I’m guessing that most landscape photographers can relate to this phenomena. You arrive at a naturally beautiful location but have difficulty conveying the location through your images. In other words, the place is just not speaking to you. Two things may occur when this happens. You end up trying really hard to photograph the location only to feel disappointment once you review your images back home. Contrary to the first approach, the second approach may be that you feel completely uninspired by the location, never take your backpack off and you leave your camera packed never to see that light of daylight at said location. Both approaches often leave you feeling frustrated, neither are right or wrong approaches.
I’m a big believer in both visiting a location without a camera when possible as well as an advocate that even if you’re feeling uninspired by a location you should take your camera out and make an attempt to photograph something. It may be difficult to do but sometimes just going through the process of examining and composing fires one’s creative juices and you will find yourself again inspired.
Gem Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park has been one of these locations for me. Gem Lake rests of a small shelf 1.7 miles from the start of the Lumpy Ridge trailhead. It’s a beautiful location in it’s own right and it’s one that many visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park will visit. Gem Lake is very close to Estes Park and the 1.7 mile hike is a fairly easy one. Guidebooks and locals will often recommend this hike to visitors because of the beauty, location and elevation that is lower than many of the other lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. I often get asked by clients if I have images of Gem Lake in my portfolio for sale, of which I did not. This is because I personally find Gem Lake a difficult location to photograph.
Earlier this week there was a nice low layer of fog hanging over Estes Park before sunrise. I decided to hike up along Lumpy Ridge to get above the fog layer and photograph Longs Peak at sunrise rising above the fog and the town of Estes. I’ve been waiting quite awhile for conditions like this and it’s a fairly uncommon occurrence to get a fog layer low enough to cover Estes Park, but not high enough to obscure Lumpy Ridge. So I was fairly excited as I took off up the trail in the fog. As I’ve written before, fog is one of my favorite conditions to photograph in, but fog is a fickle friend. Minute changes in temperature or wind can cause the fog to move or dissipate so it’s always a gamble trying to figure out where to photograph from.
More often than not fog is not going to do what you want it to do. That was the case this particular morning. By the time I was up above town, most of the fog had cleared off from west to east. Fog remained over Lake Estes and I was even able to capture some moody images of the Stanley Hotel as the fog moved eastward. Beautiful clouds hung over the divide and although I was not going to be able to photograph Longs Peak rising above the fog, I was still able to capture a beautiful sunrise, just not the one I had envisioned. The light on the peaks lasted only about 10 minutes or so before it disappeared again behind some clouds. I was about 1/2 mile from Gem Lake at this point and I decided to continue onward and hike up to Gem Lake if only for an excuse for some more exercise and time outdoors.
I arrived at Gem Lake with no intention of taking off my backpack or photographing the lake. For starters the light was fairly blasé as it was now overcast and about an hour after sunrise. Secondly I had visited Gem Lake numerous times in the past with the intention of photographing this popular location and had come away with less than inspiring results. When I arrived at the lake I did what I normally do when I’m out exploring and hiking. I sat along the shoreline, surveyed my surroundings and just enjoyed the quite and solitude.
For those that have not visited Gem Lake it’s a unique location in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s located on the top of a shelf and surrounded by rocky walls that rise up from its sand and gravel shoreline. It has neither and inlet or outlet stream and is essentially a shallow pool of water in a sandy depression. As I sat on the shoreline relaxing I started to study the rocky walls that rise up out of Gem Lake. The striations, colorations and patterns on the rock is unique and each small section of rock had beautiful and intricate patterns. I started to see potential images everywhere and within minutes had my camera and tripod out and I was now inspired and entrenched, photographing the surface of the lake and the rocky walls that rise above its shore.
So after arriving with no intention on breaking out my camera, I was both busy photographing Gem Lake and inspired. This in a location where I had previously found little to photograph. The combination of lowered expectations combined with time spent on locations relaxing and enjoying the scene instead of trying to photograph allowed a breakthrough so to speak. I’ve experienced this many times in the past and found that being able to relax as well as releasing any preconceived notions of how the scene should look and photograph can allow for a creative breakthrough. Although it may sound somewhat corny to some, sometimes you need to let the location speak to you, not the other way around in order to truly see the beauty and uniqueness these natural places all have.