Of Tripods, Twigs And The Loch

Rocky Mountain National Park's Cathedral Wall and Taylor Peak catch the first rays of Sun as they reflect in a mostly frozen Loch.
The Cathederal Wall glows orange as the Sun's first rays light up Loch Vale and reflect in the surface of The Loch in Rocky Mountain National Park. It took some 'environmental engineering' to get this image to work as the image below demonstrates. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 24mm f3.5 TS-E L II, and of course a submerged twig from the lake.
One of the aspects I love about landscape photography is you really never know what’s going to transpire on any given day out and about. You can prepare, plan, plot, and peruse locations and idea’s but when the golden hours arrive and the Sun rises and falls the outcome is rarely as anticipated.

Take this weekends leap of faith venture up to The Loch in Rocky Mountain National Park. Colorado’s abnormally warm, dry Spring weather pattern has remained the norm. I was hoping there would be some open water to photograph when I arrived at my destination but I had no way of knowing until I had put 3 snow packed miles behind me. I had not hiked up to The Loch since August, so I could only take a guess with the amount of open water at Dream Lake, there might be some at The Loch.

Hiking up the crusty snow packed trail from the Glacier Gorge parking kept me on my toes. Typically in the Winter and early Spring months you hike up a frozen Glacier Creek to get up to the Loch Vale area. This spring morning was no different and hiking up a still mostly frozen Glacier Creek was still possible. Other than the annoyance of an occasional slip on the ice, or a leg post holing in soft snow it was an enjoyable hike up to The Loch.

Trolling around the near shore of The Loch revealed lots of snowpack and no signs of open water. There were some high cirrus clouds and little wind, so overall conditions were great. I was finally able to find a small area of open water. Quickly setting up my camera and tripod revealed that I was going to have a hard time photographing the Cathedral Wall reflecting in the Loch.

Rigged camera setup to get the photograph of the Loch
My camera setup resting plum and leveled along the shoreline of The Loch thanks to one soggy twig. I would have liked to have used my tripod, but my center column prevented me setting up this low to the ground.

My camera had to be a few inches from the surface of The Loch in order to capture a full reflection of Mt. Taylor and the Cathedral Wall without the icy mass on the surface of the lake hindering the view. Because of the three mile hike up to the lake, I brought my lightweight tripod with a center column, not my heavier tripod without a center column. For the layperson, the center column hinders one from extending their tripod legs outward in such a fashion that you can set it up level with the ground.

My only hope for getting the reflection in the shot was to ditch the tripod and setup my camera on the exposed granite along the shoreline. One of the rocks was flat enough to allow me to rest my camera setup on top of it in a somewhat stable fashion. The problem was I needed to level my camera so that the scene before me was level.

I was surrounded by only snow. I could find no small rocks or other items to help prop and level my camera. Luckily, there was a small stick submerged in the lake along the shoreline. Reaching into the icy cold lake, I retrieved the stick and used it to prop and level the left side of my camera. Combining that with the use of rise on 24mm TS-E lens I was able to stabilize and level the camera so that I could photograph the reflection. I’m not the first to rig up my camera to get the shot, but I was not leaving The Loch without capturing this beautiful spring scene. Anybody else out there have any good tales on unique circumstances when out photographing?.

Luck Of The Irish

Sunrise over Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain from Dream Lake
It looked like it was going to be a so-so sunrise this morning at Dream Lake on this St. Patrick's day morning. With lot's of good fortune on my side, I was able to capture a beautiful sunrise from a thawing Dream Lake this morning in Rocky Mountain National Park. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 24mm f3.5 TS-E L II
I cant think of a better way to spend St. Patrick’s day morning than at Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Perhaps, aptly named Emerald Lake would be more appropriate, but I can say for sure its still under lots of the white stuff and getting a reflection of Hallet Peak would have required some creative thinking.

I can only suspect my good fortune this morning can be attributed to the luck of the Irish. How else can I explain what appeared to be a completely cloudless and breezy morning transforming into a beautiful and epic sunrise?. Even more surprising was the fact that the wind instead of intensifying at Dream Lake at sunrise as is typical, actually subsided. All of those lucky breaks are not enough to explain the unusually mild and warm weather we’ve been having that has thawed the eastern outlet of Dream Lake and allowed just enough open water to squeeze in Hallet and Flattop mountain reflecting on the lake’s surface. I’ll just have to be content with this spectacular St. Patrick’s day morning knowing I stumbled upon my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Thank You, And Some Tips For Photographing Ice At Dream Lake

The Frozen Surface of Dream Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park
Photographing the frozen surface of Dream Lake has become a popular winter destination for photographers in Rocky Mountain National Park. It's become a bit of a cliche to photograph the surfce of the ice at Dream Lake, but the constantly changing patterns on the surface make it easy to capture unique patterns and images. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 24-105mm F4 IS L
It’s hard to believe, but I’ve now been publishing my blog for an entire year. I’ll take a minute to pat myself on the back for accomplishing this feat as the majority of blogs will cease to exist after nine months, or so the internet tells me. When I started the blog a year ago today, I wasn’t quite sure how well I’d be able to keep up writing posts, mostly related to my photography in Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Open Space area’s around Boulder.

