Having experienced a handful of negative experiences at popular photography hotspots over the years, I was apprehensive about photographing sunrise at Grand Teton National Park. Grand Teton is known as one of the most popular landscape photography destinations in the world; and I generally avoid places like that but I found myself there recently while on family vacation. I had camped there overnight with my cousin nearly 20 years ago but I was a beginning photographer at the time so I had wanted to revisit as an experienced photographer.
I’ve heard horror stories over the years about the infamous crowds of photographers at Grand Teton NP locations such as Schwabacher’s Landing and Oxbow Bend. The thought of potentially seeing hundreds of tripod legs intertwined made me cringe but I did travel all the way to Wyoming with my camera after all so I woke up at 3:45 a.m. on my first morning in the park in anticipation of crowds at the famous Snake River Overlook which was immortalized by Ansel Adams’ photograph from 1942. It turns out that I was the first one there by at least 30 minutes; only three other people eventually showed up for sunrise. We all exchanged hello’s as they approached the overlook and respected each other’s space. Survived!
Snake River Overlook at First Light, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
The next morning I woke up slightly later and went to the Mormon Row Barns before dawn. No one else showed up at this barn though I did see a handful of people go to photograph the other iconic Moulton Barn. I’m not sure if the lack of photographers was due to it being a weekday or because there was rain in the forecast. Sunrise never happened on this morning due to clouds.
On the following morning, I went back to the same barn at dawn since I didn’t see a sunrise the previous day. For the first time on this trip I wasn’t the first photographer out and about. I was actually the 3rd person there which I must admit did initially cause my blood pressure to raise a little bit. I’m not accustomed to going out at sunrise and not being the first person at a location. It turns out that my fears were totally irrational. Everyone I met at Moulton Barn on this morning was really friendly and respectful. I chatted quite a bit with one lady from Tennessee. She told me that she was a hobbyist photographer and wasn’t very good so asked if I wouldn’t mind giving her some advice. Normally I’m not the most chatty photographer out in the field but when it comes to helping people out that are sincerely asking for it I don’t mind at all. It was actually kind of refreshing compared to many other photographers I’ve encountered in the past who act like they know everything. I would never give unsolicited advice to strangers but when asked, sure, you bet.
A lot of people ended up showing up for this sunrise but everyone was respectful of each other’s space so the experience was positive overall. Before going back to the hotel to have breakfast with my family, I stopped at the infamous Schwabacher’s Landing which is the location where almost every Grand Teton postcard is photographed from. There was a lot of people here as one might expect but still plenty of room and everyone was respectful. Not bad at all. I believe that fall might be peak travel season for photographers so perhaps Grand Teton National Park is worse at all other times in the year but during this trip I had no such issues so I had a good time overall with the photography.
It is true that photographer horror stories happen frequently. But just because some photoshoots result in negative experiences doesn’t mean that every photoshoot in a popular location is going to end up that way. There is no need to run away from situations that haven’t happened yet. Show up, evaluate the situation then either stay or go. You won’t know unless you try.