Keeping up with the theme of Colorado red rocks, I was lucky enough to spend the last few days in the Manitou Springs area. Manitou Springs sits right at the base of Pike’s Peak. It’s an eclectic town with lots of galleries, shops and restaurants. Even better for me is that it’s a short drive to Garden of The God’s. Garden of the God’s is a great place to spend a morning photographing and one of the best locations to photograph Pike’s Peak along the Front Range.
Garden of the God’s is a City of Colorado Springs park. It’s a beautiful location that mixes One Seed Juniper’s, Scrub Oak, and Ponderosa Pines amongst large red sandstone rock formations. The large red sandstone rock formations make an awesome backdrop to photograph Pike’s Peak, Colorado’s easternmost fourteener.
This particular morning was a chilly twenty-two degrees with a stiff wind blowing from the north. A light dusting of snow had fallen over night but it appeared the skies would be cloudless at dawn. People who are not photographers cant understand why we constantly complain about clear blue skies. Clouds in the sky add interest and depth to an image. For the photographer, clouds and light help to convey the story of the image and the location. Luckily for me, The Pike’s Peak massif created it’s own weather this morning. Clouds formed along the ridgeline of Pike’s Peak due to the strong northerly winds. While the wind made it somewhat chilly for the photographer, it allowed me to capture an image of Pikes Peak that helps illustrate the conditions present on this particular morning
It’s been a slow couple of weeks here for photography. I’ve had some other obligations to attend and the transitional season into Winter on the Front Range has also played a part in limiting the available subject matter. I’ll admit that during this transitional season, I need a good kick in the pants to get out and about in the field and get the momentum flowing again.
I was able to get out last week and do some hiking and photography on Boulder Open Space and Mountain Park’s property. Visitors and residents to Boulder are familiar with the large red rock’s that sit just above downtown Boulder at the mouth of Boulder Canyon. This rock formation is aptly named ‘Red Rock’s’ for obvious reasons. Red Rock’s, which is not to be confused with Colorado’s famous music venue in Morrison, is a great location to photograph at Sunrise. The Sun’s first rays will paint the rocks a brilliant red reminiscent of Utah sandstone. I also find this formation fascinating because of the many tree’s that grow out of and near the rock formation. The compositions are limitless in this small area of Open Space. If your a follower of my work or my blog you are probably aware that tree’s are one of my favorite photographic subjects. This small park is great place to get out with camera in hand and get the creative juices flowing again.
There have been lots of rumblings and heavy undercurrents in the Landscape Photography Community of late over the what the true motivation and intentions behind photography of the natural world should seek to represent to the end viewer. There are basically two schools of thought that are gaining a foothold in this ongoing debate. One school of thought feels that landscape photography should be that of a documentarian like representation. The basic premise of this documentarian school of thought is that landscape photography should document nature and landscape as close to reality as is possible. The photographer should use elements within the landscape, combined with actual lighting conditions and weather events to capture and represent as accurately as possible the scene before them and the camera. This documentarian school of thought believes that the photographer should minimize the amount of post processing work performed in Photoshop and other software to keep the image as representational as possible to the original scene. The documentarian school of thought believes that as photography has matured and post processing of images in software such as Photoshop has become the accepted norm, the validity of landscape photography has been cheapened in the eyes of the viewing public. Documentarians feel that easily manipulated imagery causes viewers to question the difficulty, technical skill, and operational skill involved in creating the image they are viewing.
The second school of thought, which run’s in contrast to the style above, is that of fine art landscape photography. The fine art landscape photography movement looks at the camera and the resulting image as only part of the process, and not an end in itself. Fine art landscape photographers believe strongly in imparting their voice, or style directly into the image and the landscape. This is accomplished by creating a strong and unique style and vision. For the fine art photographers, this style and vision does not end when the shutter is released, but in fact is often only a portion of the artistic process. While most fine art photographers believe their vision and style of photography is what set’s them apart from the more traditional documentarian style photographers. Fine art photographers look to use additional tools and software to help better represent and illustrate their impression of a location even if it may change the perception or reality of what the scene actually looked like when photographed. fine art landscape photographers feel that their finished product is a true representation of their vision, voice and style. To the fine art landscape photographer, their vision, voice, and unique style and representations are what should appeal to the end viewer.
This is of course an extremely over simplified synopsis of the ongoing debate. It’s a debate that I continually have with myself when in the field or at my desk processing and culling images. Both the documentarian school and the fine art landscape photography school hold valid points behind their justifications and styles of photography. My development as a Landscape Photographer has traversed both schools of thought. This is particularly true for me over different periods of time in my development as a photographer . Obviously, I can’t speak for all photographers, but I think most Landscape Photographers start out more concerned about capturing the reality of scene before them. Often times when photographers start out they are looking to document vacations, trips, or other activities they are participating in. In doing this, they look to create images that closely represent that scene and locale before them, or in more simpler terms, document their activities.
