been a whirlwind week for me. I’m currently back on the east coast visiting with family as well as taking some time early in the mornings to get out, explore and photograph landscapes that are very different from my usual Colorado haunts. Waterfalls, beaches and lots of green stuff to shoot here in New York which makes for a nice change of pace.
I flew out to New York from Colorado just after 9:00 AM on Saturday. Before I left I had to get one more morning sunrise in Rocky Mountain National Park. I was limited to where I could go shoot because I would only have a short amount of time before I needed to hustle to Denver International Airport to make my flight. With sunrise at 5:30 AM I figured I would have just enough time to get somewhere for sunrise but of course hiking long distances was out of the question.
I find it easy to overlook some of the areas of Rocky Mountain National Park that don’t require long hikes or huge efforts to access come summertime. It’s fun opening a map of the park and finding far away lakes to explore and photograph but sometimes this approach leads me to neglect some of my favorite, more easily accessible locations.
Restrictions placed on your photography oftentimes can be the most beneficial. It can keep you focused and forced to work within your limitations. So with all that said, Lily Lake made for a perfect spot to spend a truncated morning in Rocky. Of course having an amazing sunrise made it all the more worthwhile and made the rush back down to the airport to catch my flight.
landscape photographers I know strive to create images that are beautiful, dramatic and as close to technically flawless as possible. With the amount of talented landscape photographers exponentially increasing and the endless ways of showcasing and sharing images both on online and in print, viewing beautiful landscape photography is a click or page away. The quantity and quality of images has never been greater. Being bombarded with this constant flow of spectacular images can make it feel as if attaining images of similar caliber is like trying to catch lighting in a bottle.
This overload of imagery leads many photographers down a path thats simply not attainable, nor healthy for their artistic pursuits, that of the search for perfection. The search for the perfect image, perfect conditions, perfect sunrise detracts from being in the moment, from appreciating fully the time at hand. It’s a difficult concept for some but let me spell it out. There is no such thing as a perfect image, perfect camera, perfect lens or perfect location. We may be able to achieve near perfect images that are compelling, pleasing or even near technically perfect, but they will never in actuality be perfect. The inherent flaws of the artist and the medium are what make the image unique and compelling. Over the last 20 years I have seen many talented photographers burn themselves out and put their cameras away for good all because they were searching for the unattainable goal of perfection.
Why the rant on perfection?. Mostly because I found myself falling into the trap a little more than I was comfortable with last week. Success in landscape photography seems to come in ebbs and flows. Some weeks it seems you cant miss. Every sunrise is dramatic, beautiful clouds hover over the peaks and the wind is calm. Inevitably, the tide will turn and things wont go exactly as you want them to. Clouds may obscure the sunrise that looked so promising, or the wind may be blowing as a gale when you arrive at that alpine lake after a 6 mile predawn hike. I find it’s as easy to fall into the trap when things are breaking your way just as much as when there not. Either way I’ve gotten better over time in recognizing when the search for perfection starts affecting my enjoyment in the field and being present in the moment regardless how successful an outing is.
It was a combination of sunrise at Chautauqua Park and a morning in Rocky Mountain National Park in conditions that I thought were less than ideal that had me pressing a little more than I was comfortable with. Funny enough, both morning yielded images that I’m very pleased with. Stepping back, sticking with it and more importantly being present in the moment helped wrestle the perfection bug back to the ground and off my back.
Somebody needs to send the memo to Mother Nature that summer is just around the corner. Mother nature seems a bit confused as to how she is supposed to start behaving, it just wont be me. Rain, snow, fog and wind have all made regular appearances into June making for some very interesting conditions for photography.
One of my favorite locations in Rocky Mountain National Park is The Loch, and when the weather is unsettled it always lives up to its billing. Abner Sprague is credited with giving the Loch and Loch Vale area its name. On a foggy or rainy day the landscape is certainly reminiscent of a Scottish lake though this is not exactly how the Sprague came up with the name.
Abner Sprague guided many of the early adventurers through what was to become Rocky Mountain National Park. During one of these trips Sprague and his client Mr. Locke were hunkered down in a snowstorm overnight near Fern Lake. After surviving the night near Fern Lake with Mr. Locke, Sprague named a lake in his honor. Sprague named The Loch after Mr. Locke but instead altered Mr. Locke’s name more fittingly to that of a Scottish lake.
There are unlimited scenic wonders in Rocky Mountain National Park. That being said, anytime I have an opportunity to return to The Loch while dramatic weather conditions are unfolding I jump at the chance. It’s hard to pass up The Loch’s dramatic beauty which is only compounded when fog and clouds cloak the peaks surrounding The Loch in a veil like fashion. So when I arrived at The Loch last week and found the waters still and the peaks shrouded I took a good few moments to just sit and enjoy the silence and serenity before watching the fog and clouds lift from the valley while the peaks bathed in the warm morning sun.
doesn’t get any better than when the park service finally gets Trail Ridge Road cleared and open for business each year. It signals the beginning of summer, a change in the weather as well as access to many part of Rocky Mountain National Park that would otherwise require herculean efforts to access. Photographers can now have access to many more area of the park to shoot and create images. Access to the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park is now a snap as opposed to having to travel around and over Berthoud Pass.
The opening of Trail Ridge Road still requires vigilance. After it’s opening in May, Trail Ridge Road had to be temporarily closed down a few more times when it was again covered by snow. I made my first trip over Trail Ridge on Sunday June 1st. A dusting of light snow awaited me in the areas around Forest Canyon Overlook as well as the Rock Cut and Alpine Visitor center areas. It certainly did not feel like June 1st but then that’s to be expected at the higher elevations in Colorado where the push towards summer sometimes seems as if its being led by a pack of turtles.
So with the high peaks still covered with lots of snow, an early trip over Trail Ridge Road can be rewarding for photographers. Locations that are accessible in summer only to the most determined adventurers such as the Hayden Gorge and Gorge Lakes area can be photographed across Forest Canyon with relative ease from overlooks and pull offs along Trail Ridge road.
Unlike other areas of Rocky Mountain National Park, the ability to drive along Trail Ridge road allows you to take advantage of changing conditions and move locations quickly. You’re not committed to a long hike from which you are unable to change locations as conditions warrant. While I’ll take hiking to a location in the park any day over driving, being able to traverse lots of terrain quickly in one’s vehicle while conditions rapidly change can lead to a bonanza of possibilities.
Sunday morning this worked quite well for me. Rain showers were moving over the Estes Valley and there was only a few small breaks in the cloud cover. Rainbow Curve provided the perfect location to photograph the muted sunrise to the east. The conditions in the sky were changing fairly quickly and it looked like the sun would break through some of the cloud cover, especially moving west along Trail Ridge Road. Rounding the bend near the Forest Canyon overlook I could see Mt. Julian catching dappled in speckled light as the sun broke through the cloud cover. Within a minute of setting of my camera and tripod the light had disappeared from the flanks of Mt. Julian. All in all another good morning on Trail Ridge Road. Did I mention how great it was to have it back open?