random thought, travel

Our National Parks Odyssey

Originally appeared on April 10, 2017 on the Red River Paper Blog

Steam from the early morning chill rises off the Green River in the Wind River Range of Wyoming.  Squaretop, an aptly named handsome granite mountain in the distance catches the first rays of the sun, rising somewhere I cannot yet see.

I sip my scalding, black coffee in our trailer and wait. This is what I do. I get paid to just sit out in some of the wildest places of the world until that unreal moment of light, weather, and circumstance all line up to paint a breathtaking canvas before my eyes. All I have to do is record it on a digital sensor. Well, okay, there is a bit more that goes into it.

Andrew, Ellen and their two dogs. The cat declined to pose. © Andrew Slaton

People have asked a lot lately how my wife and I ended up with almost no possessions, living on the road out of a travel trailer, with two Aussie pups and a cat. You can almost see their thoughts reeling: “What is it with these Millennials? Do they have a trust fund? Are they constantly fighting in those tight living quarters?” The truth is we knew there was a simpler life out there– and we craved to know it.

My wife Ellen and I, both in our 30s, are at the very front end of a… well, let’s just say interesting generation. We were brought up by boomers in suburban Dallas, Texas. I grew up a nature nerd, spending hours watching National Geographic documentaries and dreaming of far off places while Ellen was climbing trees and playing in the creeks surrounding her neighborhood. Early on, we both developed a strong appreciation for the outdoors.

© Andrew Slaton

I went on to get a degree in photojournalism from the University of Texas at Austin, and started a decade-plus career as a commercial photographer. Ellen got her degree in Art History, became a certified yoga teacher and worked as a creative consultant to non-profit organizations. Neither of us came from money so we both learned to be scrappy and work really hard.

Living in Dallas was going fine; just the usual ups and downs of the freelance life. We had settled into a little duplex near the lake and were traveling about half the month for location shoots when we began to realize that after being back for only a few days, we were ready to head out again for the next adventure. The noise and pace of the city was beginning to wear us down.

© Andrew Slaton

So one night Ellen had the idea to sell all our stuff, buy a travel trailer, and hit the road full time. Almost none of my work required us to live in Dallas, or any one place for that matter. It would be a total dream come true for us both. We decided to just do it with the objective of spending about five years visiting and photographing in all 59 national parks– a pretty ambitious undertaking. Time, we had, but money was another matter.

© Andrew Slaton

Life as a roving freelancer is completely feast or famine. That’s why, as a landscape and active lifestyle photographer, I’ve learned to have a multi-pillared approach to my business. There’s my commercial work, editorial work, teaching at workshops, shooting stock and to round it all out marketing fine art prints. The theory is that if any one (or even two) of these revenue streams slows down or dries up, the other two or three can continue to prop us up.

Once we finally became full-timers, we felt completely at home. On our inaugural morning in the trailer, I remember waking up, stumbling the four feet over to the dinette for coffee, looking out the window and seeing a bison grazing ten feet away from me. It was glorious. So here we are: almost a year down the road and neither of us have any regrets. Well, I take that back; we only wish we would’ve done this sooner.

Space is tight but very workable. © Andrew Slaton

Our travel quest spawned a fine art print concept that has helped keep us on the road so far. I’ve always loved creating prints. Especially in the darkroom days. For me, it’s a very tangible way of presenting my work to folks who appreciate photography. And it refines my work. Presenting an image on Instagram is one thing but printing it out large is another. For readers who have printed their own photographs, you know what I mean.

I typically sell limited edition 12 x18-inch or smaller prints through my web site, output on my faithful Epson 2200. I print on Red River Polar Matte Magna (see Resources) because it is a smooth matte with the heaviest weight on the market. Prints have depth and contrast and they also have a substantial feel to them. They remind me of the old fibre papers of the analog days. I also like Arctic Polar Luster (see Resources) for its heavy weight and incredible color and contrast.

© Andrew Slaton

I’ve sold more than 250 prints so far, shipping them weekly from wherever we are at the time. Printing on the road gives me another great way to promote and disseminate my work and to generate some extra income. Keeping connected, though, can sometimes be challenging.

Often, when on the grid at campgrounds, RV parks or cafes we have Wi-Fi, albeit very slow. When we are off the grid, I will create a hotspot from my phone that is often faster than the Wi-Fi we get from campgrounds. And then there are the times that we are so far off the grid, there is no internet or cell service. At times like these we simply enjoy the silence and rest.

