Sunrises on the High Plains of Colorado are often magnificent. No two sunrises over the plains are ever alike. Each sunrise is as unique as fingerprints are to one’s hand. The intensity of the colors, the shape of the clouds, and the richness of light are always changing and varied.
In this day and age of digital photography and the use of software to enhance and refine imagery, some may be skeptical of the intensity of the colors and light that some of my sunrise images exhibit. When photographing a location, it is never my intent to reproduce an exact carbon copy of the scene. There are tweaks and adjustments made to some of my images, but sunrises photographed over the Front Range and High Plains rarely need much work after they are photographed.
When photographing sunrises, I prefer to head out long before dawn on mornings when there is a good amount of cloud cover overhead. Before the sun appears, the light show begins. Clouds will begin to pickup the colors of the sun and the hues an intensity of the light will change rapidly as sunrise approaches. Like a kid in a candy store, I use this time to vary my compositions and experiment with my exposures. My advice, get out early, capture the intensity of the sunrise and spend less time in front of the computer after your shoot.
As I sit here at my desk processing some files on Monday, a story on the news declares this as ‘Blue Monday’. Apparently the day people will feel most depressed. The news story cites debt and lack of motivation as some of the reasons behind declaring this day ‘Blue Monday’.
Of course the story wrapped up by stating that most will attempt to treat their ‘Blue Monday’ depression through retail therapy. Initially the story caught my attention as I personally find this time of year a little less motivating and exciting for photography than other times of the year.
Of course once they mentioned retail therapy the cynic in me quickly dismissed the story as just another attempt to get people out spending money they don’t have on items they don’t really need. ‘Blue Monday’ quickly sounded like our familiar friends of ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday’.
I happened to be working on this image from last week when the story aired. It certainly seemed to fit the them well. Of course, I find nothing depressing in spending a chilly morning in Rocky Mountain National Park photographing the surface of a frozen lake.
Disclaimer: Photographing ice can be a dangerous and deadly activity. Conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park can change rapidly causing ice to quickly become unstable. Before wandering out on the ice to explore, I strongly advise that you check with NPS Rangers for the latest conditions before heading out on the ice.
It’s that time of year again. That time of year when you start to see shots of ice fractures and patterns from Rocky Mountain National Park popping up all over the internet. It’s a subject that has been photographed quite a bit, but even still some may wonder where and how to capture images of ice in Rocky Mountain National Park.
While there are many locations in Colorado where one can photograph ice patterns on our lakes and streams, Rocky has some of the best locals in all of Colorado to photograph icy surfaces. Combine plentiful locations to photograph ice, with your typical winter doldrums and photographing ice can be the perfect cure to get you back out in the field with your camera.
Rocky is chock full of watery locations that will freeze over once the colder weather settles in. There are however, a few locations that are more accessible and more popular locations to photograph ice in the Park.
Dream Lake tops the list of my popular locations to photograph ice in Rocky. The high winds that race down from the peaks above Dream Lake act like nature’s Zamboni. Even when there is heavy snowpack, winds will often sweep the surfaces of Dream Lake exposing large swaths of the icy surface of the lake. Dream Lake is also a fairly short hike in the winter. The trail is heavily used and will most likely be hard packed. It rarely requires snowshoes to access but I would recommend snow spikes or Yak-Trax type equipment to make your footing a little more sure on the ice and snow.
The Loch, like Dream Lake is also a very good location to photograph ice. The winds at the Loch in the winter can be relentless. This of course will keep large areas of the good size lake free of snow and ready for exploration. The Loch requires a bit more of a physical commitment to reach than Dream Lake but you are likely to encounter fewer photographers here than Dream Lake.
For those who want to avoid long hikes or extended periods out in the cold and wind, Fall River in Horseshoe Park, and the Big Thompson River in Moraine Park can provide some nice areas of ice, especially if the snowpack is lower. Keep in mind you will be able to find interesting ice patterns in just about any location in Rocky Mountain National Park where there is water present.
