water, along with moose grazing in the willows across the river. I once saw an enormous herd of elk fording the river here, a scene reminiscent of Serengeti migrations.
You can also observe mobs of photographers, every morning and evening, every day. Don’t even think of finding a prime spot unless you get here well over an hour in advance of golden hour. Most photographers try for a spot at the parking lot edge, however there are plenty of excellent options among the willows along the river.
Aside from the view from the river there are also a couple other spots well worth checking out. This is one of the best areas in the park for fall photography, mainly due to the abundance of aspens groves and willows. About a quarter mile east of the Oxbow Bend parking lot is another pullout at the edge of large groves of aspens. During the height of fall color these tress make spectacular frames for the Teton Range.
Also, on the benchland above Oxbow Bend, there are great views looking down to the aspens surrounding the area, and out to the Teton Range. This view is accessed from the trails on the Christian Pond Loop. If you have the time it’s well worth returning to photograph these two areas after photographing the main attraction. And of course they’re another option if the riverside crowds are a bit too much for you.
Best time of day for photography: Morning, and evening. Best season for photography:Hands down fall is best, but excellent throughout the year. Also one of the best locations in the park for winter photography.
Wildflowers Grand teton National Park #52034 Purchase
Pilgrim Creek Road
Between Jackson Lake Junction and Colter Bay Village is Pilgrim Creek Road. This approximately three mile long gravel road gives access to the Teton Wilderness in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. For photographers the first mile or so of this road gives access to some of the best spring wildflowers in the North end of the park.
Unlike wildflowers around Antelope Flats this area can be a bit more tricky to photograph. The peak bloom usually happens around early June, but a good show depends on a wet season. During a drier than normal spring there may not be a large enough bloom to make the trip worthwhile. Also, some of the best groupings may not be obvious from the road, so make sure to park your vehicle and thoroughly scout the area on foot.
Best time of day for photography: Morning, and evening. Best season for photography:Spring
This long stretch of road encompasses everything from Moose Entrance in the South to the Jackson Lake Junction in the North. Beginning in the North the Potholes and Mount Moran Turnouts offer closer photos of the Teton Range, and in particular the Cathedral Group. In June this is also a very good area for yellow balsamroot wildflowers.
The main highlights of this area are the trails along Leigh, String, and Jenny Lakes. You can park at the Leigh and String Lakes Trailhead and do the entire loop hike. Or you can park at the Jenny Lake Overlook and walk only a portion of the trail. Either way this is the best place to get up close and personal photos of the Cathedral Group and Cascade Canyon.
Further south the Taggart Lake trail will take you to stunningly close views of the Grand Teton.
Essential Tip #9: Leigh, String, and Jenny Lakes are best photographed at sunrise and early morning. The lake waters are more apt to be still and mirror-like at this time. Also, the close proximity here to the walls of the Teton Range will put most of the areas along the Teton Park Road in shade during the second part of the day.
Best time of day for photography: Morning Best season for photography:Spring, Summer, Fall. Teton Park Road is closed in winter at Taggart Lake Trailhead in the South and Signal Mountain Lodge in the North. However, in winter this road is open to cross country skiing and snowshoeing.
As mentioned earlier, this post covers only the more popular easily accessible locations for photography in Grand Teton National Park. There are many more opportunities to explore including these:
Laurence S. Rockeller Preserve
View points along the North section of Jackson Lake
Extensive trail system along Jackson Lake starting from Colter Bay Village
In the backcountry a network oftrailsgives access to the backside of the Teton Range, and includes numerous lakes, canyons, and subalpine meadows. All overnight backcountry trips require permits.
Camera Equipment Suggestions
What camera gear should you bring on a Grand Teton photography trip? In a nutshell, everything you have. Ok, maybe not everything, especially if you’re a gear junkie with dozens of lenses and camera bodies. But subject matter in the park is so diverse you’ll probably end up using everything from ultra-wide to telephoto lens.
Wide to ultra-wide lenses
Normal range lens
Telephoto lens; for landscapes up to 200mm should be fine, but much longer focal lengths if you also plan to photograph wildlife.