It’s not all work– there’s time for relaxing, too. © Andrew Slaton

Before we hit the road, our lives were a bit more, well, all over the place. Ellen was running around the affluent Dallas neighborhoods conducting private yoga sessions for stay-at-home moms and retirees. I was working on corporate and commercial shoots, doing post-production, involved in website upkeep duties and more. Half the month was spent in my dark office staring at a computer, mostly, and staying up late watching television. During the other half, we were traveling, living outdoors, sleeping in a tent, cooking over an open fire, waking up with the sunrise and going to bed when it went down.

Now I awake nearly every morning an hour or so before the dawn and let my two girls, Islay and Skye outside to play together. My coffee bubbles on a little three-burner gas stove while Colonel Bubba, our cat, and I sit and enjoy the silence of the pre-dawn. I have previously scouted a location for the morning’s shoot so once I pour the rich, dark elixir into my large travel mug, I kiss Ellen and the girls goodbye, hop into the truck and head out with two Canon 5D Mark III bodies and an arsenal of lenses.

© Andrew Slaton

Dawn shoots are typically too early for anyone to want to get up for so that means I have the natural beauty of a new day all to myself. I rarely spend this time on my lifestyle, commercial or editorial clients. Morning is “me time.” The rest of the day consists of long hikes, social media computer time, truck and trailer maintenance duties, and afternoon/evening outdoor lifestyle shoots.

There’s a lot to learn being full time RVers. And the only way to learn it is as you go. I had a workshop to lead in Yellowstone last summer, so Ellen and I decided to find a nice, secluded spot in the National Forest near West Yellowstone to park our trailer. We set out down a dirt road with our 4×4 truck and 29-foot Forest River travel trailer.

We learned an important lesson only a quarter mile down that road: our trailer is not made to do rough, dirt roads. As we worked our way slowly down the dusty, two-track trail, we hit a small bump. Small enough that our four-wheel-drive Ford F-150 didn’t even register it. But it was a seismic disaster for our trailer and it took some time to set it right.

© Andrew Slaton

Life on the road has also taught me to be a MacGyver, of sorts. We don’t have the money to just take our truck and/or trailer into the shop every time there’s a problem. YouTube and my meager toolbox have become exponentially more valuable to me than I ever imagined they would. I guess the point is, that we are living the dream, but at a cost. And to us, the cost is so minuscule, we feel as though we’ve rigged the game on this one.

So how do we do it? Well, it’s pretty simple when I get to the heart of it. We changed our priorities. Dramatically. Now, instead of a mortgage for a nice home, we have a gasoline budget. Instead of working toward retirement, we do what we love so we will never want to retire.

My dad never overwhelmed me with a ton of advice. But one thing he told me–and that I have never forgotten–sums up the way I have lived my life: “Do what you love, and the money will come.” Right now all we want out of life is to live simply and be fulfilled. And so far, we feel like the richest people on earth.

About Andrew Slaton

Andrew Slaton is an award-winning photographer who has done assignments for more than 50 clients and specializes in lifestyle and outdoor images. He is a Red River Pro who outputs his National Parks prints in limited editions of ten each, printed on archival Red River papers with  fade-resistant pigment inks.

Resources

Red River Polar Matte Magna Card Stock

Arctic Polar Luster

What’s To Come

Andrew and Ellen will be sharing their adventures with us from time to time. You can help them achieve their goal by adding one or more of his prints to your collection. You can also subscribe to a collector’s edition of prints from each of the 59 National Parks he photographs.

Contact Information

Visit Andrew’s web site and view his work here.

Learn about and sign up for one of his future workshops here.

— Andrew


Ellen and I have hit the road full-time! We are on a mission to inspire and educate everyone on the importance of getting outside. Check out my workshops and my prints, made #ontheroad in my mobile print studio. The revenue will help propel us further and further on this great adventure. Enrich yourself and others… and feel great about it too as you’re helping to ensure our wild lands are cherished and to keep the wild spirit of the American Dream alive. Our goal is to visit all 59 National Parks in 3-5 years. LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT WE’RE DOING HERE



Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
SCOTLAND // ULTIMATE ROAD TRIP // 2017 – SOLD OUT
TELLURIDE // LANDSCAPE + MOUNTAIN LIGHT // 2017 – 4 SPOTS LEFT
GRAND TETON // LANDSCAPE + FALL COLORS // 2017 – 6 SPOTS LEFT
YELLOWSTONE // LANDSCAPE + WILDLIFE // 2017 – 6 SPOTS LEFT
 
I’m excited to announce my “The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
 
See what’s NEW + download your free Grand Teton National Park sample today!
 
