[pilgrim mountain sunset]
I found myself rather unproductive in early 2011 in terms of stills. With the recent purchase of a 7D and getting it up to working order, as well as discovering time-lapse photography, my still photography became a bit stagnant. As a result, most of my work was in the form of a time-lapse and before finding a good balance of time-lapse, video and still, I even wondered if I would move entirely into video. Eventually the balance did work itself out and once I had my 7D back and functioning properly the following spring, it was full-steam ahead in every direction!
I discovered this image during that time after forgetting about it. I was looking back through a day in January where I hadn’t shot very much at all, but saw potential in a nice sunset above Pilgrim Mountain. I began to play with the cropping, and in cropping it down to a panorama, really liked what had come out.
[kepler cascades in snow]
While still in time-lapse mode, I was invited to join another photographer whose work I admire greatly to the interior of Yellowstone National Park in the dead of winter, a new experience for both of us. With cloudy skies for pretty much the entire trip, I got plenty of video in addition to stills of the bison that frequented the geyser area we were staying at. My favorite shot, however, came on our way out as we were being called back to the snowcoach. To avoid vibrations and potential bumps from the groups stopped at Kepler Cascades, I waited around for them to disperse, eyeing my potential shot. By the time I was all set up, the driver began calling back to us to move on. I took a couple of quick shots, and upon my return home, was delighted to see it turned out just as I had hoped.
[owl in 600mm]
With my 7D going in and out of repair (calling the repair facility rather than the regular help line proved exponentially more helpful in the end), I wound up filling nearly all of March with unusable still shots. One of the few shots that did come out was when I was able to plug into a friend’s 600mm lens while great gray owls were frequenting a particular area. Shortly after, I got to the bottom of my 7D’s issues and began using it much more effectively.
[oxbow bend sunrise]
Starting in April, I began taking a friend up on her invitation to crash on her guest bed at Jackson Lake Lodge. Things were beginning to pick up in terms of wildlife and that area was a prime location, so why wouldn’t I?
During one extended stay up there, after not receiving much snow for a while, a rather large snow storm came through and gave everybody a reminder that winter wasn’t quite over yet. The result was a landscape that went from patchy snow in most places, to a scene more reminiscent of January. On a subsequent morning, I headed for sunrise at Oxbow Bend and found the water thawed in a nearly mid-winter scene. Earth’s shadow was setting behind Mount Moran and the Tetons, making a very scenic panorama.
[sleeping indian sunset]
Wildlife was emerging and snow was melting everywhere, yet late in May, one of my favorite shots still came as a reminder of how much snow we had gotten that season. Sheep Mountain, aka The Sleeping Indian (see it?), was still buried in dozens of feet of snow and were it not for the dark hill in the foreground, could still pass as a winter shot. The snow took exceptionally long to melt away from the mountains in 2011, as mid-June looked more like mid-May. More evidence was shown to us when a friend and I hiked the Teton Crest Trail at the very end of August. While most people hike in mid-August for peak wildflowers, they hadn’t even hit their peak during our trek through at the end of August.
[grizzly bear 399 nursing]
There’s little doubt that Grizzly Bear #399 and her three cubs had an enormous impact on my life three years prior. In 2011, she emerged yet again with three new cubs of her own and with my new schedule freelancing, I was able to keep an eye on frequently, capturing many shots that I normally wouldn’t have. In addition to #399, her daughter #610 also kept such a close proximity that while no one was looking, #399 even gave one of her cubs to her daughter to look after. As if it wasn’t great enough seeing those bears several times a week, there was even another grizzly nicknamed, Blondie or Butterball, that frequented many of the same areas.
I was able to capture this shot of Grizzly Bear #399 while a good friend allowed me to use her 500mm lens. It was after sunset and I was beginning to get ready to pack up when I noticed that I was still getting good-looking and sharp shots, so I kept shooting and was able to capture her nursing her cubs in both still and video format, among other shots of her and her cubs that evening.
[phelps lake reflection]
As the days began to warm, grizzly bear sightings became less frequent, as did the snow at lower elevations. I began to make good use of that doing one of my favorite past-times: hiking! With trails in lower elevations finally becoming more accessible, I began exploring them as I love to do.
