Shine on, Harvest Moon

September 29, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

I generally don't spend too much time at the "trappier" photography traps in Grand Teton National Park during foliage season, but sometimes the forecast lures me in, as it did last week at Schwabacher Landing. 

Though I arrived well before sunrise (more than 90 minutes) I was still surprised to find only one other vehicle in the lot. More followed, but it took quite a bit of time and never became as crowded as I would have expected. Perhaps the fact that the temperatures had dipped quite low overnight had something to do with it.

Because it was very cold, I anticipated - and found - ample valley fog along with lots of frost as I drove from Buffalo Valley through the north end of the park. I chose Schwabacher because I thought I might find some interesting compositions featuring the cottonwoods dressed for autumn and it's often a reliable spot for fog. Unfortunately, it hadn't climbed too high here just yet. Who knew how long it would take. I had no interest in making a big landscape (and did not expect conditions would warrant one - it had been an almost perfectly clear night) but was going to have to make the best of whatever I was gifted.

The Harvest Moon was still fairly high in the sky; though a headlamp was required for the hike in it was not pitch black. The Tetons were visible and there was still some snow remaining on the peaks from a storm a few days earlier.

I settled in to wait and watch, not knowing yet what I was going to photograph - but it became apparent fairly quickly that the story on this morning was the magical moonlight. The quality of the light on the mountain range was superb. 

Maybe I'd compose a wide shot after all.

With the shutter set on bulb I experimented with exposure times. 75 seconds produced the proper result (at about 50 minutes prior to sunrise). If you view the photo much larger you'll see many stars in the sky, even with the moon casting so much light on the scene. 

Thick frost covering the low vegetation is apparent, there's a little bit of steam rising from the river, and you can also see the developing line of fog in the distance. The blanket of fog did grow exponentially once the sun came up, but this composition was no longer about it, nor the colors of the foliage (though they played supporting roles).

It was some of the most beautiful light in which I have seen the Cathedral Group. 

Moonlight Feels RightMoonlight Feels RightRoughly 50 minutes prior to sunrise the light from the Harvest Moon was superb: superior to what it looked like later when the sun appeared and lit the mountains. The 26 degree air temperature created lovely frost, large areas of valley fog and some steam over the water. 75 second exposure.
(Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming)


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