Landscape photography is really hard. You rely heavily on the weather, have to plan your shots ahead of time, and have to get lucky with the sunrise or sunset (depending on what you’re going for). It’s usually dark when you’re setting up, or it’s practically dark when you’re finished. And if you’re into landscapes that incorporate the night sky, well, good luck when finding time to sleep during the rise of the galaxy center at 4 am. Yep, landscape photography is hard, but it helps to be in a beautiful place. And it’s even easier, though decidedly less original, to show up at the right time to one of the most photographed, scenic landscapes in an entire park.
Neither Jon, nor I are particularly excited about traditionally photographed landscapes, places that feel “done.” I prefer unique natural patterns, while he enjoys heading into the woods to find an intimate setting photographed for the first time. So, it was kind of a surprise when we decided to wake up at 5 am on our first morning in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park and head out to Oxbow Bend – a famous spot that is likely featured in every calendar celebrating the region. When you’re new to a place, like we were, and still getting a feel for the park, it can be fun to pop on by a famous location, see what’s there and what the park has to offer. It’s also nice to not waste a morning, especially when your fresh and still buzzing with energy. We decided it was worth a shot and drove the 20 minutes in the dark, in the wee hours of the morning.
Let’s just say it was a happy accident.
Far from being alone (like I said, this is a famous spot) but still one of the earlier ones, we made our way down the tiered river bank, choosing a spot to best photograph from. While some photographers bolted from their car to set up, other’s took their time, I set up a chair, and we all waited for what nature was going to hand us.
This morning, Oxbow Bend was delightfully lit by a full moon, high above Mount Moran. As the celestial orb arched down towards the horizon, fog started to accumulate all around. Then, the sky lit up suddenly into a lick-able sherbet color. Ducks flew by in the crisp air. Elk called to each other from across the plains. And wolves howled through the valley’s crowded pines.
It was magical, and too beautiful an experience to be distilled in a simple photo. However, I did try to frame the location my own unique way (the last image in this post is taken in the traditional framing). I hope you enjoy these photos from that mystical moonset. It’s a scene that’s been seen many times before, but I think it was special conditions most landscape photographers hope to see each time they set up their tripod.
Do you photograph well known places when you travel? And have you ever watched a moonset? Share with me in the comments below!