Graduated Neutral Density Filters; I still prefer to use these in the field over creating the effect in post-processing. Although in some situations they are not always the best option.
Remote shutter release
Combining all the information and tips in this post andGrand Teton Photography Trip Planning, you now should have everything you need to know to have a productive, safe, and enjoyable trip to Grand Teton National Park. Now get out there and have fun!
Essential Tip #10:BE CREATIVE! Use you own eyes and mind. Just because there are 20 other photographers photographing the exact same scene, in the exact same position, with the exact same gear and settings, doesn’t mean that you have to follow suit. Photographing something in a unique and creative way could be as simple as just turning around to see what’s behind you!
Thanks for reading, feel free to share this post with you friends and colleagues!
Oxbow Bend Sunrise Grand Teton National Park #67681 Purchase
Moulton Barn Grand Teton National Park #67219 Purchase
This post is the first in an ongoing series of articles intended to help landscape and nature photographers plan photography trips to big locations on a small budget.
Photography in Grand Teton, or any National Park, can be a very rewarding experience. It can also be a disappointing exercise in frustration. Even the most meticulous planning is not a guarantee of success. It all depends on what your goals are, and how much time you have available.
In this post I’ll be offering some planning tips and suggestions which can help increase your chances of success during a Grand Teton photography trip. Whether the end results are better vacation photos or portfolio quality images, they’ll also help you obtain a more enjoyable and memorable experience.
Planning A Grand Teton Photography Trip
Theoretically you can spend as little as a day in the park and come away with a few good photos. In reality that probably won’t happen. So I would recommend at least three days to concentrate on one, or maybe two locations. A better time frame would be a week. For a comprehensive trip to include all of the parks highlights, at least two to three weeks would be ideal.
Basically, make sure you have as much time available to meet your goals. And make those goals realistic, don’t expect to create portfolio grade images every morning and evening during your stay. It’s incredibly unlikely that you will have excellent light to work with during every golden hour photo session. On my last trip I spent two weeks in the park and had only one evening and two mornings of decent light.
Of course it’s also a silly notion to think that planning on just one trip to Grand Teton you’ll come away with award winning images from every corner of the park. Just like you can’t go to the grocery store and expect to buy all the food you’ll ever need if your lifetime. You’ll need to return again and again.
Learn to go with the flow, relax, get to know and interact with your subject matter. If you only come away with one or two good photos that’s great, you can always return another time. Good photography is about much more than grabbing trophy images, it’s a lifetime learning journey that should be savored, not rushed.
Guided Tour Or Solo
Once you determine how much time you’ll have available the next thing you’ll need to decide is whether to go with an established workshop/photo tour or do the trip on your own. There are many advantages and disadvantages for either option.
Photo Tour/Workshop Advantages:
-Led by a seasoned professional photographer with intimate knowledge of the park, and the opportunity of learning new techniques from a pro.
-Meals, lodging, and transportation usually included
-Being part of a group of a group dynamic
Photo Tour/Workshop Disadvantages: -Limited freedom to photograph where and when you want
-Daily schedules can be very rigid
-Travel times and distances from lodging to locations can be great
-Cost can be prohibitive
Solo Photo Tour Advantages: -Unlimited freedom, photograph where you want when you want
-Ability to lodge or camp where you choose, cutting down on travel time to locations
-Huge cost savings
Solo Photo Tour Disadvantages: -Extra research need to find best locations
-Finding lodging on the fly on a daily basis can be difficult
-Lack of assistance from leader or group members
-No one to share ideas or experiences with
During my entire career as a professional photographer I’ve traveled mostly solo. I love the freedom and flexibility associated with this mode of travel. And I know for certain that I’ve been able to get better photos because of it. So this is the mode I’ll be giving tips on in this post.
Grand Teton Photography Trip Planning: Seasons
Many photographers consider autumn to be the best. However, Grand Teton National Park offers spectacular photographic opportunities in all four seasons.
