Slow Going

Sunrise over Longs Peak, aided by the Willow fire smoke
Sunrise in Rocky Mountain National Park. Longs Peak is illuminated by the morning sun with an interesting sky caused by smoke particles from the Wallow fire burning near Greer, AZ. Technicial Details: Canon Eos 1ds III, 24-105mm F4 IS L
Getting into the Summer swing around here has been a bit of a slow go. It’s not that I have not been out in field often the last few weeks, it really has more to do with competing elements leading to fewer opportunities for images. We are in a bit of an unusual transformation here in Colorado.

There is lots of snow still present on the trails in the high country above 9000 ft.
While I very much enjoy photographing snow, this is not the type of snow one wants to photograph. It’s the kind of snow that has lots of mud, dirt, and footprints from being hiked on, slipped on, skidded on, fallen on, etc. It’s really the kind of snow that at this point needs to go away and melt already. Combine our dirty, slowly melting snowpack with hot, cloudless, dry weather and its been somewhat difficult to find subjects that pique my interest and result in successful imagery. I am very much of the belief that there is always something to photograph, in any kind of light and any kind of weather. That being the case, I’ll freely admit that although I have had a good time out exploring for new photography the last few weeks, I’ve come up a bit short in the keeper category.

Like a Baseball player in a long slump, sometimes you just have to keep stepping into the batters box and striking out. Eventually all the preparation, practice, research, knowledge and dedication will pull you out of your slump. I believe this applies to both photography and photographers alike. You need to stay connected to your subjects and stay prepared regardless of the outcome of any given day or week, or month. The weather will change, clouds will come and dynamic conditions will prevail. When the change happens and the circumstances fall in your favor you will be ready to break out of your slump, camera in hand, guided by your inspiration, preparation and dedication to your subject and craft.

Prarie Habitat, South Boulder Trailhead

Boulders and Yucca's along Mesa Trailhead
Shrubby Cinquefoil blooms amongst the Yucca's and rocks near South Boulder Creek and the Mesa trail. Technicial Details: Canon Eos 1ds III, 24mm TS-E II f3.5 L
Successful photography is about presenting the complex in an orderly, coherent fashion. Successful landscape photography is not about how much one can include in the frame, but instead using your vision to include only compelling and interesting elements. This is a basic photography concept and one that allows the viewer eye to travel through the image without being overwhelmed or distracted. Although it’s a basic photography concept, we can often be overwhelmed in the field with visual stimuli. Because of this, many photographers will fail when it comes to creating compelling imagery because they may be unable to create order from chaos.

Typically when I head out in the field to create images, I like to have an idea of what I want to shoot and where I want to go. I believe it to be important however, to keep both your mind open and your options open. I was recently reading and interview with a photographer who’s work I greatly admire discussing his inspirations. The Photographer purposefully avoids viewing other photographers work when possible. This is not done in an elitist fashion, but because he wants to stay true to his own vision and create original and unique imagery. He feels viewing other photography dilutes his own vision and prevents him from creating imagery unique to his vision of natural places. While I don’t subscribe to his idea to such an extreme and find viewing other photographers work inspirational, I greatly respect his desire to stay unique.

This morning I headed up the Mesa trail from the South Boulder trailhead. I was not feeling inspired to photograph anything in particular and in fact was simply enjoying a peaceful morning hiking with my dog, Jackson. Clouds obscured the sunrise this morning and the soft diffused light is some of my favorite lighting to photograph in. This time of year, mornings break often under ‘severe clear’ conditions, Boulder, Colorado is unique in that it is the junction between two competing eco-systems, that of the high plains and the Rocky Mountain foothills. The South Boulder trailhead and Mesa trail are great in that they wind through Bluestem grasses, Yucca’s and Ponderosa forests.