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
  
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com
 
All images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2017

 

 
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education, travel

The Silhouette

Canon EOS 5D MK II, EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, f/6.3 1/2000 ISO 500

Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity!” ~ Henry David Thoreau

In communication, simplicity is king. Getting to the point, and leaving no room for misinterpretation is efficient and effective. We, as photographers, are visual communicators. And more specifically, we as nature/landscape photographers are communicating emotion through our images. So how do we keep the clutter down to get our core point across?

Well, one of my favorite techniques is, you guessed it… the silhouette.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/8 1/60 ISO 800

The “Why”

Why does this technique work so well? Well, simply put: it strips down our subject into fewer and fewer elements – mostly shape, light, and color. But even the light element is typically ultra simplified… a silhouette is nine times out of ten backlit. As a consequence, it can often more efficiently communicate an idea, emotion, or memory. It is supremely graphic by nature and it brings unparalleled drama to an image.

There are many instances that would lead one to use this technique. One of those would be when you simply want to accentuate color and cloud texture. This is often during sunset or sunrise. But it requires a simple, uncluttered landscape, like the example above. In this particular image, I wanted to set the viewer’s focus on an iconic landmark of Big Bend National Park, Mule Ears. Even if you’ve never seen or heard of Mule Ears, I bet you can pick it out, can’t you? And have an emotional response to the colors. Thus the beauty of a silhouette.

The Technique

Every situation will be a little different, however, one simple rule remains; get your exposure from your background. What do I mean by this? Take a spot meter reading on the brightest part of your image, usually the sky. Now this can get a bit tricky if you are shooting directly into the sun. You may have to play around with it a bit to get just the right exposure. Don’t be afraid to let the sun blow out just a bit. What you really want to watch out for and guard against is for the blacks to get muddy. Determine what will be your deepest, truest black in the image, and pay close attention to how it looks. Does it start to blend with the layer just behind it? If so, you need to open up your exposure a little. Try again.

One of the hardest parts about creating a truly wonderful and compelling silhouette image is the balancing of the highlights and the shadows. But unlike in a conventionally lit exposure, your range will be many fewer “zones”. If you are familiar with Adam’s Zone System, you know that a traditional exposure might have 9 or 10 “zones”, or distinct tones. Nowadays with digital, it is possible to achieve even more. However, with a silhouette, you may have as few as 2. But most often in nature photography, it will be more like 4-5 “zones”.

Composition is Key

Even more important than balancing tones in a silhouette is your composition. The rule of thirds and balance are supremely important to creating an effective silhouette. In the image below, the upper third is dominated by beautiful color and cloud texture, the middle third with warm, pouring light over rocky crags, and the lower third, an imposing, immovable mountain. The upper-middle left third, with it’s eye-catching light rays, is balanced by the lower-middle right third of the black peak.

Simplifying your compositions will make your silhouettes better. Go in tight, and get rid of clutter as much as possible.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/11 1/800 ISO 400

When To Use

On my most recent travels through the American South and Southwest I used silhouetting a lot. Like most nature/landscape photographers, I am often shooting at dusk and dawn, when the sky lights up with the day’s most pleasing light and colors. Silhouettes can help to accentuate and enhance the light and color. It also gives the photographer an easy way to shoot directly in to the sun, without the worry of needing a crazy dynamic range.

See the image below from Saguaro National Park. The saguaro cactus is an iconic symbol of the American Southwest. I could’ve chosen to photograph this specimen with front lighting or even side lighting, which would’ve allowed the viewer to see the color and some of the texture of the cactus. But I chose to silhouette it, placing the setting sun almost directly behind the subject to capture the light and color of the dusk, allowing the viewer to connect even more deeply to the well-known shape and spiny texture of the saguaro. To me, it is a more interesting and emotional image.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/16 1/250 ISO 400

Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM +2.0x, f/5.6 1/5000 ISO 500

I often do this with iconic flora and fauna (like the heron in the image above or the opening elk shot). When I travel to a new place, it is almost an unconscious effort to make sure I capture a very graphic silhouette of recognizable, quintessential actors of the local landscapes.

