Photography much like other pursuits, can have good and bad days. Check that, with photography there are really good days, and days when its great to be out in the field, but maybe the actual photography did not work out as planned. Today was one of those days when everything came together just right.
As is typical, I started my day by squinting out my bedroom window at 3:00 AM trying to see what the atmospheric conditions in the sky would be. I was heading up to Rocky Mountain National Park regardless of the conditions, but checking the sky as soon as I wake up is now second nature to me. I’ll be the first to admit it may sound a bit odd, but looking out into the dark of night and seeing the orange glow of suburbia reflecting off the evenings clouds cover gets my blood pumping. I always have an extra spring in my step when I’m heading out the door to shoot, but when there are clouds and the chance for some epic lighting conditions may present itself, I get even more pumped up.
On the ride up to Rocky Mountain I keep checking the sky to make sure the clouds were still with me. Colorado’s dry air can play cruel tricks on the photographer banking on morning clouds after a night of thunderstorms and the associated cloud cover. The cloud cover can quickly dissipate right before sunrise leaving clear blue skies above. I arrived at the Bear Lake parking lot, turned off the lights on my truck and quickly jumped out to confirm those clouds were still floating above the mountain peaks. Sweetness!, lots of clouds floating over Longs Peak, Otis Peak, Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain. Even better I could see the orange glow of dawn starting to light the horizon along the eastern plains. This mornings cloud cover was in all the right places, over the peaks but clear on the high plains.
I threw on my backpack and raced up the trailhead. There was a slight breeze this morning and although I contemplated shooting Dream Lake with what was looking like an epic sunrise, I told myself I’m not going to shoot a scene I along with countless others have photographed successfully many times before. Besides, I figured I would have to share the lake shore and the image with a half dozen other photographers who would be swarming one of Rocky most iconic locations. I figured my destination this morning would be Dragon Tail falls. With a slight breeze blowing, I figured the falls were a safe bet because the breeze would have to no impact on the image.
I raced past Nymph lake which is somewhat sheltered from the wind and remained smooth as glass as I passed by, next stop Dream lake. Surprisingly, there were no photographers amassed along the east shore of Dream lake but the breeze would prevent a mirrored reflection image. Ironically, this actual made me feel a bit better as I knew I would not pass up that once in a lifetime shot at Dream Lake on this morning. I passed Tyndall falls and headed off trail to Dragon Tail falls. With my heart pumping for the sprint up the trailhead I setup my camera and waited for sunrise. I arrived with plenty of time but the excitement of the pending sunrise had me moving at a good clip along the trail. 20 minutes after I arrived, I was able to shoot Dragon Tail falls in some beautiful light with clouds over Flattop Mountain. I quickly headed up Tyndall creek and waded into a small tarn and again was able to capture Flattop Mountain with clouds skirting over head. As quickly as the light show began, it faded behind the clouds. I took my time hiking back down the trail and spent some time photographing the lilly pads at Nymph Lake. While I was slowing down at Nymph Lake taking in the beautiful morning, that familiar feeling of euphoria swept over me. Much like a golfer who always returns to the course because of that one great shot during their round, I could wipe away the dozens of times I had attempted to capture similar conditions only to have things not pan out as I had planned. So it is with photography, and mornings like today keep me pursuing my craft with as much excitement as the first time I photographed a sunrise in Rocky Mountain National Park.