a teatray in the sky

grand teton sunrise, or on the importance of arriving early

there are two types of people who travel with cameras.  on one hand you have your vanilla tourists, folks who are out to enjoy themselves, see some scenery, and live to write home about it.  on the other you have photographers, folks who are hell-bent on ruining vacation for themselves, rising at ungodly times, mucking about during the daylight hours, wearing goofy looking vests, and spending more time staring at the back of their 920K dot LCDs than the actual mountain in front of them.

or so I thought.  the truth is, there’s something to be gleaned from the eccentric lifestyle of the photographer.  any veteran true-blooded football fan, or any architecture studio student, would recognize the rules of the game: come early, stay late.  but why?  why is the rule not “sleep late, drink early”?

you knew I was going to tell you why (that’s why you clicked the ‘more’ button), so here it is: because if you come early and stay late, you get to see the world in the most incredible light.  a simple sunrise can become the greatest show on earth.

the first shot of the day (with the azure blue sky) was taken at about 5:37 AM, without any actual sunlight.  it appears bright because, well, snow is pretty white, and I’m shooting a long exposure on a tripod.

the second shot of the (with the violet backdrop) was taken only 8 minutes later, at 5:45 AM, still without any actual sunlight.  the sky is brightening, however, and you can start to see the light on the mountain is becoming more dimensional and less flat.  I’m not sure what causes the sky color to suddenly go purple but it’s certainly a nifty trick.  the fog has scooted further along the valley as well.

the framing of the third has been adjusted briefly, but it’s the same day, all of 16 minutes later, at 6:01 AM.  the sun has burst over the horizon, causing the sky to turn a muddy blue but bathing the peaks in an incredible orange glow.  the fog has pretty much cleared from the valley but clouds are forming behind the mountain.

just over half an hour later, at 6:36 AM, the sun has finally vaulted high enough to light the floor of the valley, meaning there’s finally definition in the trees in the foreground.  clouds are emerging all over and in another ten minutes you won’t be able to get a clear shot of grand teton.  if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve transferred this 3-image composite panorama into B+W, you’d notice the sky has returned to a rich blue that deepens dramatically as your eye moves away from the far horizon.

sometimes, it’s well worth it to travel like a photographer; you simply get to see more.  by the way, on our way back to the hotel to sleep off the remainder of the morning, we saw four moose by the roadside (the ones from last friday’s post).  doubly worth getting up early.

I’m curious to know which photograph people like best; drop me a line in the comments below and let me know.

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10 Responses

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  1. truels said, on October 4, 2010 at 10:22 am

    I think it was fine you got up early and showed us these beautiful shots. The best?? Hmmm – a little difficult – but I’ll pick the 6:01 AM!

    • firthefirst said, on October 5, 2010 at 3:50 pm

      thanks for the vote … picking the best is tough for myself as well

  2. iheartfilm said, on October 4, 2010 at 10:48 am

    I was in Grant Teton a few summers ago. Went down to Jenny Lake. Pure pleasure.

    • firthefirst said, on October 5, 2010 at 3:52 pm

      I’m determined to actually do one of the trails that starts out from jenny lake next time I’m there, the view from higher up has to be equally amazing

  3. Tina said, on October 4, 2010 at 11:04 am

    They’re all excellent shots and without any explanation (due to the long exposure), no one would’ve been able to tell that certain shots weren’t in daytime.

    Shot 1: the blue sky almost seems fake and if I hadn’t been there myself, I would’ve thought you pasted some mountains onto a blue background. the sky really is that blue… not just in the dark.

    Shot 2: the purple background really softens the look of the tetons. the jagged peaks seam less harsh, especially with the soft fog in the foreground. this image almost seems dream-like.

    Shot 3: the obvious shot of a sunrise in grand teton. it’s stunning and spectacular and everything that it ought to be, as expected. it does make the foreground seem too bland though.

    Shot 4: the panaroma really lets you realize the full grandeur of the tetons. there’s something about the b&w though that turns the image to something cold and perhaps forboding. i’d have to say this is my least favorite image for a reason i cannot quite pinpoint.

    all in all, i think i’d have to pick 5:45AM. the colors make me shiver and remember how cold it was to be out before the sunrise. thanks for the comparisons!

    • firthefirst said, on October 5, 2010 at 3:54 pm

      hey babe, thanks for commenting. you are right about the sunrise one, the foreground gets really dark in comparison, hadn’t noticed that. I’ll have to bring some grad ND filters next time …

  4. Carsten said, on October 4, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    It isn’t easy having to choose between these beautiful images. I’d like to see the scenes one after the other. The golden mountain peaks are incredible – I really would enjoy this. – If not too busy taking photographs 🙂
    But my favourite is the b&w image. I think this is the one I’d like hangin on my wall so that I could enjoy it for a very long time. It is no Ansel Adams, but it has some of ‘it’.

    • firthefirst said, on October 5, 2010 at 3:57 pm

      carsten, you are thinking what I am thinking — that last shot is certainly no Ansel (I think I’ve got a long, long way to go) but the B+W appeals to me in a way that the color images don’t. I am considering actually printing and framing this one to go somewhere in the house. glad you enjoyed the images

  5. Kai Brockbank said, on October 6, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    These look like spectacular peaks, and spectacular photos! I think I’d definitely go for the 5:45 am shot, it’s got a beautiful subtlety and dreamy quality, as Tina said. Also the colour combination works best for me. I agree that it’s certainly worth getting up early, no matter the costs. For me the costs are part of the game!

  6. Charles Ford said, on October 11, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Well fortunately you’re not being forced to pick a favorite, right? It’s just an intellectual/artistic exercise, they’re all good. That said, I’m really liking the B&W. 🙂


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