On my way into Death Canyon on one day, there was an immaculate reflection in Phelps Lake. While photos emerge from this particular location just about every day, I was awestruck by the reflection from the clouds in the completely still waters of the lake. It stuck out as one of my favorite shots from that month.
[shadow mountain northern lights panorama]
August was an incredibly difficult month to narrow down. While taking full advantage of the snow now gone, I was camping frequently, as well as backpacking into places like Turquoise Lake of the Gros Ventres, the North Fork of Cascade Canyon, and the Teton Crest Trail, all providing some of the best landscapes I had ever gotten.
My favorite shot though (at least at the time of putting this post together), came from early in the month while camping on Shadow Mountain with the expectation of northern lights that night. Sure enough, they were out before dusk had even faded, but flared up very nicely after dark, at which point I decided a panorama would be an ideal capture of the auroras in all their glory.
[bull moose in cottonwoods]
With all the snow we had gotten earlier in the season, fall seemed to come early this year due to such a short window for summer. Nevertheless, it had arrived bringing yellow leaves all over the valley. Fall is more than just color in Jackson Hole though. It also provides ample opportunity to see even more wildlife as animals begin mating and preparing for winter. Moose, such as this bull, frequent cottonwood trees along the Gros Ventre River providing some of the best shots possible of these majestic creatures. With early temperatures dipping into freezing temperatures, it makes for great shots when you’re able to capture their breath as well.
With plenty of fall colors still stretching out into October, photographers were taking every opportunity of the slightly extended season to capture what they could.
On one such occasion, I stopped to observe some bison and with them approaching, was able to come away with one of my favorite bison shots as he made a slight veer in my direction.
[mesa arch sunrise]
My entire month of November was spent on the road in the southwest. I passed through western Colorado, spent time in northern New Mexico, headed up to Moab, Utah and then dropped down to Phoenix, Arizona to visit some friends before heading back up through southern Utah. I came away with some shots that I was very happy with as well as experiences from both new and old places that only increased my appreciation for the Colorado Plateau. As such, it was yet another difficult decision to narrow down the shots, yet given that I was running to Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park as the sun was rising, I was quite happy with the way this shot came out given that I had to squeeze my way in and get everything set up just in time to click the shutter for it. I was initially disappointed that I got a few shots without the sun itself in them, but in looking at them again, I noticed that it was a much more balanced landscape that offered much better color and depth.
[bighorn sheep ram standing in golden light]
I returned from my trip at the very end of November, and with finding a place to live and catching up on work, wasn’t very well equipped to go out shooting right away. While I was able to make a few final observations of my favorite grizzly bears before they went into hibernation, I didn’t come away with any shots or even video worth showing. Instead, I headed over to the National Elk Refuge more often than the park to check in on the bighorn sheep since their mating season tends to run into winter. Sure enough, I was delighted to see that I hadn’t missed it and was able to watch them chase and battle for ewes around Miller Butte.
I would have expected a sparring shot to be one of my better ones, however when a ram wandered past myself and some friends in ideal light, I got several shots, later discovering that a simple standing pose was one of my favorites from the entire month.
Best Video of the Year: Teton Changes
Teton Changes was easily my favorite video from this past year. I started off the year brand new to video and not having a good sense of where I’d go with it. All I knew was that I was greatly enjoying it, but it wasn’t until I began compiling my clips into a small production that I began to really sink my teeth into the entire video experience. With each compilation I began learning what worked and what didn’t.
My last video of the year captured Grand Teton National Park during the fall season; a season that many would describe as their favorite. It’s a frantically busy time for both wildlife and photographers as wildlife is scrambling to fill up on any and all nutrition they can find before the winter sets in, while photographers are trying to squeeze as much color into each shot before leaves begin to fall off the trees.
Using a perfectly scored soundtrack by an artist called Epic Soul Factory, I was able to ideally balance the magic of the entire season to a dramatic track, culminating in a video compilation that I feel accomplishes a feat I was trying to find the balance of all year long.