Winter: Planning a winter photography trip to Grand Teton requires more preparation and gear. In winter the Teton Park Road is closed to vehicles, as is the popular Schwabacher’s Landing. Antelope Flats and Mormon Row Roads are also inaccessible. However all the viewpoints along Highway 191/89 from Jackson to the Flagg Ranch in the north are open, including the famous Oxbow Bend overlooks. Snowshoes and cross country skis are an excellent option to access some of the easier areas of the park.
Most of the lodging and services in the park are also closed for the season. Lodging options are mostly in the Jackson area in winter, and camping is nearly nonexistent with just a few spots open in the Shadow Mountain area. With temperatures that can dip down to -30º you won’t have much company. But with the right weather and lighting you’ll come back with some rare winter images of the park.
Spring: Since the Teton Valley sits at an altitude of just over 6000′ winter conditions can last well into spring. May would be about the earliest I would consider visiting for spring photography. Late may through June is the best time to visit for wildflowers. During this time many areas of the valley are blanked with brilliant yellow balsamroot and blue lupines, to name a few.
Antelope Flats and Gros Ventre (pronounced “Grow Vaunt”) roads, along with Pilgrim Creek Road near Colter Bay are among the best areas for spring wildflowers. Most of these areas are also wide open to include the snowy Teton Range as a dramatic backdrop for compositions.
Wildflowers Grand Teton National Park #52086 Purchase
Summer: This is the high season for tourism in the park, and possibly one of the most challenging for photographers. This is not only because of having to deal with crowds, but also because of weather conditions.
During the height of summer high pressure ridges can create beautiful warm sunny weather, which unfortunately keeps the sky free of clouds. Most photographers consider blank blue skies and gray rainy days as some of the worst conditions to work with. With global warming in full swing these conditions can last well into September.
Along with those warm sunny days comes the yearly threat of wildfires. In recent years the park’s blue skies are often hazy with thick blankets of smoke. Another consideration of summer photography is that as the season progresses the Teton Range gradually looses its white cloak of snow. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that snowy mountains look more attractive than bare rock.
Fall: This is arguably the most popular season for photographers in Grand Teton National Park. Although the crowds of tourists and vacationers are mostly absent, there are now throngs of photographers to take their place. And for good reason. In a good year the changing colors of aspens, cottonwoods, and willows can be as outstanding as autumn in New England.
In addition to the lively colors of foliage, the changing seasons bring back storms that not only clear the air but also dust the range with a fresh coat of snow. Quite possibly some of the most sought after national park images in the country are those of the Teton Range in full autumn color after a snow storm.
Location, location, location. It’s all about location. And Grand Teton is no exception, it’s a big park with many great locations spread throughout it. Generally you’ll have time to photograph only one location during morning or evening golden hour. By the time you can reach the next spot the light will most likely have faded. And remember this isn’t a race or contest, slow down and appreciate where you are!
The closer you stay to your subject matter the better chance you have at being in right place at the right time. And you will be more relaxed and focused when you get there.
Absolutely nothing is worse than planning on being at a certain spot before sunrise than being late because of hitting the snooze alarm one last time, and then having a long drive ahead. Stopped for speeding, or worse, hitting a moose in the dark during your haste? Ughh!
No matter where you stay, be it in a national park or forest service campground, or in a motel or resort, be prepared to make reservations well in advance or your trip, if possible. Even in the shoulder seasons vacancies in lodging and campgrounds can be difficult to find. Popular campgrounds will fill by early morning. Research and plan ahead. It’s no fun driving around in the dark after a long day trying to find a place to sleep.
In the Town of Jackson: If you crave luxury and have deep pockets then look no further than the town of Jackson. Some of the most opulent hotels and resorts in the West are in this town, as are many chain and mom and pop motels. However, be aware that all of them will have a considerably higher price due to their location.
Also keep in mind that distances from the town of Jackson to many of the most scenic park locations can be anywhere from 15-35 miles. Not a terribly long drive, but back and forth to a motel over several days can really add up. And don’t forget that ideally you’ll need to be at your desired location before sunrise and until after sunset. So you won’t be sleeping in that expensive bed for very long.
