Are you planning your first trip to photograph the Tetons? From Oxbow Bend to Jenny Lake to the Snake River, how does one decide what to photograph and when?
The Park is filled with photographic hotspots featuring some of the most recognizable and spectacular landscapes in the United States. Jagged mountain peaks soar into the skies, the classic S shaped Snake River curves through rugged lands, and historic barns sit in the valleys around the Tetons.
If this is not enough, bears roam valleys and mountainsides, bison graze in fields, trumpeter swans fly across the sky, and antelope speed across fields. To say it is a magical place for photography does not begin to convey the experience of photographing the Tetons. There is simply no place like this.
Grand Teton Photographic Hotspot Guide
I decided to create this blog featuring my top 5 Teton hotspots to help first time visitors get to the right locations, at the correct time with the proper gear. The hotspot selections were chosen from knowledge I acquired over 17 park visits. Realizing many first time park visitors may only have a few days to photograph the park, I limited my recommendations to five, but could have made it 20 hotspots.
There are countless blogs and books already published on photographing Grand Teton National Park. Yet, in-spite of all these publications, there is a void of meaningful information for first time visitors/photographers. Besides most do not provide in-depth information about when and how to photograph those locations.
Do you want to be at the right location, at the right time, with the right gear? If so, keep reading.
Top 5 Photo Hotspots in Grand Teton National Park
1. Oxbow Bend
Oxbow Bend, located in the northern section of the park, is without a doubt the most photographed location in the park with good reason. Not only is this a prime spot for both sunrise and sunset photography, it is also a great place to see bears, moose and other wildlife. Be warned, even at sunrise, this place is busy. But who does not love mountains reflected in water surrounded by pretty trees and hopefully wildlife?
The Oxbow Bend pull off is located on Highway 89 about a mile east of Jackson Lake Lodge where the river makes a sharp bend (oxbow).
- Begin by photographing Mt. Moran and the Teton Range reflections from the roadside just west of the pull-off. In fact a great location to set up is in the grass area just on the west side of the Oxbow Bend pull-off. Just be sure to watch for people at the waters edge that could ruin a composition.
- Next head down the trails to the water’s edge and again photograph the water and mountain reflections being sure to use several lens lengths and shoot both vertical and horizontal formats.
- Lastly head back to the car and drive west, then park about halfway between the overlook pull-off and Cattleman’s Bridge Dirt Road. Again photograph from both the roadside and down the trails to the waters edge.
Morning at Oxbow-Classic Photo Location
Fall at Oxbow-Classic Photo Location
Partly Cloudy Morning-Classic Photo Location
Once you have photographed the most popular Oxbow compositions, take time to get creative with your compositions.
Lastly, be aware of headlights from road traffic at dawn or sunset, and plan your shots around the traffic.
Wildlife off Oxbow Bend Dirt Road- Cattleman’s Bridge
Once you have captured the classic Oxbow images, head west just a very short distance and turn onto a dirt road to your left referred to as Cattleman’s Bridge. (I am not sure the name is on the road.) Although the road is bumpy, it is drivable for most cars. It dead-ends at the river where beavers, otters and other wildlife can frequently be seen.
Oxbow Bend Best Times: Sunrise, Early Morning, and Sunset
There are too many variables to provide specific camera settings. However, it is important to pay attention to wind’s effects on aspen tree leaves when setting shutter speeds. Those little leaves move in the slightest winds. Also, compositions of Oxbow Bend that include foreground and distant mountains require small aperture settings of around f11 to achieve maximum depth of field. I prefer to shoot with a faster shutter speed that I normally would for landscapes just to prevent the vegetation from blurring.
- Lens: Photograph with a variety of lens from 17mm to 600mm lens for different views but be aware that depending on where you are set up, a 17mm lens may include too many unwanted objects in the image.
- Polarizer: Yes, especially to help manage glare and reflections from the water.
- Other Filters: ND soft split filters are recommended. I do not recommend hard split filters due to the mountains.
- Tripod: Highly recommended.
- Flash: No, if you need it for wildlife you are too close!
- Other: Cable release.
2. Schwabacher Landing:
Schwabacher Landing is located on the west side of Highway 191 between Jackson and Moran. The road travels down to a creek off the Snake River with two different parking areas. Park where the road dead ends and begin walking to the right (north) by the creek. From here it is a very short walk to the iconic location featured in the following photographs.
A. Classic Schwabacher Landing Location
- This is a famous and wonderful photo location. Just be aware that the best images can only be made in a very small area by the water’s edge and it gets extremely crowded at sunrise. One must arrive very early to have any chance of photographing from a prime spot.
