It may be the so called ‘Brown Season’ in Rocky Mountain National Park but that certainly does not mean there are not colorful and dynamic landscapes to be photographed this time of year. Here I used a combination of backlit clouds and a frozen Sprague Lake to reflect both the mountains and the colorful sky to create a colorful and dynamic composition. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 16-35mm F4 VRFor some its the ‘shoulder season’ for others its known as the ‘brown season’ and for others its the ‘off season’. Whatever you want to call it the month of November into early December is considered by many to be a less favorable time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park.
Many photographers feel the same way about the ‘brown season’ as do other visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park. Many begrudge this time of year and find other things to do to occupy their time while waiting for snow to fall or the weather to warm up come springtime. The persistent winds, frozen lakes, long shadows and bare tree’s keep many photographers at home or searching other locations to photograph.
Sure it’s a little more difficult to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park during this traditional time of year, but there are still plenty of rewarding images to be made and opportunities to be found if one’s willing to work in the wind and keep an open mind to the possibilities. Here are a few of the things I do to keep busy in the field with my photography this time of year in Rocky.
1. Look for reflections of color, shapes, clouds and mountains in the frozen ice. Temperatures will drop this time of year and most water will freeze over in the park. While you wont be able to get full on reflections of mountains and peaks like one can during the warmer months, frozen surfaces can create interesting patterns, foregrounds and subtle reflections. Furthermore if your lucky enough to have colorful clouds or skies overhead, the ice will reflect that color helping to warm up the scene in front of you.
2. Photograph into the sun and use silhouettes to your advantage. So what if the grasses are brown and aspens have lost all their leaves. Photographing backlit subjects will relegate most of those bland areas to black space while backlit objects like grasses and water will pop when the low angle of the sun rises and illuminates these objects.
3. Get out when it’s snowing!. A fresh coating of white transforms everything in Rocky Mountain National Park to a pristine postcard winter scene. Diffused light like that during a snowstorm is some of my favorite light to photograph Rocky in. Locations where the light may never properly illuminate a subject has now evened out over the scene allowing for multiple compositions. The fresh snow will cover brown grasses and give extra detail and dimension to the landscape.
So even though it may not be the most glamorous time of year to photograph landscapes in Rocky Mountain National Park it’s still more than warrants a few expeditions to photograph the landscape during the so called ‘brown season’. Keep an open mind, embrace the season, and most importantly get out in the field and you will certainly come away with some winners.
Winter has us well in its grips this week as early unsettled weather has filtered in from the north and west. The Polar Vortex, now the hip phrase of the day has brought with it arctic cold and snow to Colorado’s Front Range. While arctic cold and snow are certainly no stranger to Colorado, this blast of weather has arrived much earlier than is typical.
What does this mean for photography?. Well as always unsettled weather is usually good for making images if one does not mind getting out in the cold. Working a camera and playing with one’s tripod with the temperature around 0 degrees Fahrenheit can test one’s patience with numb fingers and frozen and fogged over viewfinders and LCD displays. Even so it’s a nice change of pace to see the landscape covered with fresh snow and winter like scenes.
While it looks like its supposed to warm up a little next week, winter is here to stay in the high country and places like Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s time to dust off the snowshoes, grab your winter gear from your attic or basement and get out in the field and make some images of winter scenes because we’ve got six months before things start to thaw out again!.
Were now firmly in whats known as ‘Shoulder Season’ in Rocky Mountain National Park and the two towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake that border Rocky. The autumn leaves are off the tree’s, the Elk rut has wound down and the throngs or visitors to Rocky, Estes, and Grand Lake has decreased considerably. Even with our mild weather to date, the cool nights have frozen over much of the surfaces of the higher lakes and at this point it’s only going to take one cold front and some snow to propel Rocky Mountain National Park into full winter mode. As of this writing it looks like that cold weather event will be upon us by next week.
It’s easy as a photographer to take a step back from making images and waking in the middle of the night to make it to your destination before sunrise. Grasses have turned golden or brown and the westerly winds seem to blow unabated each day. While it’s certainly a little less glamorous of a time to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park then say summer and fall, there are still unlimited opportunities for ‘wow’ type moments and images to be had.
I’m also using this time to continue to give the Nikon D810 a full shake down in the field. As I stated last week, I picked up a Nikon D810 with a modest set of Nikkor lenses to put the famous 36 megapixel Sony Exmor sensor through its paces. Clean, pliable, high dynamic range files at low ISO are very useful for the images I create when out in the field.