See below… The giant palms of Florida, the straight, endless, tall pines of the Everglades, the migrating cranes of the American south, etc. They are all quick reads, accentuating the shape, light, and color, rather than the leaf, trunk, feather, etc details.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM, f/4 1/30 ISO 400

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM +2x III, f/11 1.125 ISO 100

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM +2x III, f/5.6 1/1000 ISO 320

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/11 1/500 ISO 250

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/8 1/100 ISO 500

As we all know, the sun is not our only source of natural light. The moon can be a wonderful backdrop for a variety of silhouetted subjects. The key to a successful shot like this is a (at least near) full moon, close to the horizon, with a long lens (at least 300mm), and a compressed subject that is far enough in the distance that it will fit nicely within the confines of the moon.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM +2x III, f/5.6 1/200 ISO 1000

Sometimes a partial silhouette is your best choice for an image. What I mean by “partial” is that instead of having a pure black subject, you might have several layers of tones. But it still constitutes a silhouette because there is no real detail in the shadows to speak of… they are simply shades of color (or gray in B&W). These work wonderfully well when there are layers of mountains in the distance. I use this technique often to convey distance, grandeur, and intense color. Below is a good example from a recent shoot in the Grand Canyon.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/8 1/80 ISO 640

The Active Landscape

Placing humans in your silhouetted landscape brings a sense of scale and a personal connection to an image that cannot be achieved otherwise. The photographer can now convey multiple messages, like a sense of activity or action, like the surfing couple below.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/11 1/125 ISO 320

People can add a new set of emotions to an image that without them is much harder to achieve. The man below, craning to capture the gorgeous sunset on his phone is universally understood and relatable.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/11 1/250 ISO 125

The lone man (or couple in love) quietly standing in awe and contemplation of the beautiful sunset before them (see images below).

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM, f/16 1/40 ISO 250

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/11 1/400 ISO 320

Once you start practicing silhouetting your subjects, you will begin to see silhouettes everywhere. They are great to add to your repertoire and portfolio to mix things up, keep you creative, and to be a more effective communicator.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/11 1/1000 ISO 320

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/9 1/25 ISO 640

And you will be ready when the real magic hits like in the image below, when all the elements come together right before you… the early dawn sunlight filters through fog rising to create a moody and dramatic image that cuts to the soul of your viewers.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM +2x III, f/11 1/500 ISO 320

Happy shooting!

— Andrew

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci


Ellen and I have hit the road full-time! We are on a mission to inspire and educate everyone on the importance of getting outside. Check out my workshops and my prints, made #ontheroad in my mobile print studio. The revenue will help propel us further and further on this great adventure. Enrich yourself and others… and feel great about it too as you’re helping to ensure our wild lands are cherished and to keep the wild spirit of the American Dream alive. Our goal is to visit all 59 National Parks in 3-5 years. LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT WE’RE DOING HERE



Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
SCOTLAND // ULTIMATE ROAD TRIP // 2017 – SOLD OUT
TELLURIDE // LANDSCAPE + MOUNTAIN LIGHT // 2017 – 4 SPOTS LEFT
GRAND TETON // LANDSCAPE + FALL COLORS // 2017 – 6 SPOTS LEFT
YELLOWSTONE // LANDSCAPE + WILDLIFE // 2017 – 6 SPOTS LEFT
 
I’m excited to announce my “The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
 
See what’s NEW + download your free Grand Teton National Park sample today!
 
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
  
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com
 
All images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2017

 

 
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education, travel

The Photographic Guide to Grand Teton National Park

Well, it’s been a little while since I last posted… so much going on here with our new life on the road! I promise I will start posting again soon. But first, I wanted to share some exciting news…

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 9.53.17 AM.pngThis is for all you “do-it-yourselfers” out there! The long awaited second installment to my eBook series of interactive photo guides to our National Parks, The Photographic Guide To Grand Teton National Park.

Grand Teton is my backyard National Park, and because of that, I know it like the back of my hand. If you are planning a trip to this magnificent area, this is the guide for you.

