The initial takeaway from this two week trip was the “unsettled” weather encountered during the majority of my time in Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Parks. Although Craters of the Moon was clear and calm, like all the other parks, I just didn’t feel I came away with any great images. There were many times I took several differing exposures of the same scene because of the great variance in light values in hopes of being able to properly blend them together later in either Photoshop or Nik HDR. I also ended up taking quite a few panoramas because of the enormous views and big skies. They had to be stitched together later and since I don’t own one of those expensive panorama heads to hold the camera at the proper “nodal point,” they may not work out because of my poor technique in originally taking the images for the final photo. So when I dove into processing the images, I was a bit skeptical about how much would work out and how much would end up in a huge pile of deletes.
The other takeaway, a continuing distasteful recollection, were the crowds. Not so much the numbers, although a bit of an annoyance, it was their complete lack of reverence for these iconic lands. For them, it never seemed that the incredible scenery was the ultimate star there, but rather their own self importance and that they were there, constantly taking selfies every few yards, posing as if they were in the middle of a fashion shoot. I was asked several times to take pictures of them with their phone on a selfie stick!!! I spoke to a ranger in Yellowstone and she mentioned that there was a 50% increase in tour buses at the park the previous year and that another 50% increase was expected again this year; an enormous influx for an already overloaded park.
My problem is that when I visit these places, I feel as though I am in a cathedral and that a quiet, religious humility comes over me as I try to absorb what is before me. These crowds were loud, boisterous and inconsiderate to the point of placing a camera directly in front of my lens to snap a photo! I try to travel in the “off season” to reduce these encounters, but this trip did not pan out that way.
Although the weather, for the most part, was unsettled, it did offer opportunities to incorporate it into scenes for added drama when it cleared a bit. In Grand Teton, the jagged peaks rising straight up from the flat surroundings are dramatic enough by themselves, but adding several rain curtains backlit by the mid-afternoon sun just steps it up a notch. Those slow moving rain squalls allowed for a 3-panel panorama. Or add a few clouds to the peaks, both catching the first red rays of morning sunlight make reflections in a calm beaver pond that much better. One morning, although the sunrise was less than what was hoped for, by lingering a while afterwards, the reward was several rainbows from the passing showers.
Even the first and only day with clear skies, the sun beautifully backlit the bushes and trees of Willow Flats as the sun went down (a 5-panel panorama). And as it just hit a notch along the ridge line of the mountains, using a small f-stop produced a sun star while still lighting the flats a bit. The very next day from the same overlook, standing in the rain as a storm began to clear at sunset, there was so much anticipation for the sun to light up the lingering clouds, I almost couldn’t stand still. Yet, I never gave up hope even as the sky darkened, as did the clouds, without ever catching any color.
There were many other broad landscapes to see and record, no matter what the weather. Sometimes it was just a bit more difficult to stay protected from the elements, while other times it was there for the taking; all I had to do was trip the shutter. Some mornings there was fog burning off that constantly changed the light, while others there was simply nothing, not even being able to see the mountains. Although I pretty much always felt I was in the wrong place for the best opportunities, often something seemed to happen to make being there worthwhile.