Back in college, I had had one of those early point-and-shoot cameras that clocked in at a whopping two mega pixels. I mostly used it just for goofing off with friends, but every now and then, I would see something interesting in nature and point it in that direction. I never came away with anything really great, but that began sparking an interest in documenting some of the more impressive natural scenes I noticed around me. Digital was still pretty young, but in early 2004, entering my last semester in college, there were a couple of factors that led me to buy my first DSLR: a Canon Digital Rebel 300D. For starters, I've always been tech savvy, so going straight into digital seemed like a natural choice for me. I had also been wanting to learn more about photography so that I could get some better shots, but every time I went to sign up for the film photography class, it had already filled up. So I simply took the plunge, bought my own camera and began self-teaching myself about the field.
How long have you been in the Teton area? What brought you there?
I've been living in Jackson, Wyoming, just outside of Grand Teton National Park, for about two and a half years now. On the road trip up to Alaska, we briefly drove through the area and up through Yellowstone National Park. I didn't remember much about it other than the few photos I had gotten (memory cards and hard drives weren't as cheap then as they are now - especially to a college student - so I was conserving shots quite a bit). What I do remember was being overwhelmed by the Teton Mountains when I first saw them. That was one of the experiences that always stuck out from that trip.
Fast forward four years later and now armed with Canon 5D, I felt an itch to go on a road trip to explore some places I hadn't seen much of, with Wyoming being the northernmost point on the trip. I had done similar things for a night or two around Arizona, but never that far or that long by myself. The plan was to head north through Utah into Jackson Hole, then east through Wyoming and down through Colorado and New Mexico. My first day in Grand Teton National Park (and actually on my way out), I stumbled across the local favorite, Grizzly Bear #399 and her three, three year-old cubs being photographed by a group of photographers that included Tom Mangelsen, among others. That was my first real taste of photographing wildlife and it triggered something just as exciting in me as when I first got my camera. At the end of that day, I said to myself "This will be my last night here, then I'll move on tomorrow." I said that every night for about the next week and wound up driving back to Phoenix from Jackson in one day since I had to be back on a certain day (it's about 16 hours in case you're curious).
My girlfriend at the time came back up with me that following September, and after returning back to Phoenix from that trip, I realized that was where I wanted to live. Phoenix had grown too big for my tastes, so I wanted something smaller, with easier access to undisturbed nature, more wildlife, a winter environment, grand scenery, etc. It all just added up to Jackson, Wyoming.
Anywhere I have a good view of the Tetons makes me happy. Every angle is a view that never gets old and a reminder of how far I've come.
How do you feel about shooting the iconic landscapes of Grand Tetons? Has it been overdone? Or is it timeless?
I think it's all in the eye of the beholder. Someone may come visit and just see the same shots that others have already gotten. Some people even just drive through on their way into Yellowstone not even spending the time to properly capture the mountains. I drive the same roads every day and I'm blown away at seeing something new, whether it's a storm system casting light on the Tetons in a new way, or even just a coyote running through the snow. I find it all looks new and every inch of Grand Teton National Park and its surroundings has kept me enthralled since the first day I moved here. If you allow it to, it will show you something entirely unseen around every turn. I also believe that's true for any location.
Is there a best time of year to shoot in the Tetons? What’s your favorite time of year?
I would say the best time of year depends on what you're after. Each season, and to a certain extent each month or two, offers something completely different. January and February the whole park is blanketed in white, creating an extremely peaceful environment with some dramatic skies. March and April are more known as the mud season so great landscapes might be tricky to come by, but wildlife begins to spring up a bit more (pun intended) as the snow starts to melt. May and June are the best times to see the valley floor covered in green, with June more specifically creating an amazing wildflower show. July segues spring into summer through September, and fall takes over the mountains through October as wildlife also prepares for the oncoming winter that November will restart all over again.
I'm not even sure if I have a favorite season. I find myself anxiously awaiting the next season each time one comes to an end. I love the tranquility of the snow-covered winters, but the wildflower displays of spring can be very magical. I'm a very avid hiker so summers here are definitely exciting, while the color of fall and the wildlife scattering around to get ready for the winter always keeps me motivated for new opportunities.
What subjects do you most enjoy shooting?
When I can find them, wolves and bears (both grizzly and black) always make me glad to be a nature photographer. In my eyes, they embody the spirit of freedom in the American West, something that seemed to have been lost that's only beginning to make a comeback. But more simply, they're just a lot of fun to watch.
Any time there's a dramatic sky over the Tetons, I find it impossible to not stop wherever I am and capture it. Sunrise in particular is very special. With as many people that come through here, I'm always amazed at just the tiny fraction of people, if that, that make the effort to see it. It makes seeing the mountains exponentially more meaningful and special.
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