A Whirlwind Photography Road Trip in America – Part 2

This is part 2 of a 2 part series. If you haven’t read Part 1, click here.

We were now half way into our whirlwind photography road trip. In four days, we had already driven through: Yosemite, Death Valley, Vegas and Zion; accounting for approximately 1,500 miles(2,414km) on the road. Our original plan was to include the Grand Canyon as well as Bryce Canyon within this timeframe, but it was soon clear that if we were to do so, spending that much time in the car would send us both loco.


The drive from Zion to the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming was the longest leg during the road trip – 600 miles (1,000km) in total. The stretch of road would head northward, skirt around Salt Lake City, into Idaho and then ending in Jackson, Wyoming. All up, we’d be spending over eight hours in the car with a few breaks to refuel, and for Tim to check his 500px account 😉

After navigating the flat terrain of Idaho, the scenery changed noticeably as we entered Wyoming. The flat and mostly boring looking plains that flanked both sides of the highway, finally made way for pine forests and endless stretches of winding roads, and gradually revealed the distant mountains that grew in stature as we counted down every remaining mile. After eight hours of driving, we entered the town of Jackson, where the sight of the towering mountains somehow inject a second wind of enthusiasm into us.

grant teton

Waiting for the right light.

Without even having accommodation secured for the evening, we headed for the Mormon Row a few miles out-of-town. The Mormon Row are the historical remains of where once stood, a Mormon community from that had settled from Idaho during the 1890’s. Set against the backdrop of the Tetons, the remaining barns provided a perfect subject and composition to photograph.

mormon row grand teton

Tip: If you are shooting while the sun is still high in the sky, try to shoot from the shade.

mormon row in grand teton wyoming

A Pano of the setting sun behind the Tetons at the Historic Mormon Row

Embracing my photography style

The next morning, we got up at 5am to check the weather map. Apparently there were some high cloud, but potentially not enough to catch the sweet light that us landscape photographers love during sunrise and sunset. As we were already up, we decided to give it a go anyway.

After a brief stop in the middle of the road to allow a giant elk to pass, I soon realised the differences in style between myself and Tim. Earlier on, we had a lengthy discussion about the approach to pre-visualisation and the role it plays in panorama photography. As there is no immediate feedback on the back of the camera screen, he already has an idea of what the final shot would look like before even setting up the tripod. Once it’s shot, he knows that any additional shots are just a waste of exposures.

As for me, I am more of a documentary style photographer; where I’ll have my camera out well before we reach a scene and consider how the image will fit in telling a story within a series of images. The end result is a lot of images being shot – I took over 500 images in two days at the Tetons.

I can’t see myself changing my style of shooting, but it did make me apply more thought into my pre visualisation whenever I have the camera out. Food for thought as Tim decided the light wasn’t good enough and had a sleep inside the car while I shot some frames down at Jackson Lake.

jackson lake tetons

Morning light over Jackson Lake. Forest fires from Washington State the previous week had left a trace of haze.

Wildlife Encounters

I enjoy the great outdoors, especially in the mountains, but sometimes I had to remind myself that we were in bear country. Although we didn’t see any, we were always jokingly asking people, whether they had seen any bears, to which they would say not that day, but had spotted some recently, or knew where they are most likely to be seen.

Later that day, we went down to some nearby ponds, based on a recommendation from the owner of a local pizza restaurant the previous evening. We were setting up by the pond, when I almost managed to step on a snake near my camera bag. It wasn’t the largest snake by all means – probably about two foot in length, but I think it rattled Tim slightly and shortly after, he was off to higher ground.

grand tetons wyomingSunset reflections at the ponds near Jackson.

Waterfalls, Guns and Milky Ways in Montana

Instead of heading to Oregon as originally intended, we decided to end the road trip in Montana. Tom, a One Of A Kind member had reached out to Tim and invited him to visit if he was in the area, to which he agreed. This meant we’d pass through Yellowstone which wasn’t a bad decision either.

Montana is definitely the last of cowboy country, where most people and/or have a gun within an arm’s reach. For the three days where we were guests of Tom and his wife, Kat, we would surprisingly have many discussions about gun violence, gun control back in Australia and the right to bear arms in the United States.

timothy poulton panorama

Getting the lowdown on vertical panos from the pano master himself.

It was probably partly our Aussie larrikin attitude, naivety and inexperience in an area that is  known for a grizzly population (and a recent attack) that resulted in our jovial attitude towards having any form of self-protection. Most people would carry a bell and bear spray, but Tim and I didn’t even consider it. Luckily, Tom had his 45 calibre pistol, equipped with “bear bullets” and years of shooting range practice; something that Tim probably didn’t realise when he shot off ahead of us from the car park and into the woods in Yellowstone, where we went to photograph Tower Falls. I purposely hung back with Tom who was the one carrying the gun.

tower falls montana

Tower Falls in Yellowstone National Park

I hadn’t managed to shoot the milky way with much success up until recently, but on our final night in Montana, the clear skies provided some excellent training opportunities to do so. If you spent a lot of time in the larger cities like I do, it’s often a long drive to an area with no light pollution where you would be able to faintly view the Milky Way.

We had just finished dinner and on the walk back to the guest house, the Milky Way in all of its glory was visible in the evening sky – I could see it without even squinting. So instead of going to sleep, I spent the next hour or so shooting it; thus providing the perfect ending to the whirlwind photography road trip.

montana milky way

Enjoying the views on our final night.

Have you been on a photography road trip in America? What are your favourite locations?

If you like any of these images in this blog post, you can purchase a high quality print HERE.


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