• Matt Dirksen

Dawn at Schwabacher's Landing

Updated: Aug 19, 2019

I head the to Tetons every year. Usually in fall. I've amassed a small collection of images from Schwabacher's Landing as you just never know what you'll get.

On a cold morning in October, that saw frost on the grasses as well as the wildlife, I headed down to the bank. The air was crisp 26 degrees, and the water was as clear as glass . The one thing that morning lacked was some fog or low lying clouds to add a bit of drama to the landscape. A perfectly clear morning is nice, and makes for great reflection shots but can leave an image looking less dynamic as the only color and drama comes from the light.

I was busy getting setup for first light as the number of photographers began to settle in around me as this is one of the most photographed places in the park. In retrospect, by the time the light had hit, the are had about 15 others photographers. This location is one of the most photographed locations in the country and it is easy to see why. The wildlife, the scenery and historic significance is well documented. Ansel Adams made this scenery famous with his large format black and white prints of this breathtaking landscape long before its popularity was mainstream.

It was 6:54am when I began to set my tripod on the shoreline. I was racing the sun, which was supposed appear sometime around 7:32am. I had scouted the location the night before so I knew exactly where I wanted to go. I set my Nikon D810 on a tripod and selected the 20mm/f1.8 G lens to accompany it. After leveling off my tripod I took a couple of test frames to make sure I was again happy with the framing, the exposure time, and to ensure the reflection was smooth enough for my liking. It wasn’t quite right just yet. I then added a 3 stop Neutral Density filter to lengthen the exposure, knowing that once the sun came up, the exposure would change quickly and dramatically. I also knew that meant changing my shutter speed which would make a difference in the length of time that the the reflection had to smooth in the image. After adding the ND, I added a second filter, a graduated ND filter, to cut down the light entering the top half of the frame. Even though I am shooting RAW, I want to make sure that the starting image I would have would be as balanced to begin with as possible. Believe it or not, the reflection in the water is not the same brightness as the mountains are at first light. There is a stark difference and can be easily adjusted for with the half grad ND filter.

Before we were treated to the morning alpenglow on the Teton Range, the sky lit up with this incredible pink hue as the shadow of the earth crept out for the morning. This phenomenon is called the Belt of Venus. During that short period of time I managed to capture just one frame of the pink hue, but it might be my favorite frame that I've ever taken at Schwabacher’s Landing. Using the lowest expandable ISO of my D810, ISO 31, I was able to get at 13 second exposure with the help of the 2 ND filters. Soon after, the sky turned blue again and the first bit of light hit the tip of the Grand.

I had my D4s with the 70–200/f2.8 at my side as I was using it to shoot the peaks tighter and build vertical and horizontal stitched panoramics. I shot it at 200mm to capture just the peak of the grand at first light over the waning fall colors and the evergreen forest on the valley floor.

I chose to use the D4s to do stitched panoramics as my D810 was shooting long exposures because I wanted to be able to create larger files from the D4s that would be stitched in order to make larger format prints similar to those taken on the D810.

I used the D4s at a higher ISO as I knew the files would be able to handle it and I could handhold it as I fired off shots at will as the D810 took my long exposures. I knew that I only had one chance on this short trip through the Tetons if I wanted to get the other landscapes on my list as well.

The 2 camera approach worked perfectly and I couldn’t be happier with the images that I came away with. Next time I’ll hopefully get a little different atmosphere with some low-lying clouds or a touch of fog. No trip to the Tetons is complete without taking in a sunrise somewhere in the valley. There is nothing that compares to standing at the base of these peaks when they glow at dawn.

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