Scale

August 17, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

The Teton Range is magnificently imposing. On the eastern side, the mountains rise sharply up from the valley floor; there are no foothills. This creates a uniquely stunning perspective, as though you're standing directly in front of a massive wall of gneiss and granite. 

That "in your face," glorious majesty is an amazing sight. Photographers who visit the park often wish to convey this feeling of immensity.

Because everything in the Tetons feels so big, the inclination is to go with a wide angle lens and create grand landscapes. Depending on what you're trying to express, that may be a good option. The Tetons are always picturesque. 

That said, remember the choice of lens and the focal length selected will determine the way in which the mountains are rendered. They'll appear to be smaller and further away with wider angle lenses and shorter focal lengths. 

Following are three examples of images that were captured from the same general location. In the first, I wanted to include a lot of sky and some of the reflection, which required a wider angle.

24-70mm lens - focal length of 48mm

SUNKISSEDSUNKISSEDMount Moran and the surrounding peaks glow with the first light of the day.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming


In the next shot, a big sky was unnecessary. The emphasis is the new snow blanketing Mount Moran along with the ribbon of fog. A telephoto lens greatly increases Moran's size in the frame and compresses the scene.

70-200mm lens - focal length of 110mm

The third image, below, was captured maybe one quarter mile further away from where the other two were made. It's more of an abstract depiction of autumn: repeating lines, contrasting color, and contrasting weather. 

200-500mm lens - focal length of 240mm

The Lines are DrawnTHE LINES ARE DRAWNA study in diagonals: the tree line, the shadows on the face of Mount Moran, and the line of the peak itself.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Obvious differences.

The longer focal length pulls the mountains in. Check. But sometimes there's more to it than simply choosing a telephoto lens. 

In the photograph below, I wanted Mount Moran to feel nearly as close as it does when you're standing there looking at it. I also wanted to use the fence as a strong foreground element. The only way to achieve that is to compress the scene with a telephoto lens. There's a problem with that approach, though: from this location, Moran is too close! It's impossible to include everything into the frame using a longer lens.

Switching to a mid-range zoom isn't the answer: the relative sizes of the mountain and the fence will change dramatically. 

The solution? I flipped the camera's orientation from horizontal to vertical. This enabled me to use the lens required to properly render the scene.

The portrait alignment created enough compositional space from top to bottom. Creating a panoramic would address the issue of elements I was now missing on the left and right sides of the frame. I got down low enough to reduce the amount of vertical space between the fence and the vegetation in the distance, then made a series of three images. Those were stitched together and cropped 1:1. Even with the crop, I've maintained a very large file because of the panoramic.

70-200mm lens - focal length of 86mm

KEEPSAKEKEEPSAKEMount Moran in late spring, still decorated with winter's gift of snowfall.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Following is an example of the output from a different lens and focal length at that same location. I went wider here in order to capture the sunset and include more of the Teton Range. In this case Moran didn't need to be as dominant; the image has a completely different feel. Notice the relative sizes of the fence and Mount Moran. 

24-70mm lens - focal length 50mm

BOOKENDBOOKENDNorthern Teton Range at sunset

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Whether you're shooting the Tetons, another mountain range, or something else entirely, let the focal length help you tell the story. Exploring a scene using different focal lengths can expose a variety of alternate compositions.

Don't be in too much of a hurry to pack up and move on to the next location. Work the scene. You might be surprised how many diverse images you can make from a single spot.


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