- Carry bear spray as I have encountered grizzly bears in this area in the early mornings as well as moose. Encounters are rare but do occur.
- Also wear a head lamp to avoid tripping on rocks and tree stumps along the path. However, be sure to turn the headlamp off before approaching the location. Photographers who are already on site could have images ruined by stray light from headlamps.
B. Teton Reflections From Parking Lot
C. Mid Morning At Schwabacher Landing
If you are not an early riser or chose to photograph sunrise from a different location, I still recommend making a mid morning stop to photograph Schwabacher Landing.
Best Times to Visit:
Sunrise, Early Morning, and Sunset.
Recommendations here are also highly dependent on when the image is taken. For instance, the classic morning image of the Teton Mountain reflection requires a fast enough shutter speed to capture the reflection in the stream. Photographing with too slow a shutter speed will result in a blurred reflection and ruin the shot. I also recommend an aperture of F11 or higher to ensure both the trees and distant mountains are sharp.
- Lens: My favorite lens for this setting is a 17-35mm lens in the 24mm range.
- Polarizer: Not necessary in early morning but good for later morning images.
- Other Filters: An HD soft split filter of 2-4 stops can be helpful. I do not recommend a hard stop filter due to the mountains.
- Tripod: Highly recommended
- Other: Remote cable release
D. Schwabacher Landing Photo Spots From First Parking Lot:
Schwabacher Landing is the gift that keeps on giving. Once you have photographed the classic Schwabacher Landing image, don’t pack up your gear and leave. Instead, drive back to the first parking lot and go for a short walk along the river bed for more photography fun. Again this location is frequently visited by bears and moose so take your bear spray and watch for moose especially as you reach the willows. This is also the location of a great beaver dam.
3. Moulton Barns
In the southern section of Highway 191/89 and close to the airport is a turn off for Antelope Flats Road. The road travels east to the Moulton Barns which are two of the most photographed barns in the world. One barn, the John Moulton Barn is directly off Antelope Flats Road while the other barn, the Thomas Moulton Barn is off a dirt road across from the John Moulton Barn.
The biggest challenge photographing either of these two barns is capturing an image without a lot of other photographers in the image. A bit of good luck and patience are needed so be prepared to wait out crowds. An additional challenge to photographing the barns is paying attention to the amount of sky in an image, especially on grey sky days.
Thomas Moulton Barn
Although this barn can be photographed from a variety of angles, including a stream, trees and other features in the foreground create visual interest and depth to the image. Also use fill flash as needed on the vegetation and foreground elements.
John Moulton Barn/Homestead
Note the little spot of red just above the tip of the barn- that’s a bluebird in flight.
On days with interesting skies, photograph the barn with a wide angle lens. However on days with less than ideal skies, I find tighter compositions with less sky work best. We all know how boring skies can ruin an otherwise good image.
In the first image, the entire sky was filled with beautiful clouds so I photographed the barn with a 17mm lens. However in the second image, the clouds were only at the horizon. Therefore I decided to used a 70-200mm lens and including more vegetation and less sky.
Best Time of Day:
Shortly after sunrise. Be advised that although these barns were once a great location for painting with light night, as of the writing of this post, painting with light has been banned in the Tetons.
A small aperture from F11 to F16 is necessary to ensure sharpness in both the barn and distant mountains. Shutter speeds will vary depending on light and wind conditions.
- Lens: Wide angle and mid range lens work depending on the composition so bring both.
- Polarizer: Recommended
- Other Filters: Although I have no encountered conditions that required an ND filter, it may be helpful to have on handy.
- Tripod: Highly recommended
- Flash: Fill flash is helpful at times, especially on the Thomas Moulton Barn foreground objects.
4. Jenny Lake
Jenny Lake Overlook is located off an interior park road from a pull off that offers views of the Teton Mountain Range as well as the Ribbon Cascades by Cascade Canyon.
In the early morning on calm days, this viewpoint provides opportunities to capture the Teton mountain reflections in the waters of Jenny Lake both from the roadside overlook and from a short switchback trail that leads to the waters edge. When I was there in 2017, the switchback path to the water’s edge was closed and as of this writing, I do not know the current condition of this trail. If the trail is open, head down to the water’s edge and be sure to include rocks in your composition.
Jenny Lake Overlook By The Water
The overlook is just one place to photograph Jenny Lake. Explore areas around Jenny Lake visitor center and other stops around the lake.
Best Time of Day:
The setting vary greatly depending on composition so I am not comfortable providing specific settings for this location.
- Lens: Wide angle to mid range telephoto lens work here depending on the composition.
- Polarizer: Highly recommended.
- Other Filters: This varies greatly depending on light but an ND filter if you are able to walk to the water’s edge and photograph the rocks.