Everything from clickable GPS locations on every photo and how to capture them, to lodging info and where to find wildlife… plus so much more. I have poured a lot of time and love into this eBook and I know it will make your next visit to Grand Teton incredible.

You can purchase and download it directly on my website right now. Put it on your phone, tablet, laptop, whatever. Do your research at home before the trip, and then take it with you in the field! There is no better way to make the most of your next National Park excursion.

Please check it out. I’d love to know what you think. You can also download a free sample HERE to see if you like it first.

Soon to follow, Big Bend and Yellowstone.

— Andrew


Ellen and I have hit the road full-time! We are on a mission to inspire and educate everyone on the importance of getting outside. Check out my workshops and my prints, made #ontheroad in my mobile print studio. The revenue will help propel us further and further on this great adventure. Enrich yourself and others… and feel great about it too as you’re helping to ensure our wild lands are cherished and to keep the wild spirit of the American Dream alive. Our goal is to visit all 59 National Parks in 3-5 years. LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT WE’RE DOING HERE



Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
TELLURIDE // LANDSCAPE + MOUNTAIN LIGHT // 2017 – 4 SPOTS LEFT
GRAND TETON // LANDSCAPE + FALL COLORS // 2017 – 6 SPOTS LEFT
YELLOWSTONE // LANDSCAPE + WILDLIFE // 2017 – 6 SPOTS LEFT
SCOTLAND // ULTIMATE ROAD TRIP // 2017 – 1 SPOT LEFT
 
I’m excited to announce my “The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
 
See what’s NEW + download your free Grand Teton National Park sample today!
 
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
  
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com
 
All images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2017
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education, travel

An Information Dump

When a friend recently suggested I do an eBook, I was not immediately on board.

First, I know that they are a ton of work, with very little payoff. After all, eBooks aren’t making very many millionaires out there.

Second, I may be on the road now, but I feel like I have less “free” time now than I did when I lived in the city. And third, what the heck do I know about creating an eBook!?

“So what’s the point?” I thought to myself.

“Well, they’re a way you can give back a little,” he said. “You can reach a whole new segment of your following. The people that can’t necessarily afford the time or expense of doing one of your workshops… Or just the people who are the ‘do it yourselfers.'”

That part resonated with me. I’ve always been the “do it yourself” type. Opting to do the research myself rather than go on a workshop.

the-photographic-guide-to-rocky-mountain-national-park-coverI’ve since changed a little and take workshops at least once a year when I can, because I see the benefit of working closely with others, but I still relate to this other segment of folks who follow my work.

But I wasn’t satisfied with the “old way” of doing books. I wanted this to be an experience that puts all the tools needed to get the most out of a photo trip right at the finger tips of anyone reading.

So I set out to make a fully interactive, organized information dump that people can carry right on their cell phone, on location, or read on their tablet on a flight, or simply cross-reference and research from their home computer while in the planning phase. Wherever and whenever.

I am excited to announce the first in a (hopefully) long series of National Park photography guides, The Photographic Guide To Rocky Mountain National Park.

It’s available for direct purchase and download on my website right now, and soon to be available on Amazon.

Please check it out. I’d love to know what you think. You can also download a free sample HERE.

Soon to follow, Grand Teton, Big Bend, and Yellowstone.

— Andrew


Ellen and I have hit the road full-time! We are on a mission to inspire and educate everyone on the importance of getting outside. Check out my workshops and my prints, made #ontheroad in my mobile print studio. The revenue will help propel us further and further on this great adventure. Enrich yourself and others… and feel great about it too as you’re helping to ensure our wild lands are cherished and to keep the wild spirit of the American Dream alive. Our goal is to visit all 59 National Parks in 2-4 years. LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT WE’RE DOING HERE



Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
TELLURIDE // LANDSCAPE + MOUNTAIN LIGHT // 2016 – SOLD OUT
TELLURIDE // LANDSCAPE + MOUNTAIN LIGHT (Trip 2) // 2016 – ONLY 2 SPOTS AVAILABLE
LOCAL + PRIVATE WORKSHOP // 2016 – AFFORDABLE RATES FOR ME TO COME TO YOU
BIG BEND // LANDSCAPE + NIGHT SKY // 2017 – MOST POPULAR! 6 SPOTS AVAILABLE
LEARN PHOTO + CAMERA BASICS // DALLAS // 2016 – 20 SPOTS!
 