Shadow Mountain Dispersed Camping Area #67195 Purchase
In Grand Teton National Park: There are seven lodging options within the park boundaries. These range from rustic cabins and ranches all the way up to the full service luxury hotel of the Jackson Lake Lodge. Depending on where in the park you want to orient your photography efforts, these facilities can put you just a few minutes from some of the most dramatic vistas in the park.
There are five official front country campgrounds in the park with varying amenities. At the time of this writing none of them are available for advance reservations. Most of them will fill to capacity before 10:00 a.m. Jenny Lake is one of the best and most sought after campgrounds. If you choose Jenny Lake campground be prepared to line up for a site well before sunrise, it routinely fills by 6:00 a.m.!
Bridger-Teton National Forest: There are several national forest campgrounds outside the eastern boundaries of the park. These include a couple on the Gros Ventre Road and on U.S. Highway 26-287.
In my opinion the most ideal national forest campsites are in the Shadow Mountain camping areas of Bridger-Teton National Forest. This area is in an ideal location just outside of the eastern middle edge of the park. These sites are always my first choice when visiting the park. I know of at least one site here which has an incredible elevated view of the entire Teton Range and valley.
Camping in the Shadow Mountain area is free on a first come first served basis. Stays are limited to five consecutive nights. However it is primitive camping with only vault toilets and no running water. In addition, parts of the roads can be very difficult to negotiate, high clearance is advised and some can be impassable to trailers. As with everywhere else in the park vicinity these sites fill up early.
Highway 191 Grand Teton National Park #49386 Purchase
Fees Passes Provisions Cell Signals
The entrance fee to Grand Teton National Park is currently $35 for a private vehicle and is good for seven days. An annual pass exclusive to Grand Teton National Park is $70. Note that both of these passes are good only for Grand Teton, they do not carry over to neighboring Yellowstone National Park.
Consider an America The Beautiful annual pass if you photograph in many national parks and federal recreations areas throughout the year. This pass costs $80 and is good for National Parks, BLM lands, National Forests and more.
Various amenities like gas, groceries, showers, and laundry services are available in several areas of the park. However, if you are on a budget plan to make a trip into Jackson to stock up on supplies. Park concessioners charge a premium for their goods. Although sometimes the cost of driving all the way back to Jackson is more than an inflated price for goods in the park.
Grand Teton is one of the few national parks where you can get a decent cell signal in most areas. In the vicinity of visitor’s centers and lodges you should be able to receive a signal strong enough to surf the web, and transfer small files. Further out it will probably be only one or two bars strong.
Oxbow Bend Grand Teton National Park #70448 Purchase
When I announce my planned list of locations at the start of a lengthy photo tour I always stress the subject to change factor. Now that I’m over eight weeks into this trip it’s very apparent that factor has long ago come into play.
For example, the Grand TetonYellowstone segment of this trip was originally going to last for around 5-7 days. However the abundance of subject matter, changing seasons, and weather patterns extended my stay to nearly three weeks! When I return to the office I’ll be posting more details on these two iconic locations. Suffice it to say these parks were a definite change of pace from the quiet solitude of backpacking in the Sawtooths and Winds. I’ve now had my fill of park traffic jams, and crowds of selfie obsessed young women!
Great Fountain Geyser Yellowstone National Park #70539 Purchase
It’s also apparent that I most likely will not be continuing to the Canadian Rockies. After Leaving Yellowstone National Park I’ll be making my way up the Rocky Mountain Front Ranges into Glacier National Park. This will probably be the final destination for the trip. Since by the time I arrive fall color should be close to peak, and I’ll be working hard to take advantage of it.
Moulton Barn Grand Teton National Park #69714 Purchase
*The photos appearing on this post are quick on the road edits. However they will be reprocessed and made available for sale when I return to the office.
*Please note, due to being out of cell or WiFi range for most of this trip I may not be able immediately to respond to any licensing requests, or blog comments. Print orders that are placed while I’m away on this trip will not be shipped until I return to the office. Thank you for your patience and understanding!
