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  • Jenny and Joe Mackey

What is the best time to take my photos in The Grand Tetons?

bride and groom holding hands in front of the grand tetons

   If there was ever a question of concern that we get at least once a week, it’s about timing and lighting for your photos!  This blog was written with you in mind and below we are going to cover the pros, cons, and overall characteristics of shooting at the main 3 times in the area.  Sunrise, mid day, and sunset.  As you can imagine, these 3 different times can yield 3 different looks due to the lighting dynamics present during that time of day.

Now, I will preface all of this by saying there are likely going to be 2 variables that can affect what we summarize below.

  1. Every photographer is going to have a slightly different style and preference on when they shoot based on the way they shoot and the way they edit.

2.   Cloud cover can play a big role in how each time of day will look.

Lighting overview:

While we could get into all kinds of scenarios and lighting situations, we’re going to keep this super simple and talk about two concepts you’ve likely heard of, soft light and hard light.

Soft light

This is typically going to be present during sunrise, sunset, and overcast/cloudy days.  This light tends to be what the vast majority of our clients desire for their images and likely makes up the majority of most portrait & wedding photography portfolios.

Hard Light

This is typically going to be present in the morning after sunrise and throughout the afternoon until you get into golden hour around sunset.  This light (depending on exactly what time of day and location) is usually characterized by being more contrasty with punchy shadows and a greater difference between highlights and darks.  The general consensus for most in the industry is that this time of day is usually better for background and landscapes, but not as flattering for portraits/skin.

Now that we have those concepts covered, let’s breakdown the big 3 below and as well as give some visual examples so you can know what to expect at each time of day!



Shooting in Jackson Hole/The Tetons at sunrise is characterized by a small window of soft light that tends to last about 10-15 minutes before scheduled sunrise and about 5-10 minutes after.  As the sun rises it hits the tips of the mountains and works it’s way down giving a beautiful luminance to the background.


  • Soft light is flattering for portraits

  • The mountains are front lit which brings out the beautiful details without light haze

  • You can get a colorful sky/sunrise depending on the exact location

  • Not as crowded in most spots


  • You have to get up super early (our sunrise sessions usually start around 5:30/5:45am depending on the time of the year

  • After that window of soft light, you tend to be front lit by hard light.  It can be hard to keep your eyes open

  • Once the background is in full sun, it requires the use of flash if you are in the shade so the background doesn’t get blown out.

  • It does tend to be the coldest part of the day

(Sunrise lighting examples below)

a man proposing to his girlfriend in the grand tetons

a couple holding hands and walking near the snake river at sunrise

a mom and her daughters in the snow

woman laughing as her fiance gives her a piggy back ride

mountains in focus with the couple blurred out in the foreground

candid capture of a couple laughing together

senior portrait near the ta moulton barn

man holding his fiance in front of Jenny lake in the grand tetons

couple gazing into each other's eyes while walking near the river

dramatic lighting portrait at sunrise in the grand tetons



Shooting in Jackson Hole/The Tetons around golden hour/sunset is characterized by soft light like sunrise, but the mountains (and you) are backlit, so the sun is behind you instead of in your face.  For lighting it is the opposite of sunrise.  Instead of starting darker with softer light and getting brighter, you start off with brighter light for about 20-30 minutes that tends to soften as you get closer to sunset and when you’re lucky, a nice colorful sky to end the night on.  This is by far the most popular time to shoot portraits and weddings in the area.

Where people get thrown off is how late the sunset happens in JH.  The typical summer sunset is around 9:08pm during peak summer, which means we usually start later in the evening like 8:10pm or even 8:40pm depending on if you booked a 30 or 60 minute session. 

The two questions we always get:

“Is that too late for photos?” 


“Will there be enough light?” 

To answer both of those, No, not too late, & yes, plenty of light.  The vast majority of our portfolio is made up of sunset sessions that happen at these times.

NOTE:  There are a couple of spots in the park where you can get closer to the mountains and with the angle, the sun ends up going behind them earlier than described above.


