15 Minutes Of Perfection

In photography quality of light is always more import the quantity of light. You only need brief moments of light combined with respites  in the wind to have a chance to capture the landscape in all its glory. The conditions did not look promising at all when I first arrived at Rocky Mountain National Park. Surprisingly the wind stopped and the color in the sky exploded over Otis, Hallet and Flattop Mountain. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-70mm F4 IS
In photography quality of light is always more import the quantity of light. You only need brief moments of light combined with respites in the wind to have a chance to capture the landscape in all its glory. The conditions did not look promising at all when I first arrived at Rocky Mountain National Park. Surprisingly the wind stopped and the color in the sky exploded over Otis, Hallet and Flattop Mountain. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-70mm F4 IS
Fans of 1980’s TV will recall with great affection the famous line Colonel John ‘Hannibal’ Smith used to spout near the end of each episode of the ‘A-Team’. While puffing away on his stogie, teeth clenched, having just fired off thousands of rounds of ammo, destroyed dozens of vehicles, and buildings all without causing any bodily harm or injury to his foe’s he would state ‘I love it when a plan comes together’. Oh to be as cool as George Peppard, or even more importantly just as prepared.

Some days, the photography gods smile down on you and you’ve got to love it when it feels like the plan has all come together for you. We spend hundreds of hours a year in the field searching for those timeless moments. So much so that some would argue our obsession tests the bounds of our mental health, making us feel much more like ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock than the confident character of Hannibal.

Winter seems more prone to test the bounds of one’s sanity and photography grit. Winter has its rewards for sure, but it can test one’s patience and leave them wondering why they even bothered to get up long before dawn to be in the field. Winter in Rocky Mountain National Park can go so far as to toy with one’s emotions and endurance. Violent winds, cold temperatures, snow, blowing snow, clouded over sunrises or cloudless mornings will put any photographer through the crucible if they spend enough time in Rocky during the winter season.

Most of the time my approach to photographing Rocky Mountain National Park in winter is to get out in the field preferably in a scenic location and hope for the best. There are just too many variables in play to simply check the weather forecast and assume those conditions are what you will find at 9000 ft or more above sea level.

Many times I arrive at Rocky and find the conditions much more severe than anticipated. I cant help but think to myself there is no way I’m coming away with any new images this day. I’ve learned the hard way not to listen to little voice inside my head tempting me not to leave the comfy confines of my vehicle. So what if it’s near white out conditions and the trees are nearly toppling over from the wind, there has to be something I can photograph.

The short but sweet lighting conditions helped paint Hallet Peak in stunning light while the winds raked over her summit. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 L
The short but sweet lighting conditions helped paint Hallet Peak in stunning light while the winds raked over her summit. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 L

Last week I had just such an experience. The winds were howling on the plains and as I climbed up through the foothills long before dawn they only strengthened in intensity. Snow and gravel pelted my windshield and my truck bounced around with each gust. I thought to myself in a sarcastic tone, this should be awesome.

I plodded along towards Rocky anyway. A bad day in the park is pretty much better than a good day anywhere else so I figured I would at least drive around and check the conditions.

There were clear skies to the east so there would at least be sun in the morning. When I arrived clouds and snow were being blown over the continental divide and all the high peaks were obscured by clouds. The wind was howling something fierce. I started driving up Trail Ridge Road towards Many Park’s Curve so that I could survey the conditions from a higher vantage point. As I was driving towards Many Park’s, dismayed at my chances of shooting this morning a funny thing happened. I caught a glimpse of Longs Peak. Surveying the continental divide, all the peaks were now in view and no longer obscured by clouds.

I stopped my truck and did a double take. 10 minutes ago when I drove through the parks entrance, there was no chance the conditions would let up and improve. Or so I had assumed. Amazingly, not only could I now see the high peaks, but the wind had almost completely stopped. I now had 40 minutes or so to find a location before the sun would rise.

I quickly turned around and headed up Bear Lake Road. Dream Lake might be nice but I would not have enough time to get up to Dream before sunrise. I settled on the small meadow just west of the Storm Pass trailhead. One gets a commanding view of the divide and the willows would provide some nice color along the bottom of the frame.

Sunrise turned out to be spectacular. One of the most colorful sunrises I have witnessed in Rocky. Amazingly the wind abated for 15 minutes or so at sunrise, contrary to what normally happens at sunrise. Finally the wind started picking up in intensity again and the clouds obscured the light. But those 15 minutes where more than enough to capture the beauty of the sunrise this morning.