- Tripod: Highly recommended
- Flash: Fill flash is helpful when photographing at the water’s edge to bring out detail in the rocks.
5. Snake River Overlook
The pull off for this overlook is off Highway 191/89 about halfway between Jackson and Moran. I am including this location because it is the iconic Ansel Adams landscape of the Tetons. Just be aware that trees directly in front of the overlook have grown tall and block a good portion of the S curve of the Snake River.
However, you don’t want to leave the Tetons without making an attempt to capture this classic image so use the trees as part of the actual curve since you can’t cut them down.
Best Time of Day:
Sunrise and Sunset are equally good.
A small aperture from F11 to F16 is necessary to ensure sharpness. Shutter speeds will vary depending on light and wind conditions.
- Lens: Wide angle lens are recommended.
- Polarizer: May be required depending on when the image is taken
- Other Filters: Again, a soft split ND filter can be very helpful in managing exposure depending on lighting. This is particularly true if the skies are very bright.
- Tripod: Highly recommended.
- Other: Remote Cable release.
General Photographic Information About Grand Teton National Park
Map– Here is a link to most stops in Grand Teton National Park :Map of Grand Teton Park
- The Teton Mountains are on the western side of the park and are best photographed in morning hours and at sunset. Therefore, early to bed and early to rise should be your motto.
- Most locations in the park have been photographed by millions of photographers. To produce unique work try and add a twist to the iconic scenes. Better yet, spend time in the less photographed areas of the park.
- Don’t stop photographing in the middle of the day; instead focus on intimate landscapes of the river and forest areas. The national forest areas that surround the park are beautiful.
- Always carry bear spray, even if only walking a few hundred feet from your vehicle. Bears can pop out of underbrush quite easily.
- Most importantly, respect all wildlife and do not crowd them. You are in their home and no photo is worth an animal’s life!
Well these are my top scenic locations and photo tips for first time visitors who have only a day or two in the park.
What About Wildlife?
This post was focused on landscapes but how can I write about the Tetons and not mention wildlife. I can’t, so here are a few tips for spotting wildlife in the park although I am deliberating leaving out a few locations for the safety of both the readers and the wildlife.
- Gros Ventre Campground and Road- Good for moose
- Bridge by the Moose Visitor Center– Good for moose
- Oxbow Bend– Moose, Bears, Otter, Pelicans, Trumpeter Swans and more
- North end of highway 89 before the Moran Junction: Good for bison and antelope
- Antelope Flats Road– Bison, Antelope, Coyotes, and Blue Birds
- Moose Wilson Road– Moose, Bear, Owls, and more
Stops for a 2 Day Visit:
- Begin with sunrise at Schwabacher Landing from the iconic location discussed above.
- Next head to both Moulton Barns off Antelope Flats Rd.
- After photographing the barns, follow Antelope Rd east and turn south towards Kelly. At Kelly head west and turn into the Gros Ventre Campground looking for Moose.
- Late morning, drive back to Schwabacher Landing but now stop at the first parking lot and follow the stream about 1/4 mile for another landscape shot of the Tetons as well as the beaver dam and possible moose.
- Try lunch in Dorans; the Italian restaurant is very good.
- Drive along Moose Wilson Road and watch for bears, moose and owls.
- In the late afternoon, head back north on Highway 191 almost to Moran. Here bison and antelope are frequently seen in late afternoon light.
- End the day by heading south again on Highway 191/ 89 for a sunset at Snake River Overlook.
- Start the day by photographing sunrise at Oxbow Bend.
- Next head west and south to photograph the Tetons from the Jackson Lake Dam.
- Drive down to the boat launch at the Dam and look for bears and moose.
- After leaving the Dam, take the park road to the Jenny Lake Overlook by mid morning.
- Continue heading south to Jenny Lake Visitor Center. Here you will find a number of good locations from which to photograph the Tetons with the lake in the foreground.
- While in the area, make a quick stop at Lupine Fields for possible antelope and bear sightings as well as scenics.
- Consider having a late lunch at Signal Mountain Restaurant. It is good.
- By now, the sun will most likely be behind the mountains, so head into the forests around Two Ocean Road for some intimate landscape images. In summer this is also a great location for wildflowers.
- Spend the late afternoon driving the area between the Dam and Coulter Bay looking for wildlife. Drive slowly here please.
- End the day by visiting Oxbow Bend again for sunset.
Lastly, I highly recommend a visit to Yellowstone National Park while you are in the area. Be sure to check out: How to Photograph Yellowstone’s Upper Geyser Basin
Well thanks for joining me in the beautiful Grand Tetons and I will see everyone again next week at another great location.
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