  • Soft light for flattering portraits

  • You can get that golden hour glow and light haze behind you which can be desirable depending on your preferences

  • Easier to manage for most schedules (i.e. you don’t have to get up at 3:30am for hair and make up)

  • Not as crowded in most spots as mid day/afternoon, but usually busier than sunrise


  • Sunsets are late which can make planing dinner afterwards a challenge since most restaurants close early in JH.  We usually recommend grabbing dinner before your late sunset session if you plan on going out.

  • We realize sunsets being late can be tough for keeping young children on a sleep routine.  If you desire sunset look, but don’t want to be out quite as late, we’d recommend choosing one of the closer to the mountain locations like we mentioned above.  Depending on the time of year, we can typically start around 7:30pm/7:45pm

  • The Tetons tend to be more hazy and not as clear as sunrise and mid day.

  • With the Tetons being backlit, there usually isn’t much color in the sky until the very tail end of sunset, if at all (clouds can affect this dynamic).

(Sunset lighting examples below)

family portrait in front of the grand tetons at sunset

a man proposing to his girlfriend at sunset in the grand tetons

a couple walking across a field together during a dramatic sunset in the grand tetons

vogue portrait of a couple during golden hour at Jenny lake

groom kissing bride on the cheek during golden hour in the grand tetons

groom dip kissing bride in front of the John Moulton Barn at sunset

bride laughing while the groom twirls her in an open field

couple kissing in the foreground as a moose and it's baby walk across the river during sunset

bride laughing as the groom hugs her from behind

groom kissing the bride's temple in a field of flowers

couple nestling closely during a dramatic sunset at schwabacher landing

groom twirling bride at mormon row during sunset



Shooting mid-day in the Tetons is characterized by hard light (directionally usually top down depending on the exact time of day) and nice contrasty backgrounds with blue skies.  While in general this is not considered by most to be as flattering for portraits, we do get a fair amount of couples who prefer mid day for the background look, even though they know it won’t be as flattering for portraits.


  • The backgrounds/tetons tend to have a bit more pop to them with blue skies and nice contrast on the mountains

  • Easier for most schedules

  • Usually nice and warm at this time of day (depending on the time of year)


  • Generally not considered as flattering for skin tones and portraits

  • Shadows and “hot spots” can be present due to light direction and intensity

  • This tends to be the most crowded time of day when shooting in or near the park

NOTE:  With mid day (as we’re describing it) lasting the majority of the day, the characteristics will vary from after sunrise, to mid afternoon, to late afternoon.  Plan on the sun being in your face until about noon.  1pm-3pm tends to be the most top down lighting and the easiest to work with (in our opinion for our style) for portraits.  The least desirable time (assuming sunset was at 9pm) would be the window of 5-7pm, on a clear day (no clouds) at this time, you’re likely going to get all backlight and haze during this time and tetons will be more silhouetted than detailed.

(Mid day lighting examples below)

mid afternoon wedding ceremony at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

bride and groom kissing in front of the grand tetons in a flower field

bride and groom walking down the road

groom smiling as the bride approaches him during the ceremony

bride and groom holding hands during their elopement ceremony

man proposing to his girlfriend in the afternoon in grand teton national park

bride laughing as the groom whispers in her ear

couple kissing in front of the mountains and blue skies

couple walking across a flower field in front of the grand teton mountain range

groom leading the bride across an open flower field

groom kissing bride on the cheek in front of the mountains with flowers in the foreground

In summary, we’d like to start off by saying, there is no right or wrong answer here, just what’s right for you.  All of these different lighting situations lend themselves to something desirable and unique within an image.  For some that may mean getting up while it's still dark to take advantage of a beautiful sunrise in the Tetons.  For others that might mean taking advantage of those blue skies mid day, and for many it will likely mean being willing to stay out late to experience the beauty of golden hour and sunset in Jackson Hole.  We hope the explanations and visuals help you in picking the time that is just right for you!

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