Reflections on the Grand Tetons

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Where lakes and still rivers bask under towering peaks, opportunities for reflection shots about. Grand Teton National Park is one of the premier spots for getting reflections shots: that is, shots of mountains reflected in blue-tinged water. The combination of many small bodies of water in wind-sheltered alcoves flanked by eastward facing mountains is what makes Grand Tetons so fecund for reflection photography. With eastward mountains, you get your reflections in the morning, when winds are lightest. Smaller bodies of water resist rippling due to breezes. With placid, smooth sheens of water you can find spots to photograph the Tetons reflecting in lakes and rivers to your heart’s content.

The most famous reflection shot in Grand Tetons is at Oxbow bend, which is a wide, placid stretch of the Snake River. I went there on two mornings and found plenty of company. What you hope for at Oxbow Bend is a warm sunrise to the east and clouds to decorate Mount Moran in the west. When you’re lucky enough to stumble upon that combination, the results are stunning:

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Schwabacher Landing is another great place for reflections. Again involving the Snake River, the tranquil waters here allow one to reflect the highest peaks in the range:

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Note the lack of clouds in the Schwabacher Landing photos. No help for that: both times I was there it was entirely cloudless. This demonstrates what I have said before: the best landscape photography involves a combination of sun and clouds. The clouds add drama and interest and improve the quality of the light. Consider the following images:

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These photos are taken along String Lake, which is closer to the Grand Tetons than Schwabacher Landing or Oxbow Bend. They were taken between nine and ten in the morning, which is interesting because there are many landscape photographers who won’t shot even a half hour after sunrise. They don’t know what they are missing. If you have a mixture of clouds and sun the light will remain pretty good well into mid-morning. Not as soft and warm as the “magic hour” around sunrise and sunset; but perfectly fine in it’s own right. It’s bluer and with more contrast, which can help bring out the blues and greens of mountain scenery.

In the absence of clouds, mid-morning light can be overly harsh. Unfortunately, there were virtually no clouds when I reached Taggert Lake at around nine in the morning. It’s such a beautiful spot that even in the less-than-ideal light, it still presents a stunning spectacle:

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Just a little after reaching Taggert Lake, the wind started to pick up, destroying the reflecting power of the lake. That’s another hazard of shooting much after sunrise: the winds nearly always increase as the day proceeds. Here was my last shot taken at Taggert Lake:

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It will only get worse from this point on, until the breezes of the afternoon turn the water into a choppy mess.