Monday, October 10, 2011

Trip of a Lifetime

Morning at Moulton Barn

This iconic photo is of the famous Moulton Barn.  It's probably one of the most photographed barns in the world.  It's been used in commercials and in print Ads and is kind of the postcard for the Great American Frontier.  And for years it had been high on my photography bucket list.  But I had no idea where to go, who to go with or where to really start.  Do I talk friends into going to Wyoming with me?  And if I do, where do I go once I'm there?  A bit overwhelming.  So I began looking for photography based tours, although I knew they were usually the more expensive route.  But I decided if I'm going to go all the way up there to see the sights, I'll need a guide to find the best places.  I began researching photo tours in the Jackson Wyoming area.  I had found a couple, but they were both over $1000.  Outside my budget.  I just needed to get there and to find someone who knew their way around and could show me where all the best places to take photos are.  I didn't need half days of photo critiquing or Photoshop learning sessions.  I just wanted to get out there and shoot some really cool stuff with other photographers.

Then I remembered a Flickr contact of mine, Mr. Jeff Clow.  He had once mentioned he and his wife started the photography tour company Dirt Cheap Photo Tours.  I decided to check out his website and read up on what his tour offered.  Now, some people might be thrown off by the term "dirt cheap".  I think a more accurate description might be "Nicely Affordable photo tours".  But that sounds weird.  Jeff's philosophy is rather simple... "if you want to take better photo's, stand in front of better things".  I sent him an email asking a few questions to make sure this was the kind of tour I was looking for.  Turns out, it was EXACTLY what I was looking for.  First off, the price was right.  While most the tours I found were $1000+, Jeff's tour was a flat $500.  Now that didn't cover air fare and hotel, but neither did the more expensive tours.  I'm a good travel deal hunter so I wasn't worried.  Secondly, Jeff informed me we would be shooting 10 to 12 hours a day.  We would be out on location before sunrise to get the best shots, then out again at night.  No classroom critiques or anything to keep me away from my camera.  I was sold so I sent in my down payment, bought my flight and reserved my hotel in Jackson Hole.  I hadn't had a real vacation in quite some time so I was beyond excited for this adventure.

I arrived at the Jackson airport around noon on Thursday.  The tour didn't officially start until later that evening.  But I wanted to get in early, find my hotel and walk around the town a bit.  As my plane banks and lines up for it's landing approach, I look out the window and my jaw just dropped.  We were cresting the mountain range and almost even with my window outside was the Grand Teton, the tallest peak of the Tetons.  It was incredible! We landed and de-boarded down a ramp onto the tarmac.  Once off the plane I began making my way towards the small terminal building.  I turned and looked behind me and had to stop and take in the view.  The mountain range running parallel to the airport looks surreal.  I must have been standing there a bit too long because an airport guy told me to keep moving. hah  I grabbed my suitcase and caught the shuttle into Jackson Hole.  During the ride I was looking out the window thinking, this might not be a bad place to live.  It was right about that moment the shuttle driver tells me each winter they get about 300 inches of snow.  Never mind, Texas works for me!

Around 6pm I met up with Jeff and the rest of the tour group in front of the hotel and we departed to do some evening shooting and get to know each other.  I liked that we weren't wasting the first evening in town.  We were out shooting our camera's from the first night.  I got back to the hotel about 9pm and as I sat reviewing my shots from the evening, I knew this was going to be an incredible trip.  I went to bed early because I knew it would be an early morning.

Our shooting schedule for the next 3 days was roughly the same.  I'd wake up at 5:30am, be downstairs by 6am so we could hit the road.  Jeff had us on location, ready to shoot the sunrise at an amazing location by 6:45.   After shooting the sunrise and that location for about an hour, we'd pack up and hit a long list of scenic stops.  Jeff knows about a few places that are not in any tour brochure or book.  Places which require a bumpy ride down jeep trails, but will reward you with some breathtaking scenery!  Along the way we would pull over and get out of the van if we saw any good wildlife.  During the trip we saw buffalo, beaver, elk, moose and deer.  Towards the end of the trip a few members even saw a bear!  Each day we'd shoot until lunch, then take a break to eat somewhere.  After lunch we'd resume shooting until about 5pm before heading back to the hotel.  We then get a couple hours to eat, freshen up, charge batteries and relax before meeting out front again at 7pm for some night photography.  The night sky in Jackson Wyoming is nothing short of breath taking.  With no major city for at least a 5 hour drive in every direction, you get practically zero light pollution and the stars are incredible!  We spent each evening under this star lit sky shooting the heavens and light painting barns.  A perfect evening for a photographer!

Ok so to wrap up this long post with a conclusion.  If Jackson Hole Wyoming and the Grand Tetons are something you've always wanted to see, I can honestly highly recommend Dirt Cheap Photo Tours lead by Jeff Clow.  As far as photography tours go, its affordable and you'll make some really good friends by the time you get on your plane to head home.  Jeff is a super nice guy and has been to the Tetons over 30 times.  He really knows his way around the area and has no shortage of information and places to help you get great photos.  No matter what level of photographer you are, this trip has something to offer.  For beginners, you'll be put in what Jeff likes to call, "A target rich environment".  Everywhere you look there's something to point your camera at and scenes to hone your skills.  If you have questions, there are more advanced photogs around you who are willing to offer their help.  You WILL come home a better photographer.  If you're an advanced or pro shooter, you'll meet some great folks and come home with some really nice landscape and wildlife portfolio material.  So visit Jeff's site at and read up on what he offers.

To see more of my work from this incredible adventure, check out the gallery I've posted over at my WEBSITE.

Sunday, October 09, 2011


Dismount! by Thorpeland
Dismount!, a photo by Thorpeland on Flickr.

Each August Denton hosts the North Texas State Fair. While not much of a cowboy & rodeo person... I still enjoy this event from a photographers standpoint. Because it's a smaller event and venue than the huge State Fair of Texas, I can get incredibly good access for taking photos. It makes shooting action photos of the calf roping events really fun and allows me to capture the speed and power of the animals involved. This is also an excellent venue to hone camera skills, as the lighting in the area is horrible. So you really have to have a firm grasp of your camera's abilities and functions to come home with a usable photo. This years was another fun event and I got to spend the evening with a bunch of other photographer friends. Can't beat that!

The Rider

Kyle by Thorpeland
Kyle, a photo by Thorpeland on Flickr.

The end of August means the start of many Seniors starting their final year in High School.  Kyle and his mother contacted me about shooting some senior portraits.  When I asked her what kind of hobbies he enjoys, she said he likes to ride his dirt bike.  Right then I knew we had some great material for a fun shoot.  I told him to show up with his dirt bike, dressed ready to ride!  At first he wasn't sure what to really do.  After all, he'd never had anyone really take his photo when he wasn't riding by the camera.  Posing with his bike as a prop seemed foreign to him.  I told him to imagine being on the cover of a Dirt Bike magazine.  Or imagine he had just won a big race.  How would he look at the camera?  He stood straight and gave me this direct, confident look.  I started shooting knowing we had some real keepers.
His mother also wanted some more normal photos.  So he changed outfits and wore a more contemporary western look.  Classic Texan, really.  Both looks turned out great and everyone was really happy with the photos.  And despite the temps that evening being over 100f, I had a blast shooting.