I believe overtime, many Landscape Photographers find becoming technically proficient with the camera and creating solid imagery of the landscape before them is not and end in itself. As I spent more time in the field with my camera, moved to Colorado from New York in 1998 and became acquainted with the new environment that surrounded me, I looked to express my vision in a more unique way. I became enthralled with subjects that had previously held little photographic interest to me. While iconic imagery of places such as Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park still get’s my juices flowing, I found it disappointing to capture an image of an iconic location only to find another photographer’s carbon copy type image posted online or hanging in a gift shop.
What separated my image of Dream Lake from the other guys image?. Even if I have a stellar image of Dream Lake, what’s going to stop the thousands of photographers on pilgrimage each year to places such as Dream Lake and Maroon Lake from capturing a similar image?. Is standing on the shore of Maroon Lake in September with 250 of my closest photographer friends really helping me to express my unique vision and communion with the natural world that has become increasingly difficult to find solitude in?. Again, I’m in no way disparaging photographing those icons. I still from time to time will do so when the lighting and conditions are unique. Regardless, this kind of imagery does not convey my vision and voice like I feel other portions of my portfolio better represent. It’s been a process and evolution for me as a photographer. I would certainly consider myself a Fine Art Landscape Photographer. While my vision and style continues to evolve, I find it more gratifying to photograph subjects that hold interest to me and in a manner that represents how I see them and they fit into my vision.
Pretty sunrises certainly go hand and hand with nature and landscape photography. If I had to take a guess and ask people who are not nature photographers to describe what kind of image they associate most with landscape photography, most will probably imagine a big red and orange orb rising above the landscape. The Endless Summer movie poster comes to mind when I think of this kind of imagery. No doubt about it, it’s cliché, it’s been done before and it will be done again and again.
While it’s not typical of the imagery I usually look to create, even I could not resist photographing this sunrise in Rocky Mountain National Park last week. I headed up to Rocky ‘winging’ it so to speak. I prefer to have a location in mind when I head up to the Park to photograph. While I may often alter my plans depending on weather, wind or other elements, I find for myself it’s a good idea to have a starting point in mind. I do this because it helps to keep me focused and allow me to concentrate more on creating images instead of wandering around aimlessly. Many photographers I know, do the opposite, but this approach works best for me.
This morning, I was driving around the east side of Rocky Mountain without any particular location in mind which typically ends poorly. I was expecting light snow when I arrived at Rocky but found only clear blue skies. The small weather system that was supposed to bring snow to the Park in the morning, had not yet materialized. I drove Trail Ridge Road up to Many Park’s curve which is where the road is now closed for the season. Looking southeast past Deer Mountain, I could see that clouds were beginning to form on the horizon. I setup my camera, framed a silhouette of Deer Mountain and watched a beautiful sunrise take form out on Colorado’s eastern plains. Cliché, yes but It’s turned out to be one of my better images of Deer Mountain. So I guess its cliché for a reason.
It always amazes me how fleeting fall can be, especially here in Colorado. It only takes an early storm to bring Fall to a quick crescendo, while at the same time ushering in a long Winter. The Fall season never seems to extend as long as you would like it too. Autumn always leaves you wanting it to last just a little longer. As I’ve grown older, I’ve gained a much greater appreciation for Autumn. The beginnings of Autumn used to signal the end of Summer, school work and mid term exams, and the pending cold of Winter. I was difficult to appreciate Autumn for what it is. It’s a time to slow down, reflect and be thankful for the great days we were able to spend out in the field photographing the fall color and enjoying the season.
Autumn was short and sweet this year in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a productive season, but while two early storms opened up lots of photographic opportunities for a short window and mixing of seasons, it also abbreviated the fall color season in the Park. As I write this, a third snow storm is bearing down on the Front Range of Colorado and the lakes and peaks will amass more early season snowpack.
I’ve been able to get out to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park a few times since the peak of fall color and the Park has quickly transitioned from Summer to Autumn and now Winter. In fact, I had a difficult time finding any open water in some of the Park’s popular lakes in and around the Bear Lake Trailhead. Sprague Lake was 95% frozen over by the end of last week. I was able to find a small area of open water near the inlet to Sprague Lake.
The wind was howling at 30 mph clips while I tried to photograph this composition at sunrise. I could literally watch the inlet to Sprague lake freeze over and close up with each bone chilling wind gust. Flakes of ice would blow off the open water and the inlet would continue to shrink in size as more ice formed on the surface. There were some nice clouds on the eastern horizon this morning at Sprague. Since there was little to no open water with the exception of a portion of the inlet, I focused my attention on capturing the colors of sunrise reflecting off the icy surface of the lake. It’s likely to be a long time before the lakes of Rocky Mountain National Park’s high country thaw again. Time for me to go find some Winter scenes to photograph.