I’m excited to announce my “The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
 
See what’s NEW + download your free Rocky Mountain National Park sample when it releases!
 
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
  
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2016
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photography, travel

#findyourpark | GRAND TETON

Where to begin?? Grand Teton National Park is one of the most magnificent 310,000 acres in all of North America. If there were ever a “bucket list” National Park… this is it.

I first laid eyes on the Teton Range, for which the park is named, nearly 15 years ago. It was sincerely love at first sight. But even more than that, there is a feeling of wildness I have never experienced anywhere else. I’ve spent years exploring the Colorado and New Mexico section of the Rockies, but there’s something quite different when you enter a land where the ultimate spirits of the West still resides; the grizzly bear and wolf.

ARS_WY_20160122_1178

ARS_WY_20160122_1187

I have literally thousands of images from this awe-inspiring park, but I’m going to show only new images from my most recent trip in February. You can view every season in the park in this blog’s archive search bar to the right… just type “Tetons”.

When To Go

So which season is the best to visit, you might be thinking? Well, each is unique and beautiful and they have their own benefits: winter is haunting and quiet. Now, yes, it’s freaking cold too. Like, you could die if you’re not prepared kind of cold. It can reach temps of -50 degrees F in this part of Wyoming, so be prepared with layer after layer. But you will never see such amazing sunsets and sunrises as you will in the winter. And the crowds are few and far between. It’s my second favorite time of year.

My first is fall…. swoon. Fall is absolutely magnificent. The summer crowds begin to dissipate, the animals get energized for mating season, the leaves catch fire with color, the air gets a biting chill and the first snowfall hits. It’s just amazing. And… the mosquitos are mostly gone. Which brings me to summer :)

Summer is beautiful. Warmer temps, animals abounding… but so are the mosquitos and crowds. Don’t get me wrong, summer is fantastic. I just tend toward avoiding crowds in my special places of mountain goodness.

Now spring is a bit tricky. Locals call it “the muddy season,” and for very good reason. After the massive amounts of snow melt, the ground is super muddy for at least 1-2 months. Usually May and June are like this. And if you’re wanting to get up the high country, there’s way too much snow still until July. But even this time of year is pretty… deep greens and blues abound and wildflowers begin to bloom. And the masses have not yet begun to descend on the area for the summer season.

Each season has it’s benefits and pitfalls, so carefully look at the pros and cons and choose the right time for your trip that fits your expectations.

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Where To Stay

Grand Teton National Park is right outside of the town of Jackson, Wyoming. So if camping isn’t your thing, there are plenty of hotels, motels, hostels, and even dude ranches in the area at which to stay. If you’re a camper like me, you’ll be overjoyed to find that most of the park borders National Forest, so cheap and/ or free camping is everywhere. There are just a few developed campsites in the park, and to be honest, I’ve never stayed at any of them… because… honestly… if you’re camping, why would you want to be right next to other people AND have to pay too much ($22/ night) for it? I dunno… call me crazy. But if you like that sort of thing, here’s the info you need.

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How To Get There

Luckily, even though small, Jackson, Wyoming has a decent sized airport (JAC) with many flights coming in and out daily. It can be pricey though, depending on what time of year you’re flying and where you’re flying from. Salt Lake City, Utah (SLC) is probably the closest, cheapest international airport and is about a 4.5-5 hour drive. But you may save a ton of $ flying and driving from SLC, so check it out if your a budget traveler like me. Keep in mind though when renting a car, if you’re planning to travel here in anything but summer, you may want an SUV or even better, 4 wheel drive. The mud in the spring and snow in the winter and fall can be treacherous. It is not uncommon, even among locals, to get stuck in the ditch. Just be prepared. It’s even nice to have in the summer too.

SLC has a ton of Subarus for rent, which I would recommend for the price and abilities. AWD but decent gas mileage. Not too shabby.

If you’re driving the whole way, be prepared for immense beauty and abundant wildlife as you get within 250 miles on any side of the park. You may want to spend some time working your way to GTNP to see all of the beauty the surrounding land has to offer. Be very careful and alert if driving in the area at night. It is common to see (very large) animals crossing roadways, and it could ruin your day (or life) to hit one.

