How to Photograph the Moulton Barn

The T.A. Moulton Barn rests nobly in the flats below the Teton Range.  This barn is the most of what remains of the Thomas Ama Moulton homestead built between 1912 and 1945.  Because of its iconic splendor, this barn sits high atop the bucket list for many photographers the world over.  According to Flikr, this particular barn is “the most photographed barn in the world”. It’s really no surprise considering the scenery and that a stunning photograph is practically a given.

I have been hoping to return to this location and create an image since I worked in Yellowstone in 2001. Earlier this summer, I finally had the chance to visit the barn and photograph it for myself.  A little bit of planning goes a long way and if you don’t mind waking up early on vacation, the effort is well worth it, camera or not.

I stayed at the convenient Gros Ventre Campground*, which is the closest campground to the Mormon Row road where the barn resides.  Waking around 5:00am, I sparked up some black coffee on the camp stove and drove immediate from my campsite to the location in the dark (spilling my coffee the whole way there). A parking area lies near the barn.  Even in the pre-dawn the area was bustling with activity as dozens of photographs from seemingly all over the world milled about jockeying for a good location.  Most everyone lined up in the adjacent sage field and waited for first light. We warmed our hands and made small talk, our breath trailing into the air.

When the tip of Grand Teton caught the first ray of sun everyone silenced and then only the clack of shutters filled the valley. The sun put on a brilliant show, bathing the mountains in tangerine colored light for about thirty minutes. It was a thrilling way to spend one morning amidst what I consider the most iconic range of the Rockies. While it’s already the most photographed shack of wood of all time, I couldn’t resist having my own photograph of it.

 

GO EARLY

To really enjoy the “show” you don’t want to be scrambling when the sun crests the horizon.  Further, with so many photographers out there you’ll want to secure a good spot.  To gain the best access a person must pass in front of the barn. The few stragglers that arrived late had to take what amounts to a walk of shame in front of the barn, temporarily blocking everyone else’s shot.

 

GO LONG

As a landscape photographer, my tendency was to bust out the ultra-wide, but as I soon found out telephoto is the way to go.  A wide-angle lens dwarfs the far away mountains, potentially distorts the barn, and flattens the scene.  Also, a person would have to be very close to the barn for any kind of decent wide angle shot, which obscures everyone else’s view.  A medium range telephoto brings the mountains closer, provides a nice depth, and results in the most dynamic and dramatic shot.  I chose a 50mm on a CMOS sensor (86mm equivalence on full frame).  This focal length seemed perfect.

 

. . . AND ENJOY

There’s certainly a reason this is one of the most photographed barns in the world.  It’s a gorgeous and historic structure resting the in the cradle of one of the world’s iconic big mountain ranges.  In my book, witnessing the sun rising across the Tetons is one of the quintessential mountain experiences. Hooray to early morning, old wooden structures, and masses of rock that fill the horizon. Have you been here and what was your experience? Please comment below.

 

*Gros Ventre Campground – During our visit around the busy 4th of July weekend I succumbed to campsite selection delirium.  On MY big summer vacation only the BEST Teton campsite would do.  Along with the rest of the legions, I tried hard to snag a spot at the Kelly Lake spot and was bummed when I didn’t.  In the end, I settled for Gros Ventre Campground, which turned out to be amazing.  Sure it’s not in the heart of the park , but it boasts spacious campsites underneath beautiful tree cover. Unlike Lake Kelly, its seldom completely booked either.  It’s not far from either the town of Jackson, the Mormon Row, or the park itself.

 

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