As for actually photographing the ice and the patterns, I recommend taking your time to observe the patterns, bubbles and fractures present on the ice. Try lots of different compositions and look for patterns or anomalies in the ice that will make for an interesting subject. My favorite lenses when photographing ice are my 100mm Macro lens and my 24-105mm lens. I find the 85-105mm range to be best at isolating the patterns.
Furthermore, keep in mind that weather conditions will play a big part in your results in the field. Cloudless Colorado bluebird days will result in the ice taking on a bluish hue from the sky reflecting in the ice. Cloudy days will result in the ice taking on a more milky white like hue. I recommend you photograph the ice in Raw. Why you ask?, mostly because this gives you the option of adjusting your white balance when processing your shots. This will result in much more dynamic images as you can decide to warm and or cool the white balance based on your desired results.
When I head up to Rocky to photograph at sunrise, I usual have some idea in mind of where and what I want to shoot. Sometimes I have a location in mind that will require a long hike to reach, and sometimes I have a general area in mind that I would just like to explore and photograph what strikes me as interesting. Over the years, I’ve found that I need to remain flexible and have a good ‘plan B’ location in case my pre-determined areas are looking less primary.
For me personally, I find having a location in mind allows me to make sure I’m at a good location when the action starts happening and the sun rises. I’ve found the ‘lets go hike around and see what unfolds’ approach often ends up with me running up a trailhead rushing to capture the unfolding sunrise leaves me rushed, detached and unprepared.
On very few occasions do I head up to Rocky Mountain National Park with little to no idea on where or what I want to photography. 90% of the time I have a fairly good idea of where I want to be and what I want to photograph.
A few weeks ago I found myself in the position of being up in Rocky with no game plan at all. It’s the middle of the brown season and most of the waterways and lakes in the park have frozen over. The peaks and the mountains though are still only covered with snow in all but the highest locations.
For me, any day in Rocky Mountain National Park, regardless of the conditions is better than spending a morning anywhere else on the planet. Because of this, I headed up to Rocky with no agenda, and no plan for where I wanted to be at sunrise. I took a lets just see what happens approach, contrary to how I normally photograph most mornings.
I’ll admit the conditions and lack of a plan left me feeling a little uninspired as I approached Estes Park. There were no clouds in the sky this morning, it had been a week or so since any fresh snow had fallen and so I really had no good ideas on what I wanted to shoot that morning when I entered the park.
That all changed in a heartbeat as I round a corner in Moraine Park and glimpsed off to the west. A beautiful full moon was quickly setting to the west and over the continental divide. At that moment I knew what I wanted to photograph. I quickly headed up a hillside near the Moraine Park Museum to get an unobstructed view of the setting moon.
As I was setting up my camera and tripod, admiring the beautiful setting moon, a pair of Coyotes wandered out into Moraine Park and started barking, yipping and howling. It was an impressive display with the full moon setting over Beaver Mountain while the chorus from the playful Coyotes howling echoed through Moraine Park.
The scene quickly inspired me. Heading up to Rocky with little to no idea of what I would photograph had now placed me in Moraine Park experiencing a unique and memorable experience that one can only experience in the American west. That’s why in the end I like to say, a morning in Rocky is better than a morning anywhere else, and sometimes the journey and unknown is inspiration alone.
Happy 2013 to everyone. Here’s hoping to a healthy and productive year to all. I managed to keep my tradition of shooting the first sunrise of the new year this morning. This gets easier to do the older I get, as in some years past I probably would be going to bed as the sun was rising.
This year I wrangled myself out of bed and made the short drive over to Boulder and the Flatirons Vista trailhead to photograph the first sunrise of 2013. It was a chilly morning with temps in Boulder hovering around 12 degrees, give or take a few degrees depending on your location.
It had cleared off to the east over the high plains of Colorado but a nice set of clouds remained over the Front Range, and the Flatirons. The conditions were coming together to form one of our classic and intense sunrises here in Colorado. I hiked the few miles back to my location in the pre-dawn light and waited in the stillness and silence of the morning for the light show to unfold.
This mornings sunrise was more amazing than any fireworks show celebrating the new year and as I stood their watching it unfold there was no better place to be to start 201