The Idea List
Canyon SquallsAutumn snow squalls move through Cascade Canyon on a blustery afternoon.
Over time, you create a list of ideas for that area - things you've seen along the way that might have photographic potential. Little vignettes capture your attention. Maybe it's a cluster of trees or perhaps something as specific as a single tree: its shape or the way it's lit or its relationship to the surrounding area.
You can't always pull the camera out and try to make a photograph right then and there. The conditions might not be conducive. Maybe the sky is flat or there's too much contrast or it's too windy. It could even be the wrong season. But later? It could be something special.
Add it to the list.
Sometimes an idea turns into a photograph relatively quickly. However, it's not unusual for it to take months - or years. Maybe it never happens. (Not all ideas end up being workable.)
In advance of this season's foliage shoots in Grand Teton National Park I've been jotting down notes from my "idea list" to get my head in the game, so to speak, and make sure nothing slips my mind. Will each of those ideas become a photograph? I doubt it. Some have been on the list for quite a while; favorable conditions can be annoying elusive.
That said, the list gives me a starting point - whether or not I end up shooting anything on it.
The photo at the top of this post is an example of something very specific that caught my eye: that tree in the foreground. I watched it over the course of three seasons - over and over. I didn't have anything definite in mind in terms of a composition, but because I was going to need to include at least some of the sky something interesting had to be happening overhead. Beyond that I had no idea. I just liked the tree; it was nicely shaped, it was healthy, and it stood alone.
When I made this it was a late afternoon toward the end of September. It was very cold; snow squalls had been moving through the canyon. I'd only stopped at this spot to grab a snack. The sky lacked definition and I had no intention of pulling the camera out.
While I sat there, though, the overcast started to develop a little bit of an attitude. Maybe I'd shoot after all.
Originally I envisioned a composition with the tree positioned in the "V" created by the canyon but the sky dictated a change in plans. Instead I lined the tree up so the shape of its crown mimicked that of the peak behind it, and then waited for a cloud with some visual weight to move into the space above the canyon. Your eye is drawn first to the cloud even though the tree is in the foreground. They balance each other in the frame.
Six months after that tree was added to the idea list, I got a photo.
If you're feeling like a location is becoming too familiar, think about all the benefits associated with knowing a place intimately. It can be a challenge to see familiar things in new ways, but there is great reward once this skill is developed.
The voyage of discovery is not seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
Odds and Ends
Air quality in Eastern Idaho and Western Wyoming has greatly improved over the past week. The Tetons have been looking very good - the highest peaks even got a tiny dusting of snow last night (which won't last since it's going to warm up again tomorrow). As expected, the color is late. I'm hoping it isn't too muted.
In GTNP, Moose-Wilson Road is closed until winter, the LSR access road is closed this week for paving, and the Jackson Lake boat launch is closed.
In Yellowstone, the West Thumb Geyser Basin is temporarily closed. If you want to get into YNP before it closes to vehicle traffic in preparation for the winter season, you've got roughly six weeks left. Tick tock.
In both parks, the elk rut is well underway. Be sure to give the animals plenty of space; the bulls can be unpredictable and dangerous this time of year.
Finally, welcome to autumn - which officially begins today!
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