Autumn color in both 2015 and 2016 came early to the Tetons. I was photographing peak color around the 20th of September two years ago. It was a little bit later last year - but not much. (Ironically, though foliage season came and went early, the autumn of 2016 was unusually mild. The ski resorts weren't happy about the fact that they had to delay opening.....though they ended up with record snowfall over the course of the winter.)
This year, though the early part of September was quite warm, snowfall came early to Grand Teton National Park. An unsettled weather pattern mid-month deposited quite a bit of snow at elevation, thus setting the table for interesting foliage photo opportunities; there is typically very little snow on the mountains in September. However, the trees apparently didn't get the memo that it's time to start the show!
Here we are at the end of the month, and much of the park is still quite green.
Though I pushed my long-planned foliage shoot back by a week at the last minute, it was no remedy. The trees remained stubbornly green.
This was one of those situations when something I read years ago in a landscape photography magazine was most certainly applicable: What kind of photograph CAN you make given particular conditions?
This is one of the pitfalls of photographing nature. We are at the mercy of Mother Nature! You plan as thoroughly and carefully as possible - knowing you may end up being forced to toss your shot list out the window.
In this case, there was that snow on the mountains: a big plus. There was also quite a bit of cloud cover the first two days I was there: not flat and white but interesting unsettled cumulus formations with lots of definition. Clouds may or may not pan out, but they're nearly always better than completely cloudless skies. Finally, it got very cold overnight which can create fog in the morning.
So even though the color was lacking, the conditions were conducive to making some good images.
Shortly after I arrived in the park, I headed for the location along the banks of the Snake River at which I intended to photograph the following morning at daybreak. I wanted to see what the foliage situation looked like, and also see if the beavers had been able to rebuild any of their dams which were destroyed with the massive spring runoff.
Making my way to the water's edge, I encountered a family of moose on the opposite shoreline. While I hadn't planned on making any photos at that spot that late afternoon, I quickly pulled out the camera and captured the mother and youngster. Fortunately, some of the grasses had turned color, so there were some yellows to provide contrast with the snow-covered Grand Teton in the background.
I'd barely been there 30 minutes and already I had an image.
Landscape photography is as much about improvisation and quick thinking as it is about careful planning.