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What To Do

Oh my, I could go on and on here, but I’ll try to keep it brief…

First thing’s first; bordering to the North of Grand Teton Park is of course America’s first and most famous National Park, Yellowstone. So you’re going to want to devote a few days to this amazing landscape. But we’re not here to talk Yellowstone just yet… that’s for another post.

Hiking, backpacking, climbing, fishing, rafting, skiing, photography, snowshoeing, wildlife viewing, camping, exploring, and so much more are all fantastic activities to see/ do in this park. But bring your A game. This park is rugged and wild.

Wildlife

Since wolves, mountain lion, and grizzlies have made a comeback, there is more to think about when you’re out there than just what’s for lunch. The chances of any kind of attack are so slim, however, for your safety and the animals, there are a few things you’ll want to know. Check out the GTNP website here for great safety tips.

It is pretty common to see bison, elk, deer, moose, coyote, eagle, hawk, fox, and more. Then, if you’re lucky, you may see wolf, bear (black and grizzly), mountain lion, mountain goat, big horn sheep, etc. Keep a very safe distance with all of these animals… they are wild. And as scary as bears, lions, and wolves sound, more people are killed by bison every year! Please treat the animals with respect.

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And if you’re out hiking or backpacking, please respect this beautiful park and practice Leave No Trace Ethics. If you are not familiar, please click the link and read more about it… but the gist is, leave a place as good or better than you found it. It’s a rule that I wholeheartedly use and endorse.

But don’t worry, LNT doesn’t apply to making snow angels :)

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And that brings me to my next important “to do”… have fun and make memories! This place is one of the most special places in the world, much less the U.S. It is meant to be cherished, respected, AND enjoyed. So please, go with your family and friends, teach them about how to protect it, and then make some killer memories in Grand Teton National Park.

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What to See

Just like most, if not all, of our Parks, there are several very famous spots, and for good reason. These places are amazingly gorgeous and oh so special.

Since like the rest of my #FindYourPark posts, this is simply an introduction, and by no means a comprehensive guide, I will only mention a few of my favorite spots. I’ll leave the rest up to you… And if you’re really interested in a guided experience, and you’d like to see all of my favorite secret spots, come with me this summer or fall!

The main ones, that are easy to get to and I have to visit every single time I’m there are; Snake River Overlook, Oxbow Bend, Schwabachers Landing, String Lake, Jackson Lake Dam, Colter Bay, plus a few others. Each are accessible by car or a very short hike, and most likely you won’t be the only person there. But these places are popular for a reason, so they make my list of ‘must see’.

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If you’ve read my Big Bend post, this part may sound a little like deja vu… The River Road is a most exciting (but very dangerous) 4×4 road that gives you access to the most remote, drivable areas of the park. Also some of my favorite views. Be warned however, that this is a remote, oft void of any human activity, 4 wheel drive/ high clearance vehicle road. Many people have gotten themselves stuck out here. It is not nearly as remote as the road of the same name in Big Bend, but be careful none-the-less. FYI, you are also NOT supposed to camp out there.

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In the winter, there is only one place to camp, and that’s at Colter Bay. Trust me when I tell you, if you don’t have the right gear (and even sometimes when you do) it can be pretty miserable to camp in the winter here.

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It is hard to sum up this park. The Tetons are supremely majestic. Too often, people see GTNP on their way to of from Yellowstone, but in my opinion, it is in the top 5 best National Parks in the U.S. And my personal favorite, except maybe for Big Bend.

This park offers the sights, the wildlife, and the wildness that many Parks in other places just lack. It is this western wildness that makes it so special to me. You may feel this too when you visit. And it is something that very few places in the Lower 48 possess anymore. So please join with me in enjoying, but also conserving and respecting this magnificent place!

— andrew


Ellen and I are hitting the road full-time in June! Help support our journey by gifting yourself {or a loved ARS_RMNP_141023_1606one} one (or ten) of my National Park prints for only $59. THURSDAY, APRIL 14 from 6-10PM CST ONLY! The revenue will help propel us further and further on this great adventure, AND I’ll be donating 10% of the profits to the National Park Foundation! Enrich yourself and others… and feel great about it too as you’re helping to ensure our beautiful Parks for generations to come! But be quick, these prints are limited and normally $250, so they may go fast… LEARN MORE HERE >>


 
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