A Nature Photographer’s Most Important Tool

Arrowhead balsamroot wildflowers blooming below a rainbow stemming from a rain shower. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Yesterday I pushed myself to be up for sunrise, crawling out of bed at 5am. Since I’ve recently moved from northern Jackson to Wilson, Wyoming, the drive is a bit farther to be in most areas of Grand Teton National Park. In this case I was heading out to Antelope Flats between Highway 89 and Mormon Row, hoping to be there before the sun hit the high clouds.

On my way out I was debating whether I should head there or to a field along Teton Park Road just north of Cottonwood Creek that I remember was booming with both balsamroot and lupine wildflowers. I opted this time to head out to Antelope Flats and save the other spot for another time. I caught a beautiful sunrise complete with plenty of balsamroot wildflowers and then began making my way back home via Moose-Wilson Road, not seeing much of a reason to stay out much longer since the lack of sleep was creeping its way back into my system. Upon approaching the junction to head back, however, I got a little curious about the other location, so I figured I’d spend a minute or two getting some shots out there since 1) it was only a couple of miles away and 2) there was still some warm light coming from the low sun.

I began getting shot after shot of an enormous field of balsamroot wildflowers and moved on to a massive patch of lupine right along the road, getting shots of both the wildflowers and Teton Park Road with the mountains in the background, when all of a sudden, a nature photographer’s favorite sound echoed off the mountains and throughout the valley: thunder. I was completely oblivious to a massive thunderstorm that had crept out over the Teton Mountains from out of nowhere. I found myself stunned to see dark and ominous clouds growing over the valley, creating two separate rainbows as lightning began striking both in the distance and on the mountains in front of me. What began as trying to squeeze a few more shots out of a fading sunrise quickly turned into a dramatic display worthy of Mother Nature’s finest. While I unfortunately found that the lightning was only striking while I was setting up different shots, I was elated to find myself at the forefront of such a display, getting shot after shot of the last bit of sunrise contrasting against a heavy thunderstorm. I wound up staying out there as long as I could until the rain began pouring on me and my camera.

So after all that, what exactly is a photographer’s most important tool? Many would argue it’s naturally the camera. Some would add that it’s a tripod and/or a shutter release cable and still others would argue that it’s a good lens. In my opinion, the most important tool a photographer has are his/her instincts. Your instincts are what tell you to turn left when you were planning on turning right, and yet when you follow them, they bring you to something more inspiring than you could have ever imagined or planned for. In this case, I would have been deep in the trees along Moose-Wilson Road had I stuck to my plans. I listened to my instincts however and was rewarded immensely with a beautiful show from Mother Nature. Your instincts will often steer you off of your plans, but if you learn to listen to and follow them, you’ll never be disappointed. In this instance, I’m sure there were some things I could have done better, but at the same time, I’m perfectly content with what I came back with because in the end, that experience was what I got up for.

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