Grand Teton National Park is best known for its peaks that rise quickly from the mountain floor. It’s one of the most-visited parks in the National Park system with 3.5 million visitors last year. Most visitors come during the summer months, and popular destinations within the park can be crowded at the best of times, but when a storm comes through, most people seek shelter at their campgrounds or head back to the town of Jackson for food and entertainment. This makes it the best time to get great images without the hassle of crowds.
Thunderstorms roll in quickly most afternoons during the summer. I live in Jackson, which is just south of the park boundary, and I can be in any part of the park within an hour. On this evening, I was at home cooking dinner after work when a storm began to make its way into the valley. I prepped my camera gear as the food cooked, doing mental calculations on how soon it would be done and how quickly the storm was moving. Luckily, the storm was moving slowly enough that I had time to finish dinner and head out.
I drove north along the main highway through the park. As I drove, there was heavy rain and some hail, then lightning strikes not far from the road. During the drive, I had time to think and plan potential shots and locations. The storm was moving from west to east, and the sun was setting. I knew I’d have to take the shot in an eastern direction, but I wasn’t sure if there’d be a break in the clouds to let the sun through to highlight the end of the front.
The storm system was quite large, and I ended up choosing one of the most northern and easterly locations that still had enough landscape to showcase the massiveness of the storm. That location ended up being below the Jackson Lake Dam in the area of Willow Flats, which is usually best known for wildlife viewing.
While driving, I had also been thinking of how I’d highlight the drama of the clouds. The storm finally passed enough to see the break in the clouds, the sunlight came through, and a double rainbow appeared. I thought that was the shot. It wasn’t. As the light and air changed, mammatus clouds began to develop. Mammatus clouds are bulbous and are often part of large thunderstorms. They became more numerous and pronounced as time passed. If I had been in the Midwest, I might have been worried about the potential for tornadoes.
The light changed again, and finally, it was “the shot”—or six of them. My 24mm lens wasn’t wide enough to capture the breadth and width of the storm, so I turned my camera vertically and shot six images handheld, which I later merged in Lightroom. The rainbow on the left side of the image was visible for over 30 minutes, and this was one of the more spectacular storms to pass through the area last year. Getting to experience a storm like this was amazing. OP
See more of Beth Holmes’ work at bethholmesphotography.com.
Nikon D810, AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR at 24mm. 1/200 sec., ƒ/9, ISO 200.