The (Very Cold) Story Behind Winter Tetons

The (Very Cold) Story Behind Winter Tetons

Ansel Adams’ Snake River Overlook photo was always one of my favorite photographs (and easily my favorite of Ansel’s) growing up.  While I paid homage to it years ago via my shot, Modern Teton, I wanted take another crack at it with a particular niche within photography that has become my passion.  I wanted to combine nightscape photography, my favorite type of modern photography, with his classicly chosen spot.  And so this shot, “Winter Tetons”, was born.

Facing west, this spot isn’t photographed often at night because the core of the milky way never rises in the western sky here. But in researching the spot I did note that the oft ignored back side of the milky way arcs over the Tetons nicely in the winter.

It was 0 degrees farenheit out when I shot this, and the complete image took the better part of 4-5 hours to capture. This is actually a stitch of about 3 dozen shots in multiple rows with a longer lens to create this wide perspective.

I shot the sky using a tracking mount (which rotates on its axis at the same speed as the Earth) so I could shoot 2-4 minute exposures without the stars trailing. However I did not anticipate how the 0F temperature was going to interact with this. It froze up the ballhead on my tripod during every exposure. Meanwhile, it simultaneously loosened the plastic screws of the tracking mount. This meant every time I rotated the camera (about 35 times in total) I had to apply a lot of torque to unfreeze and loosen the ballhead so it would rotate. With the plastic screws loose from the cold, this would knock the tracker out of alignment, every time. So instead of it taking a matter of seconds to rotate the camera between shots it was instead a 3-5 minute ordeal to move it, position it properly, and then re-align the tracker. (the tracker has to be aligned properly to make sure it is rotating on the correct axis to match Earth).

In the end I was out in the 0 degree weather all night long for about 12 hours, colder than I’ve ever been. A week later I still felt cold in my bones.

And that’s how I chose to spend my birthday this year.

The life of a photographer.

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