I’m excited to announce that the final installment of new images from my epic summer photo tour is ready for viewing. This group of images includes all new locations from the Upper Midwest, South Dakota, Wyoming, along with a bit of Montana. Also note that the New Images Gallery contains a sampling of selected highlights, however you can view the entire collection listed under each state, in left sidebar menu of the U.S. States collection. Below is a complete list of locations represented. You can also view and purchase prints or licensing of these photos by visiting the New Images Gallery.
Michigan:Big Sable Lighthouse, Mackinac Bridge, Tahquamenon Falls, Whitefish Point, Au Sable Point Lighthouse, Picture Rocks National Lakeshore, Porcupine Mountains Minnesota: Goosebury Falls State Park, Split Rock Lighthouse, Grand Marais, Superior National Forest, Touch The Sky Prairie South Dakota:Badlands National Park Wyoming: Devils Tower national Monument Montana:Clark Fork River
Coming soon, more new images! Also, next in line, fall photos from the North Cascades, including Washington Pass, Cutthroat Pass, Maple Pass, and Heather Meadows.
Elliot Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Michigan #63946 Purchase
New Images Illinois Ohio West Virginia Pennsylvania
Sunset at Lindy Point West Virginia #63422 Purchase
Following up on my previous post I’m happy to announce that another installment of new images is ready for viewing. This second group of images from my recent seven week photo tour includes all new locations from the Midwest, along with a section of the Appalachian Mountains. Note that the New Images Gallery contains a sampling of selected highlights, however you can view the entire collection listed under each state, in left sidebar menu of the U.S. Statescollection. Below is a complete list of locations represented. You can view and purchase prints or licensing of these photos by visiting the New Images Gallery.
Illinois:Starved Rock State Park; Matthiessen State Park; Heron Pond Cache River State Natural Area; Shawnee National Forest, Garden of the Gods Ohio:Hocking Hills area and State Park West Virginia: Blackwater Falls State Park, waterfalls and Lindy Point Overlook Pennsylvania:Laurel Highlands; Ohiopyle State Park; Youghiogheny River; Covered Bridges
Upper Falls, Old man’s Cave Hocking Hills, Ohio #63229 Purchase
Coming Up Next
Currently I’m working on editing and processing the last segment from the trip. I should have them uploaded and ready for viewing and purchasing in a week or two. This final group will include Michigan, both lower and upper Peninsulas, and Minnesota’s Lake Superior North Shore, along with a small segment of the Minnesota prairie. Also, last but certainly not least, I’ll have some photos from a very successful stay in Badlands National Park South Dakota, and Devil’s Tower Wyoming.
Finally, after all of the photo have been uploaded I’ll be revisiting the entire trip in a series of blog posts. In each post I’ll share some of my experiences, and also talk about the unique aspects of each location.
New Images Selkirk Mountains Bugaboos Kootenai Falls
Bugaboo Provincial Park British Columbia #62907 Purchase
I’m happy to announce that my extensive summer photography tour has successfully wrapped up. After seven weeks and over 8700 miles driven, with numerous trails hiked, I’ve returned with plenty of new photographs. Most of these new photos are from locations I’ve never photographed in, such as Michigan, West Virginia, Southern Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands. Scroll down this post to see the complete list of locations and subject matter from this trip.
Mount Sir Donald, Glacier National Park British Columbia #62836 Purchase
The editing and processing of all these photos will take some time, however I have a small selection of highlightsready from the first part of the trip. This first section includes the Selkirk Mountains in British Columbia’s Glacier National Park, Bugaboo Provincial Park, and Kootenai Falls Montana. You can view and purchase prints or licensing of these photos by visiting the top of the New Images Gallery.
This summer again had wildfire smoke filling skies throughout the western states and Canada. However, at the start of my trip I was fortunate enough to experience a brief window relatively free of smoke. Although the smoke returned at Kootenai Falls it provided a warm tone which enhanced to mood of the photos.
