Despite a lack of wildlife to be found around the area, I was still able to make great opportunities as they arose. The winter had turned into an unusually warm one for Jackson Hole and while normally it’s too cold to even snow, rain was becoming common throughout January. Yet winter still persisted off and on. On one such morning, I woke up to -17F and made an opportunity to make the most of it. One of my favorite series of shots came from a bridge crossing the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park. Small pieces of ice were carried down the water from farther upstream as an earlier fog coated the trees that lined the river in hoarfrost. The sun was just at that moment emerging from the morning cloud cover casting long, blue shadows from the trees.
With snowy owls descending much farther south than their typical habitat, a couple of friends and I decided to jump on the opportunity to catch them once we heard plenty of news about it. We drove up to the Vancouver, British Columbia area and stayed for five days photographing not just the snowy owls, but seeking out, and eventually finding five other types of owls and a plethora of other bird species as well. On our last morning there, well aware that I had yet to catch a nearby snowy owl in flight, I was determined to make the shot happen. I followed one after the other up and down the trail as I tried to find the best opportunity. As the early hours began to wane, so did the activity of the owls. I was almost ready to accept returning without a flying shot, when out of the corner of my eye I caught one flying in my direction. I immediately turned my camera on my tripod and began tracking it as I fired off shots. In reviewing the captures, I was happily satisfied with the accomplishment, at which point we moved on heading back toward Jackson Hole, Wyoming, but not before stopping into Yellowstone National Park for a couple of days as well.
With northern lights activity beginning to pick up, I was determined to take advantage of every opportunity that presented itself. Activity on this particular night was very strong and with moonlight helping to light the scene, it gave me the perfect chance to try to get a shot of the auroras with a telephoto lens. Using a 100-400mm L lens, I set the focus to infinity and composed a shot around the aurora borealis above the Grand Teton and its surrounding peaks. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it actually turned out and created a rather unique perspective on the northern lights themselves.
April for me has come to mean something exciting for me personally: grizzly bears. April is when grizzly bears typically begin to emerge from their den and while the most activity occurs through May and June, April’s activity certainly puts to rest any anxiety I had built up during their hibernations. One of the most famous bears of course is Grizzly Bear #610 of Grand Teton National Park who has made a name for herself (so to speak) after following her mother’s example, #399, of raising her cubs along the roadsides to avoid encounters with male bears. With yearling cubs, all four bears emerged healthy and showed nothing but enthusiasm for being out of hibernation. For several days straight they were seeing playing in the melting snow for hours, wrestling with each other, and with 610.
I had begun guiding for Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris for the summer and was exposed to more spring wildlife encounters than I had begun to expect. Trips into Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks provided plenty of encounters of many different kinds of species that inhabit the ecosystem, and in taking my camera along, I was sure to get as many of them as possible. The bull elk in Yellowstone National Park were becoming quite reliable and on one brief encounter, I was able to capture one of them on a grassy ridge with him posing perfectly in front of clouds, his antlers only just beginning to grow out to their eventual potential. I knew just from reviewing the photo in camera that his silhouetted body shot in a perfect profile would make an ideal black and white.
[northern lights over shadow mountain]
Once again, the northern lights were out and the activity was intense! I met up with a few friends who were camping on the top of Shadow Mountain just east of Grand Teton National Park that evening in anticipation of their emergence as daylight faded. With little-to-no activity initially, we huddled around the campfire discussing other instances they had been out. With our eyes fixed on the campfire, they weren’t as well adjusted to the night sky as they probably should have been, but on this night, it didn’t matter. A friend with us whom had never actually witnessed auroras looked up and asked “What is that??” My other friend and I looked up to the northern horizon and saw spectacle of streaks erupting from just over the trees, all with our naked eyes. We all jumped to our cameras and began firing away. With such enormous activity on this particular night, I knew the only way to really effectively capture this outburst was through a panorama. I was even fortunate enough to capture a meteor in one of the shots used to stitch the panorama together.
With the northern lights creating a spectacle over Jackson Hole, Wyoming nearly every few weeks, I decided I needed a foreground object to create a more interesting scene rather than just the silhouetted foreground that I had been using. Despite needing to wake up early the next day, I was determined to capture the Moulton Barn on Mormon Row in front of northern lights. I was there at sunset scoping out potential shots (and even capturing a few) as I waited for the light to recede enough to see the auroras. At twilight, with a few clouds in the area, the aurora borealis became clearly visible and I began shooting a number of different compositions as day transitioned to night, all the while the northern horizon illuminated from the northern lights. Using my headlamp, I lit up the barn during an eight second exposure which smoothed out the auroras behind the barn, and gave me enough time to run to a different angle, dodging ground squirrel holes in the process, and then “paint” the barn for a few seconds with my headlamp.
