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There And Back Again

Returning to your favorite places gives you the chance to push the boundaries of your own photographic exploration
This Article Features Photo Zoom
there and back
Paraglider at Curtis Canyon, Bridger-Teton National Forest, Jackson, Wyoming.

The question I’m asked most frequently at workshops and when talking with other photographers: Where is my favorite place to shoot photos? The intent of a question like this is to discover what’s at the core of what I like best when I look for a photo location. When I answer with a string of places, including mountains, deserts and locations around the world, this doesn’t address the question with a tidy answer.

Looking closely at the question, I suspect that I have hundreds of favorite places to shoot, and I’m adding new locations every month. Later this month I’ll be shooting in Scotland, a place I’ve never visited. You can bet that I’ll add the Scottish regions of the Outer Hebrides and Ben Nevis to my list of favorite locations.

What qualifies as a favorite place to me is the potential a location has for light, scenery and subjects for photography, and it helps if that potential is nearly bottomless. That quality and quantity will entice me to return again and again. A recent photography trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, was just that—an opportunity to review previous locations I’ve photographed and could improve on and to try some new things in new locations.

When I return to a location I’ve shot before, my intent is either to explore new locations or refine photos I’ve already made, perhaps in a different season or of a different activity, or incorporating new lighting or camera gear. Every year I set aside a few shoots that are short, two- to four-day-long trips specifically for shooting photography in one of my favorite locations. These photo trips might be regional, or I might tap into frequent-flyer miles and book a trip to the Canadian Rockies, Iceland or farther afield. The season in which I choose to travel varies as well, depending on the type of new ground I intend to push photographically.

This past month, I shot for three days in one of America’s premier adventure capitals, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which is at the heart of the spectacular Grand Teton National Park and borders Yellowstone National Park. The location abounds in mountains, lakes, rivers and wildlife of every description. With nearly unlimited challenges for skiers, climbers, kayakers, hikers and other activities, the towns of Jackson and Wilson and, on the other side of the Teton Mountains in Idaho, the towns of Victor and Driggs, have no shortage of adrenaline junkies. I’ve enjoyed shooting around Jackson for many years. Each visit I make offers an array of new locations and new subjects to shoot.

On my recent visit, I traveled to Jackson with my office manager Stephanie Ogburn, who always enjoys a road trip. Although not my regular photo assistant, Stephanie quickly learned some of the nuances of using reflectors and setting up my portable battery-powered lights. In a location like Jackson, having a friend who’s willing to lend a hand to help with your shoot is indispensable. Stephanie filled that role, plus she had a chance to be on location to watch the process of me making the photos that she’d later edit and send to clients. We worked with athletes Jeff Annetts, Charlotte Moats and others in a busy three days, shooting a wide variety of sports, including mountain biking, paragliding, camping, trail running, fly-fishing and kayaking. Jackson Hole is one of only a handful of places in the world where you can shoot all of these activities in a world-class arena.

What qualifies as a favorite place to me is the potential a location has for light, scenery and subjects for photography, and it helps if that potential is nearly bottomless.

This Article Features Photo Zoom
Charlotte Moats running on Taggart Lake Trail, Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole Valley, Wyoming.

Perhaps the most important day of a shoot is the scout day, figuring out where, when and what you’ll be photographing. In a single marathon day, we scouted a half-dozen locations around Grand Teton National Park. We were careful to choose locations that weren’t off-limits to visitors, stayed on trails and didn’t damage the environment. During the scout, we estimated where we’d find morning and evening light at each location and wrote notes that we could review later when making the final decision on each location’s merits and demerits. We also decided what gear, including lighting, would be needed for each location for the particular photo I had in mind. I enjoy scouting because this is the day I can let my mind run with the myriad of possibilities that a location can offer.

Because of time and light constraints, when the shoot day came, we’d only shoot for one to two hours in the morning and the same in the evening. Afternoons would be spent downloading flash cards, reviewing the previous shoot on laptops, cleaning gear for the evening shoot, making calls to check permits, talent and other details for the next shoot, taking a nap or enjoying an ice-cream break.

The objective in my Jackson Hole photos was to produce, in two days, several clean, graphic sports images. On the first day, we shot trail running and mountain biking. I made a bike photo of Jeff at the summit of Jackson’s Snow King ski area, a simple setup shot with the Nikon D3 and an 80-200mm ƒ/2.8 zoom lens. I shot the photo backlit to bring out the yellow of the flowers. The yellow was accentuated by using a shallow depth of field, and additional fill lighting was provided with a medium-sized silver California Sunbounce reflector that Stephanie held at camera left. I used the D3 because I was shooting this scene at 8 fps.

We started the day shooting Charlotte trail running, and the photo of Charlotte not touching the trail was possible when you blaze away at 8 fps. When Charlotte entered my composition, I shot a burst of 10 or 15 frames as she passed my position. For the running shot, there was no need for additional light other than the nice morning light, and I preferred the high contrast of shadow and light in this photo. My trick piece of gear I brought along for the runner shot was a four-foot aluminum ladder that I stood on for this unique angle.

I don’t always shoot with the big, fast Nikon D3 sports camera. If possible, I like using a smaller, lighter camera like the Nikon D300. A drift boat/fly-fishing photo on the Snake River’s Oxbow Bend was taken with the D300 and a 12-24mm lens manually prefocused, holding the camera at the water line and checking my framing of Mount Moran with the Live View feature on the D300.

The paraglider photo was shot the same day at Curtis Canyon to the east of the Teton Mountains. It was made in the magic hour of light just before sunset, and the lighting was the sun and a single wireless Hensel Porty 1200-watt/second battery pack connected to a Hensel ringflash with a 48-inch Octabank. This light was needed to illuminate the paraglider’s 30 feet of canopy material in the bright sun. The camera settings were 1⁄250 sec. at ƒ/14, and the lens was a 10.2mm fisheye. The Hensel ringflash has a spectacular 1½-1600 sec. flash sync at full power, which helped freeze the subject. Since the Hensel at full power had about a three-second recharge time, the 5½-frames-a-second Nikon D300 worked like a charm. I can’t say the same for Stephanie, who was in charge of running with the 18-pound Hensel battery to help me light the shot.

Jackson Hole remains one of my favorite photography locations, and I plan to return for more shoots. Jackson Hole has many lifetimes of photography potential, and I’ve been visiting the location for a mere 25 years.

Bill Hatcher travels the world in search of adventure and good stories. A regular contributor to National Geographic and Outside, his images have appeared on the cover of 40 magazines. Visit his website at

Bill Hatcher is a documentary photographer who shoots stories for National Geographic, Smithsonian and many other publications. He believes the best adventure photos are made when you’re an active participant in the story you’re shooting. Bill has been chasing stories about adventure sports,science and conservation around the world for nearly 30 years. His favorite mode of transport is by foot, bike, rope, packraft or skis.