British Columbia Canada: Glacier National Park; Bugaboo Provincial Park; Backpacking, Heli-Hiking Montana:Kootenai Falls; Clark Fork River Illinois:Starved Rock State Park; Matthiessen State Park; Heron Pond Cache River State Natural Area; Shawnee National Forest, Garden of the Gods Ohio:Hocking Hills area and State Park West Virgina:Blackwater Falls State Park, waterfalls and Lindy Point Overlook Pennsylvania:Laurel Highlands; Ohiopyle State Park; Youghiogheny River; Covered Bridges; Fort Necessity National Battlefield, 18th century re-enactments Michigan Lower Peninsula:Big Sable Point Lighthouse; Colonial Michilimackinac, 18th century re-enactments Michigan Upper Peninsula:Mackinac Bridge; Whitefish Point Lighthouse; Tahquemanen Falls; Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore; Au Sable Light Station; Porcupine Mountains Wilderness, Lake of the Clouds Minnesota: Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, waterfalls and lighthouse; Tettegouche State Park waterfalls; Grand Marais Light Station; Devil’s Kettle Falls; Grand Portage, High Falls Pigeon River; Boreal Forest; Touch the Sky Prairie South Dakota:Badlands National Park Wyoming:Devils Tower National Monument
I’m very excited to announce my latest photo schedule. Beginning this week I will be leaving on a Summer / Fall Photography Tour which includes a wide variety of cool locations. While the length of the trip and the specific locations are subject to change, it’s safe to say this one will be big.
Possibly extending into the fall season the trip will begin in the Bugaboo Range of the Purcell Mountains of British Columbia. Then I will be moving on to the Midwest and the Appalachian areas of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Looping back west will take me through Michigan’s Upper Penninsula and the North Shore of Lake Superior. If time allows on the return home I may also fit in photographing the Wind River Range of Wyoming and a few selected sites in Montana.
Listed below are some of the locations and subject matter I hope to work with. However, with a trip this big it is difficult to say how factors such as weather and time constraints will affect the list. Of course I am always open to suggestions for locations and subject matter you have interest in seeing. Feel free to contactme through email, texts or FB Messenger.
Purcell Mountains British Columbia: Bugaboos, Jumbo Pass
Ohio: Hocking Hills Region
West Virginia: Appalachian Mountains, Babcock and Blackwater State Parks
Pennsylvania: Laurel Highlands Region
Michigan: Lake Michigan Lighthouses, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Minnesota: North Shore Lake Superior
Wind River Range Wyoming Subject Matter:
Country Roads and Byways
Make sure you also check my Facebook and Instagram pages to see new image updates as this trip progresses.
In my last post I left off with our departure from Cape Breton Island Nova Scotia. In this post I’ll be talking about our visit to Bluenose Coast of Nova Scotia. This area of Nova Scotia has been high on my photography wish list for many years. Bluenose Coast contains some of the most famous tourist attractions in the Province. Situated southwest of Halifax the area includes Peggy’s Cove, and the lovely coastal villages of Chester, Mahone Bay, Lunenburg, and Blue Rocks. How the term Bluenose originated is up for debate, some say it is a derisive term dating to political divisions of the late eighteenth century. However, others will say it refers to a bluish variety of potato, or the nose color of locals in winter.
Our drive from Cape Breton Island down to the Bluenose Coast was again a long tiring journey. Not only was the weather rainy discouraging, the route we took was longer than anticipated. Instead of taking a direct course via the main highway, we decided on a more scenic drive along the coast. While I won’t say this was a mistake we did find the road to be exceedingly long with very few coastal views. Most of the way travelled through heavily forested lands dotted with tiny villages. Occasionally the roads breaks out on the coast with views of numerous islands. According to our travel brochures this area northeast of Halifax is a haven for wilderness loving sea kayakers. I’d love to be able to return and explore this vast area with a boat.
The Fo’c’sle Pub Chester, Nova Scotia #58700
Between the rain and the torturous road we decided to finish the drive to Bluenose Coast the next day. We weren’t to thrilled at the prospect of finding our way through the Halifax area at night. After anxiously getting through Halifax in the morning we decided to base our stay at Graves Island Provincial Park. Well situated near all the sites I was hoping to photograph, Graves Island also had some of the best campsites on our trip. After setting up camp we went on to check out the nearby town of Chester. Founded in 1759, Chester is a quaint village on Mahone Bay noted for stately old homes, and a thriving artist community. Along with a boat filled harbor Chester is also home to The Fo’c’sle, Nova Scotia’s oldest pub. I couldn’t resist photographing the whimsical dragon hanging above the entrance.
