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He Has Made Everything Beautiful

Having photographed northern New England's spectacular autumn "show" for 20 years, I decided this year - my first based in the interior west - to focus on my new backyard (Grand Teton National Park and the Palisades in Idaho's Teton Valley), before flying to Virginia for a week to work in and around Shenandoah National Park.

As the season approached, along with forecasts for "bumper crop" amazing color back in New Hampshire, I regretted my choice. That said, it was impossible to squeeze time in for a trip back to the Northeast so the original strategy of Wyoming followed by Virginia stands.

I spent nearly a week at the end of September in and around Grand Teton NP. The conditions were tough. Cloudless skies at daybreak. Sunny days with harsh light. No frost overnight. No early morning fog. When Mother Nature isn't cooperating, I often think about something I've had posted on my desk for many years now. It's a line from a long ago article in Outdoor Photographer magazine: What kind of photograph can you make given particular conditions?

More often than not, the situation is not ideal. Careful advance planning improves the odds, but the weather has a mind of its own. When on location, you have to learn to improvise - and be aware of shifting (sometimes very subtle) conditions. The image you see here is a good example of that.

As I ventured out in the darkness well before dawn to get to this spot, the stars shone brightly in a cloudless sky. The shot I had in mind was more than likely not going to materialize. After an hour on location, nothing had changed. The rising sun wasn't going to have any clouds to paint on this day. There was a little bit of steam rising off the Snake River, and the autumn color was quite pretty - and pronounced - against the deep blue of the empty dawn sky. I had contrasting colors (orange/yellow and blue) and wonderful shapes with which to work, so used those as the basis for my composition.

As the sky lightened, I continued to work. For just a few minutes prior to sunrise, the twilight wedge became faintly visible, then more pronounced - creating a band of pink in the cloudless sky. It was fleeting, but beautiful. I kept shooting for another 40 minutes or so in the rapidly changing light - but thought there was a good chance I might go back empty-handed. When I pulled the images from that shoot off the memory card, the one featuring the twilight wedge jumped out at me.

The conditions never came together at that location to capture what I had in mind, in spite of multiple attempts. It wasn't clear while I was shooting that morning that the twilight wedge would translate to anything meaningful in post-processing. Yet this is one of my favorite shots from my week in the park.

He has made everything beautiful in its time.


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