Early on in the hike, the many Yucca’s growing along the slopes caught my attention. They are starting to bloom in many of the areas along the Mesa trail. While looking for a good composition of blooming Yucca’s, this particular scene caught my eye. The red rocks, typical of this area combined with the Yucca leaves and flowering Shrubby Cinquefoil could be interesting if I could blend all the elements together. When photographing images such as these, it’s of the utmost importance to know what to include and what to keep out. At the same time, your not able to physically move trees, flowers and rocks so you have to work within the parameters nature has given you. Sometimes the flowering Shrubby Cinquefoil does not want to bloom far enough away from other distraction objects, and sometimes it does,

Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire

Sunrise over the Estes Valley, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Smoke and particulates from the Wallow fire outside of Greer, Arizona create conditons for a beautiful sunrise over Rocky Mountain National Park. Technicial Details: Canon Eos 1ds III, 70-200mm F4 IS L
The western United States spans very large distances. Some counties alone out west are the size of some of the smaller eastern states. Part of the west’s lure has always been it’s open spaces and large tracts of land. That being said, events happening hundreds of miles away can still have an impact on the weather and conditions.

This was certainly the case the last week in Colorado. The large and still mostly uncontained Wallow fire just outside of Greer, Arizona has caused smoke and particulates to travel into Colorado on southerly winds. Some days in northern Colorado have been better than others. Even Rocky Mountain National Park is not immune to the smoke and haze from the fire. The particulates and smoke in the air are making for some spectacular Sunrise and Sunsets however, in Rocky Mountain National Park.

This particular morning was about to break cloudless. While it would be a beautiful day to be hiking and exploring Rocky Mountain National Park, the ‘Severe Clear’ conditions would not have made for dramatic imagery this particular morning. As I was hiking past Dream Lake on trails still covered with many feet of snow, I could see the colors of the sky starting to pop. I quickly had to scramble to find a vantage point looking east. I used a telephoto lens to compress the scene and layer the mountain ridges making for a more subtle but just as interesting image of Rocky Mountain National Park

Mt. Ypsilon from Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road Mt. Ypsilon view
Fog rises out of the Chapin Valley and over Mt. Ypsilon. The lighting conditions from Trail Ridge this morning changed quickly but I was able to capture a few nice views of the Mummy Range. Technicial Details: Canon Eos 1ds III, Canon 70-200mm F4 IS L
One of the two great drives in Rocky Mountain National Park is the drive across Trail Ridge road, the second being the drive up the older Fall Ridge road to the Alpine Visitor Center. People come from all over Colorado and the world to cross the highest continuous road in the United States. How many places can you drive your car across pristine alpine tundra at over 12,000 ft above sea level. During most of the year, the east and west sides of Rocky Mountain National park are split in two due to winter snows and the closing of Trail Ridge road. When open during the summer months, Trail Ridge road connects both the east and western sides of Rocky Mountain National Park as well as the communities of Estes Park on the east side and Grand Lake on the west side.

As of June 5, 2011, Trail Ridge road is still closed. The National Park Service is working hard to complete the clearing of large snow drifts as high as 29 ft according to reports. Typically, Trail Ridge road is open by Memorial Day, and in recent years a few weeks prior to Memorial Day. This year has been anything but typical in the Colorado high country and Rocky Mountain. The Park Service is hoping to have Trail Ridge road open by June 15th at the latest, and hopefully sooner.

Earlier in the week, I was able to catch some dynamic conditions at Rainbow Curve which is the current terminus of Trail Ridge road as of this writing. I had been photographing this particular morning over near Sprague Lake. It had captured a decent sunrise this morning, but many of the clouds present when I arrived had dissipated by sunrise. Up until this point, the real catch that morning at Sprague Lake was a young Moose feeding on the willows along the western shore. Moose are much more common on the east side now then even 10 years ago, but you are still less likely to spot one on the east side. On my way out of Rocky, I could see fog and clouds forming over the Mummy Range and Mt. Ypsilon. I took a quick detour over Trail Ridge road and headed up as far as I could go to Rainbow Curve. I was able to get a handful of shots off before the fog also disappeared and the Mummy Range and Mt. Ypsilon.