After a few weeks of photographing mostly nature oriented locations we were finally in Coleen’s environment. Picturesque coastal towns with lots of shops to browse through was something she had been looking forward to. Although I’m mostly a wilderness nature lover I also was enjoying the change. The next day was perhaps the most memorable of the entire trip. It was a big day with lots of sites to see and photograph on the Bluenose Coast. We began it with breakfast at The Kiwi Cafe in Chester, a colorful establishment with great food, after which we proceeded to Lunenburg and Blue Rocks. Along the way we passed by Oak Island, the site of questionable buried treasure, made famous on the History Channel’s Curse of Oak Island tv show. Needless to say, we didn’t stop by to check it out.
Along the way we had to stop in the town Mahone Bay for the annual Scarecrow Festival and antique fair. Even without the festival the town is definitely worth a stop. Dating back to 1754, Mahone Bay has numerous eclectic boutiques, art studios, antique shops, B&Bs, and restaurants. Of course with the festival in full swing Mahone Bay was overflowing with tourists, including us. We ended up spending several hours there checking out shops and the over 250 whimsical handmade scarecrows. But we had to move on, I was anxious to scout Lunenburg and the tiny fishing community of Blue Rocks. Aside from Peggy’s Cove these to locations are perhaps the most scenic and photographed in all of Nova Scotia.
Mahone Bay Scarecrows #58715
Lunenburg is yet another old historic fishing town. In my mind it was the most interesting one we visited. The town sits on a gentle hill overlooking the bay, with many of the historic buildings sporting vibrant colors. For photographers looking to capture these colorful buildings on the waterfront there is no better spot than a park directly across the bay. You have the option of photographing from the waterfront or up a hill on the edge of a golf course. The later offers a wonderful elevated view of the town and boats.
After finding these locations and making a few photos we went on to scout Blue Rocks. Being new to the area it was a bit difficult to find among the maze of roads. However there was no mistaking it on arrival. Blue Rocks really is just a small community with several fishing shacks and boats on calm inlet. The location though is classic, old colorful fishing shacks and boats moored alongside with islands and the Atlantic as a backdrop. And the rocks are really blue, with the layers eroded into fantastic shapes. With crystal clear water and bright yellow skirts of seaweed the rocks boats and buildings presents a dazzling array of colors and shapes. I was bubbling over excitement at photographing this wonderful location! The only thing missing though were clouds, the sky was an empty electric blue. Perfect for picnics and leisurely drives but not for photography.
It was still early so we went back to Lunenburg to check out the town and have a bite to eat. We found another gem at the tiny Salt Shaker Deli. I would highly recommend stopping by if you are in the area. The food was wonderful, probably the best seafood chowder in the Province, and the friendly staff and outstanding harbor view made for a memorable experience. And if this wasn’t enough, as we were finishing our meal I noticed some interesting clouds moving in!
Our plan was to head back to Blue rocks after dinner for evening light, and then hurry back to Lunenburg to photograph the waterfront at twilight. Arriving at Blue Rocks the sky darkened and rain began to come down in sheets. A complete opposite of the earlier sunny blue sky. I was getting discouraged at my prospects when the showers began to move on. The elements for some great evening light were beginning to come together. Firstly a rainbow began to take shape, followed by curtains of rain and clouds being illuminated by the setting sun. Moving around I found many compositions among the boats and fishing shacks. As the light began to peak and fade I worked to photograph one of the most iconic shacks in the last glowing light of the evening. So far this was the best combination of light and subject matter on the trip.
We were also able to get back to the Lunenburg location in time for more photography. I quickly set up and made some photos just as the lights began to turn on in town with a purple twilight glowing above. All in all it was a perfect autumn day, sightseeing in historic towns with Coleen, great meals, and successful photography. But there was more in store for us along the Bluenose Coast the next day at Peggy’s Cove, our final location in Nova Scotia.