My Canon’s have served me very well and over time I have been able to adjust to the limitations of my Canon bodies and sensors to create images the reflect my vision. Even with that being said, I’ve seen very little improvement in low ISO files on my Canon bodies and quite frankly my 2007 Canon EOS 1Ds III had cleaner lower ISO files then my 2012 5D Mark III does. I’m really hoping Canon takes a hard look at low ISO dynamic range and again becomes a class leading innovator in this area. In fairness to Canon their sensors at high ISO until very recently were class leading and Canon continues to add innovate and update lenses in their lineup setting them apart from every other camera manufacture. As has been said many times, photographers don’t buy a sensor, they buy a camera system. As a whole, Canon is still a very attractive and innovative system. Even so, at this time I believe it’s only fair to give the Nikon D810 and it’s class leading low ISO sensor a whirl to see if it indeed does live up to the hype and potentially help to aid my image making.
If your looking for a full on review of the Nikon D810, your looking in the wrong place. There are plenty of great sites on the internet with in-depth reviews, charts and test images. Periodically, I will use this space to reflect on my experiences with the D810 and what my real world impressions are of the camera and sensor from the perspective of a landscape photographer who typically does not need to photograph at ISO’s higher than 400.
Here are a few thoughts after having the camera in hand now for a week and having sometime to use it in the field. I expect some of my impressions to change overtime as I get used to the new interface of the Nikon system. While I was a Nikon user 15 years ago, the past 15 years of Canon usage has more or less erased all my Nikon ‘muscle memory’ so to speak and the first and most difficult thing I’m dealing with is seamlessly working with the camera in the field. I still feel quite disjointed using the D810 but I expect this to dissipate quickly with more use.
First off some of the negatives of the camera from my perspective as a Canon user. The menu system is not nearly as easy to navigate as Canon’s. While it’s not as quirky as some other reports make it out to be, to me at least it’s not nearly as intuitive as Canon’s layout.
Secondly, I miss the Canon quick control dial on the back of the camera. On the D810 there are two dials to adjust shutter speed and aperture, to my liking the quick control dial is much more easily found and accessed when one’s eye is pressed against the viewfinder. Thirdly, Live View is still very much behind Canon’s implementation. As a former 4×5 large format shooter, I use Live View religiously to check focus on my images. Canon’s Live is quick, responsive, detailed, accurate and also acts to lock the mirror in the up position during shooting to prevent additional camera shake. One of the reasons I never purchased the Nikon D800 was because I had heard Live View was more or less useless. The image on the screen was an oversampled image and not a true representation of what the viewfinder was seeing. The Nikon D810 Live View supposedly addressed this and improved upon it. While it apparently no longer over samples the image on the LCD, it’s quite jumpy when trying to zoom and its still difficult for me at least to gauge if I’m actually in focus, especially in dim lit conditions which is often the case in the predawn hours that I’m out.
Lastly, I am finding the color balance on the Nikon to be more difficult to work with. For the most part, I very much enjoyed the color balance of the Canon sensors and the Canon’s do a very good job setting a proper white balance. The Nikon on the other hand at least to me tends to lean to a more yellowish coloration and I often find I really need to play around with the white balance to get it more to my liking. Even so, none of those issues are deal breakers for me and I’m already well on my way to making adjustments.
As for some of the positives, there are quite a few. First off and most important to me is the low ISO dynamic range of the sensor. To date I have been blown away with the quality of the sensor. The files from the D810 are like rubber. It is very easy to push and pull shadows and highlights with little degradation to the image file. No banding, no chroma noise in the shadows and clean skies. All things I constantly had to adjust and fight with when processing files from my Canons. The native 64 ISO of the D810 creates a beautiful clean raw file to work with when exposed properly. This of course is why I purchased a D810 and to date I’m really impressed at just how much cleaner the files from this camera are.
Secondly, I am impressed with the 3 Nikkor lenses I am using on the demanding 36 megapixel sensor. With the exception of the Nikkor 14-24mm F2.8 lens which has now achieved legendary status, I had heard mixed reviews on some of the Nikkor lenses. When I shot Nikon’s back in my film days I had always been extremely pleases with Nikon glass but with pixel peeping, demanding sensors and the internet amplification affect I was a little unsure of what to expect from the 3 lens kit I have chosen. To be clear, my Nikon kit is much more modest than my Canon one, but I still need lenses that will perform on the D810 when used between F8 and F13 which is where I do 95% of my landscape shooting. The 18-35mm F3.5-4.5, 24-120 F4 and 28-300mm F4-5.6 have all proven very capable to date. While I’m guessing I may make some slight adjustments to this kit if I continue to move forward with Nikon, I feel I can cover most of my bases with this current setup.
So in summary after a week with the D810 I’m very pleased with the quality of the files coming from the camera. I would say to date, the files from the D810 have exceeded my expectations. I’m pleased with my current lens kit and at this point other than having a lens wider than 18mm, I dont see the Nikkor lenses as a weak point in the system. Live View needs lots of improvement and Canon’s is still far superior. Overall I’m still getting used to the menu’s and ergonomics of the D810 but I expect these to fade with more usage. As always, the most important thing is not gear. It’s one vision, passion for the subject and ability to put themselves in the field often that will lead to true growth and improvement. Overlook these and it wont matter what camera or lens you own.