I’m certainly blessed living so close to these beautiful area’s which give me plenty of content to update my blog and photography portfolio. A quick thanks to all of you who follow the blog, and especially those who comment on the blog. I appreciate all of you taking the time to follow and contribute to the blog and I’ll do my best to post and update the blog as often as I can.

On another note, it’s certainly starting to feel like spring around here on the Front Range of Colorado. We’ve had a spate of nice weather with temperatures in the 60’s the last week. The persistent and seemingly never ending winds that we have been having all winter have also subsided somewhat. Nice weather does not typically translate into dynamic photography however. Regardless, it was looked like to nice of a day not to check out the conditions around Rocky Mountain National Park on Saturday.

I was not expecting much in the way of clouds on Saturday morning when I headed up to Rocky. The IR satellite imagery did not have a cloud with 400 miles of Rocky Mountain National Park the night before. A hike up to Dream Lake to see if any of the lake’s outlet had thawed and what the condition of the ice was seemed like a semi-productive way to spend a cloudless morning in Rocky. To my surprise, portions of the east outlet of Dream Lake had some open water, but also to my surprise, there was still plenty of clean ice on Dream Lake to photograph.

In full disclosure, the Ice on the Dream Lake has been photographed many times by other photographers and has become as much of an iconic image of Dream Lake as the view from the east outlet of Dream Lake has become during the warmer months. In fact, until Saturday, I had intentionally avoided photographing the ice because it has been done so often and so well by other photographers. After shooting a cloudless sunrise at Dream Lake on a warm and windless morning, I could not avoid the temptation to photograph the ice I was standing on. I’d be happy to share a few quick tips on how and when to photograph the ice on Dream Lake.

It should go without saying, but wandering onto the surface of a frozen alpine lake in Winter can be a very dangerous and potentially deadly activity. Always check the conditions of the ice before walking out onto the lake. If possible have another person with you as a spotter and somebody who can assist and help in the event you fall through the ice. Backcountry winter protocol should be followed when hiking to Dream Lake this time of year.

Typically the best time of year to photograph Dream Lake are the months of January and February. Intuitively, it would seem that the lake’s surface would be buried under 6 ft of snow that time of year, but in fact the high winds that scrape the surface of the lake help to keep much of the surface of the ice free of snow. Furthermore, some of the cleanest and flattest ice will be located on leeward side of the boulders found at Dream Lake. Secondly, you wont require a macro lens to photograph the ice but it may be helpful. Focal lengths from wide angles to telephoto’s can all help at capturing the patterns in the ice. I find that I often am using a focal length of around 100-105mm to isolate patterns on the ice. Lastly, the best time of day to photograph the ice is the period after sunrise but prior to the sun hitting the surface of the lake. The diffused Colorado cobalt blue sky reflecting in the surface of the shaded lake that causes the ice to take on a deep blue hue. Once the Sun is high enough in the sky to illuminate the surface of the lake you will lose that affect and the lighting will become to harsh.

I Thought It Was Supposed To Snow?

The Flatirons of Boulder, Colorado light up at Sunrise
When I headed out this morning, I had visions of the Flatirons covered in fresh snow, or at least that's what the weather report said would happen. When it became obvious to me that there was not going to be any snow on the Flatirons this morning I nearly turned my vehicle around and headed back home. Being in the field is the most important thing any photographer can do. If your not out with your camera, you wont be expressing your vision and passion. Even though this was not the image I intended to capture, the clouds and light more than made up for the lack of snow. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 70-200mm F2.8 IS L II
Or so the weather report said the night before. I was expecting two to four inches of fresh snow on Friday morning. I woke up Friday morning per my usual routine, hit the gym and walked the dog. Those who know me well, know I’m a hardcore morning person (and think I’m nuts). I get up and start my day every morning around 2:30 AM. It work’s well with my photography routine and it allows me to accomplish quite a bit before most people are even awake.

In my town of Erie, east of Boulder we had a light dusting of snow. Not the two to four inches I was expecting, but enough to coat the ground and make things interesting. Erie which is 12 miles east of Boulder will typically get a little less snow then Boulder proper so I figured the area around the Flatirons and the foothills west of town probably had a bit more snow. Not the amount of snow the weather people promised, but enough to get the adrenaline pumping thinking about the possibilities.

Heading east into Boulder it didn’t take very long for my hopes of seeing the Flatirons covered in fresh snow to be dashed. By the time I drove into Lafayette, there was literally no snow cover remaining on the ground. After some choice words directed towards the weather folks from the confines of my vehicle I continued on into Boulder. There’s a real temptation to visualize how you want a particular scene to look before you photograph it. Sometimes that works well for the photographer and sometimes it is to their detriment.

Disappointment can make you veer from your intended course. My first reaction was to turn my car around and head back home. What was the point I thought to myself?, no snow, probably no clouds. Sure the hike in would be nice but so would a nice cup of coffee back home. Early on in my photography career I would often succumb to this line of thought. While I’ve always considered myself motivated, it was an easy trap to fall into. I’ve slept through many beautiful sunrises or not been in the right location to photograph a beautiful image because I delayed and made excused to be out in the field. I just figured I’d go out another day with better conditions, etc. I’ve learned to ignore this voice in my head and forge ahead with the plans. Being flexible and adapting to the conditions is important, but I’ve learned getting out into the field regardless of what you perceive the end result to be is the most important action I can take as a photographer.