August was filled with an endless amount of safari tours as the summer season peaked in visitor attendance, keeping me plenty busy throughout the week. Nevertheless, I did manage one or two brief escapes into the Teton Mountains for a bit of personal alone time. Backpacking trips are one of my favorite means of relaxation, and with such a hectic schedule, I welcomed each opportunity to venture into the mountains. On one particular trip, I didn’t go so far into the mountains as merely to their base. Bearpaw Lake was still plenty far enough away from civilization by foot to keep me entertained and replenish my energy. On my return trip back out, feeling much more exuberant, the trail brought me by a completely still Leigh Lake. Much to my delight, Mount Moran was reflected perfectly in the calm waters. I captured several shots, but this one was easily my favorite.
Bear sightings had long since become scarce for the season. Yet with fall, the occasional sighting does pop up as the bears begin stirring a bit more in preparation for the oncoming winter. Often, these encounters are very brief as the bears are on the move to get from one area to another. This is precisely what happened as I came across Grizzly Bear #610 traveling north with her cubs along Teton Park Road in Grand Teton National Park. I initially spotted her at the base of a small rise popping in and out of sagebrush. I immediately turned my car around and waited for her to climb up the ridge. Sure enough, she made the easy climb up, her cubs only barely visible above the sagebrush following closely behind her. To get a better bearing on her surroundings and which direction to head, she stood up above the sagebrush as smoke from forest fires in the area clouded out the background. Initially, I was disappointed at the lack of interest in the color version. In noticing the minimal composition and faded background however, I gave it a black and white treatment and grew much more fond of the final result.
With the summer and fall season winding down in Jackson Hole, the landscape quieted down, and as is customary in the area, many people began their fall vacations, myself included. My vacation this time, however, consisted of something brand new that had been at the top of my bucket list for years: photographing polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. Requiring much more than a quick vacation into Canada for relaxation, I decided to explore another place that I was completely unfamiliar with along the way: The Black Hills of South Dakota. It was an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable experience and a place I look forward to returning to. The climax for this trip, however, was definitely still on its way as I began making my way north. I met up with a group of friends in Winnipeg, Manitoba and we boarded the train for a two-day journey to the subarctic region along the Hudson Bay. Our first day was filled with getting a lay of the land and a few chance encounters with foxes and distant polar bears. Our second day, however, gave us the adventure we had hoped to find. Upon spotting a couple of polar bears, one of them began making its way over in our direction, at which point I snapped this shot. It didn’t end there though. The massive bear apparently smelled something interesting on the two cars we had rented and was intent on investigating. He made a short attempt to try to climb up the car I was in, then after pulling forward a bit to startle him, he moved on to the other car where he tried to open the car door with his teeth. Once he realized the cars weren’t going to sit still and let him try to figure out a way in, he wandered back to where he came from, leaving us with plenty of great photos and video.
Upon my return from the Churchill trip, I found myself with dozens and dozens of gigs of photos and video to begin to go through. As a result, I didn’t get out locally much in November, so this shot is another from Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. Among the many polar bears we saw, we encountered quite a few red and cross foxes as well. Just about every one looked very healthy with beautiful, vibrant coats, made all the more magnificent against the snowy, white backdrops. Some displayed some shyness, others didn’t seem the least bit concerned with our presence. The one thing we did take away is that Churchill is definitely an amazing place for wildlife, both large and small, and a place we’re all curious about in other seasons.
December has been an extremely active month for me, and while I don’t normally like posting a best-of-the-year blog post before the year is officially up, the above panorama really grew on me because to me, it’s the ideal early-winter sunrise in Grand Teton National Park. Light broke through the north end of Jackson Hole, Wyoming producing soft colors on one end of the valley, leaving the southern half in the chill of a cold and crisp winter morning, the mountains softly reflecting the glow from dozens of miles away. I always recommend to everyone to catch sunrise on the Teton Mountains while they’re visiting, but the ideal time to see sunrise is in the dead of winter, when the snow absorbs sounds and crowds are far and few between. The elements on a freezing day combined with white mountains rising into pastel colors in the sky is an experience that no one should miss, yet most will. For me, this panorama captures the stillness, peacefulness, and tranquility of a winter morning in Grand Teton National Park.