Sometimes all you can do between photography stints is sit and wait. Sit and wait for the weather to break or change or do something that will allow for differing conditions other than pure blue skies. I know complaining about a stretch of clear blue skies and warm days is not going to garner any sympathy from the peanut gallery, but somebody has to be contrarian.
The weather changed and snow finally filtered down from the skies on Monday over Boulder and the Front Range. The Flatirons and foothills surrounding town were covered in a beautiful coat of white fluffy snow. I could finally get out and play in the snow so to speak.
One of my favorite locations in town on snowy days like this is Flagstaff Mountain. You’ve got Chautauqua Park and the Flatirons right below, an on Flagstaff Mountain itself you have lots of interesting subjects that work well on snowy days.
Flagstaff Mountain has its share of wind swept and contorted tree’s along with red rocks and boulders so popular with the areas mountain climbing community. I find the area around Flagstaff Mountain to be a great place to photograph when I need a little motivation and inspiration close to home. Snow days on Flagstaff certainly don’t disappoint, and during the longer winter months it’s a location I cant get enough of.
It’s been a slow week around here for me. The torrent of winds and blowing snow that had been raking over Rocky Mountain National Park the last few weeks has subsided. It’s been replaced with crystal clear blue skies, warmer temperatures and breezy conditions. These are great conditions for any outdoor activities like snowshoeing or hiking but somewhat blasé when it comes to attempts to create dramatic photographs.
While the weather has been very nice here on the Front Range the last few days, it’s managed to ignite a bit of cabin fever. Of course warm weather and sun should have the opposite effect of cabin fever, but the warmth, sun and ever lengthening days have me yearning for summer in Rocky Mountain National Park. Summer and the big thaw will be here in a flash. Until then I’ll leave you with this image of wintery day in Moraine Park a few weeks back.
All of us who have spend considerable time in Rocky Mountain National Park have learned to love and appreciate the winds that are such a common companion on our outings. Actually, love and appreciate may be worded a little to strongly, but we at least learn to deal with the conditions at hand and pretend we love and appreciate the high winds.
It’s nearly a given that winds will be present in Rocky Mountain National Park during the winter season. So as I see it, you basically have two things you can do to mitigate the potential of high winds when photographing Rocky in the winter. Your first option is to stay home. Add wood to the fireplace, grab a cup of coffee and review your images from the warm an pleasant summer months and countdown the days until summer returns to the peaks and meadows.
Your other option is to suck it up, head out and make a go of it. Photographing Rocky in the high winds can be uncomfortable. Furthermore, keeping your equipment still enough in the high winds can mean that even if the lighting and weather conditions are favorable, the chance of you actually capturing a sharp image may be difficult.
Over the years I’ve had my share of both options. Whenever I chose the first option and stay at home I feel I’m missing out. Wind is as much a part of Rocky as are it’s herds of Elk and Bighorn sheep. Opting not to photograph in conditions that typify Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter season is generally not a viable one for me to undertake.
While photographing alongside the wind in Rocky Mountain National Park may result in disappointing outings, the dynamic conditions the winds present every now and again will provide dynamic, albeit gritty conditions.
I was lucky enough to come away with some keepers late last week while photographing in a very windy Rocky Mountain National Park. Conditions change quickly when its windy in the park, so it can be difficult trying to decide which locations will offer the best chance at coming away with a few keepers.
The continental divide was blanketed and obscured. Snow and clouds were being blown off the divide and quickly moving towards the east which remained clear. The high winds were blowing blankets of snow and clouds eastward so finding a vantage point facing east and towards the rising sun appeared most likely to yield results.
So I headed up Trail Ridge Road towards Many Parks curve to check scope out the view over Upper Beaver Meadows and Moraine Park. My vehicle rocking and bouncing as blasts of winds rolled over hill and dale. With every gust of wind, my expectations lowered. Photographing in this squall was going to be nearly impossible I thought to myself.
I soon arrived at Many Parks curve. An orange glow to the east was forming on the horizon and it appeared the sun would at least make an appearance this morning. I unpacked my camera gear, setup my tripod and composed an image. I had to keep a hand on my tripod to keep it from blowing off the side of the mountain but I could see the potential if I could just manage to get a few shots off in between the blasts of wind as the sun rose and hopefully illuminated the clouds racing through the sky.
Within minutes the sky started to fill with brilliant color. For brief moments the wind would abate allowing me to get a few shots off before another gust would roll off the mountainside and I’d have to brace myself and my gear. The colors of a warm sunrise combined with sheets of snow blowing across the valley made for surreal and dreamy conditions. Finally the sun itself rose over the horizon and for a few short moments I was able to capture this spectacular scene unfolding over Rocky.
While the wind made conditions difficult, it was also the wind that allowed for such a dramatic sunrise to unfold behind the diffused light caused by the blowing snow. It may not have been the kind of day that I’d want to be outside for and extended period of time, but being outside in the elements for sunrise was certainly well worth it.
Visitors to this blog know that I try to hammer home the point that one has to visit a location many times, in different season and varying weather conditions to convey a sense of place which will show through in your photography.
If you photographed long enough you’ve likely had moments of serendipity where you’ve shown up at a location and more or less by chance and luck had once in a lifetime type conditions unfold in front of you and your camera. While you may be thinking to yourself that these kind of conditions happen all of the time, the reality is luck and timing worked in your favor.
There’s a fine line between obsessing and spending to much time on a given location, and giving up to easily or thinking you have a given location in the bag so to speak. I can recount many instances when I’ve thought to myself that I’ve captured a location in a manner that can not be improved upon, only to make second and third attempts and find there is no such thing as a ‘final statement’ image.
There are just to many possibilities when photographing a given location to think one can make ‘final statement’ images. The light changes, the sky changes, the weather changes as does the flora. The possibilities are limitless.
So with that in mind, I spent the first few days of the new year photographing a particular Ponderosa pine that sits on a hillside in Moraine Park. 2014 has been cold and unsettled so Rocky Mountain National Park has had its share of snow, cold and clouds to start the new year.
The ‘Polar Vortex’ as it is know known is our lexicon, allowed me to photograph this one particular location from both different angles while also allowing me to convey very different representations and moods of both the same location and tree. It’s a good example of why its important to keep visiting the same locations and coming away with differing results. In other words, visiting the same location many times with your camera is one of the most effective ways to communicate a sense of place to your audience.