BOOK REVIEW: Grand Teton Photography and Field Guide

By on February 18, 2014
Grand Teton Photography and Field Guide
Grand Teton Photography and Field Guide

Grand Teton Photography and Field Guide

JACKSON, WYO – Grand Teton Photography and Field Guide
Author and photographer Daryl L. Hunter

What should you look for in a good wildlife/landscape photographer? What are the qualities inherent to all men and woman who point a Nikon at elk? A true testament to their commitment can be found in a place I would have never thought to look: The undercarriage of their car, as noted by Daryl L. Hunter’s wife, Sharon, in the foreword of Hunter’s first book.

Maybe it is the getting there and back that shows the most dedication to photographing Wyoming’s most raw moments. Light is best early and late. Wildlife tends to be active before and after that. It makes for a fragmented day, or at least a very long one. Pounding the two-track to get in place for the shot demands a hardy suspension and a reliable alarm clock.

Hunter’s 500-page publication is far beyond a coffee table book of his favorite shots. The lensman introduces just the right amount of Wyoming’s rich history, even geology, to bring context to his work.

Flora and fauna are fleshed out, enriching the experience of even the most knowledgeable locals while not assuming everyone is starting from the same place. (The common question, “At what age does a deer become an elk?” comes to mind.)

Of course it would take a professional shutterbug to note that the 1872 Hayden survey lost its hired photographer, William Henry Jackson, somewhere after Yellowstone and before Jackson Hole. “I suspect he ran out of supplies, so this leg of the expedition lacked a photographer” Hunter wrote of the party’s southern trek into the valley down the Snake River.

Hunter also explains the Little Ice Age (1450-1850) and its effects on the valley. Readers will also learn the infamous Black Dike on Mount Moran really shouldn’t be called a dike at all. It’s technically a sill.

“It’s hard to miss the 200-foot wide vertical Black Dike that transects the face of Mount Moran. This igneous dike is made of diabase, an iron-rich magma squeezed into cracks and cooled. These are some of the oldest rocks in North America,” Hunter writes.

It’s easy to see why the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and its “embarrassment of riches” attract the world’s foremost photographers. The author judiciously mentions iconic names like Wolfgang Bayer, Jeff Foote, Edwin and Peggy Bower, Jeff Hogan, and Tom Mangelsen.

What makes this book most enjoyable is Hunter’s genial manner and willingness to divulge trade secrets and secret spots. Hunter has shared what he knows of the valley as a fly fishing guide, snowmobile guide, wildlife safari guide, and photo tour guide. He simply likes turning people on to clickable moments.

“As a rule of thumb the Grand Tetons photograph best in the AM since the low morning sun illuminates the mountains the best,” he wrote, adding, “don’t stay in bed if it is stormy.”

Just about every one of my landscape photos turns out darkish, especially mountain shots. I know the photographer’s rule is like the real estate agents cry of “location, location, location.” Except for shooters it’s all about light. How do the pros do it? It’s called HDR.

High Dynamic Range (HDR) is the practice of using three photos in one with varying degrees of light filter. Hunter explains this and other more technical tricks without sounding preachy or dumbing things down.

“Afternoon and evenings the lucky photographer’s serendipity may dish up light beams shooting through the canyons of the mountains. These are called ‘crepuscular rays.’ The mountains serrating the sky split the light into beams. This optical phenomenon is often enhanced by thunderclouds above – keep your fingers crossed and be ready,” Hunter advises.

If you’re up for more, Hunter can unravel even the most complex photographer challenges like Rayleigh’s scattering – a phenomena explaining why experienced cameramen don’t shoot during the midday.

Especially helpful is Hunter’s “Portfolio Packer Morning Trip” – a five-hour loop that catches the best of the best. The tour begins with a stop at Schwabacher’s Landing ahead of the day. To catch the alpenglow lighting the peaks, be at Schwabacher a half-hour before sunrise, Hunter says.

Shooting during the so-called “magic hour” at dusk and dawn requires photographers to have a steady hand … or a trusty tripod. Hunter writes, “When the sun is on the horizon, light is low in intensity. You will need to be prepared to take long exposures, and it is very important that you use a tripod to reduce camera shake.”

Hunter is not above letting budding shutterbugs in on his stashes either. One stunning 1987 photo of GTNP’s iconic limber pine called the Patriarch Tree comes complete with exact GPS locations that hotline directly to Google Maps/Earth in the iBooks version of Hunter’s field guide. And that’s not the only one.

The key to most great wildlife shots is pre-visualization and subject placement. Hunter describes ancient rules like the Rule of Thirds – which is thought to date back to 1797 – and Galen Rowell’s obsession with lights color, direction and quality. Hunter doesn’t just take a picture of a grizzly bear. He thinks hard about the reason for taking the picture (composition) and frames up subjects to create action.

“When a subject is capable of movement, such as a grizzly bear or skier, it is best to leave space in front of the subject so it appears to be moving into, rather than out of the photo. Same goes for people and animals which are static, you want them to be gazing into the photo, not out of it,” Hunter writes.

Whether giving advice on the best time of the day to catch Jackson Lake at its calmest (try Chapel Bay at mid-morning after the sun has cleared Signal Mountain) or tips on how to approach wildlife safely (sure grizzly are scary but don’t disrespect bison and moose), Hunter’s new work is a must for photographers, historians and wildlife lovers.

About Jake Nichols

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