Spend more than a few days in Rocky Mountain National Park and you will certainly meet our good friend the wind. Wind comes with the territory here in Colorado and the higher you venture in the park the more intense it is.
Wind is common in early spring as fronts move through the state. For the most part wind makes photography in RMNP very challenging. A tripod, high shutter speed and lots of might help to allow for a few sharp frames in between the gusts that can be hurricane force on some mornings. As much of a nuisance that wind can be in Rocky Mountain National Park it can also be accompanied by some dramatic clouds and light.
Yesterday (Sunday) was one of those kinds of mornings where there were lots of nice clouds hanging over Rocky, mostly on account of the wind stirring up the atmosphere. I’m always a bit reluctant on these windy days to go out and shoot. The lighting may be great but nothing is worse than finding all or nearly all of your images suffer from motion blur on account of the wind. That being said photographing in the wind in Rocky comes with the territory and if you want to spend time photographing RMNP you will have to deal with it one way or another.
My strategy on windy days is to find areas that have some shelter from the wind. Often this means stick to the lower elevations of the park as the winds tend to be more moderate and there are often groves of trees or rocks one can use to shield the wind.
With the wind howling in the park and gusts near 30 MPH I settled on Upper Beaver Meadows to setup. Lots of trees to duck behind and Otis, Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain had some amazing wind driven clouds streaking over them.
With about a 15% success rate as far as sharp images go I did manage enough sharp frames to make the morning worthwhile. Overall the wind was a pain but the lighting and clouds on the divide were more than worth the temporary nuisance that accompanied the wind on this beautiful morning.
New new image from this morning from Rocky. ‘Big Bertha’ aka my truck is in the shop getting a new fuel pump so I’m stuck here in the office for a few days watching sunrise through the Estes Park web cams. I figured its better to take care of that whining fuel pump now then up stuck somewhere or losing ‘Bertha’ for a few days during prime summer photography and photo tour season in Rocky Mountain National Park.
With another April blizzard up us what better time to drop off the truck for a few days and to attend some administrative work while the rain, snow and wind make photography difficult.
I did manage to get out yesterday morning before dropping the truck off at the shop. Sunrise looked promising the night before so I made sure to schedule the drop off on Tuesday. I figured with all the nasty weather moving through state it may be a few days before things get interesting again in Rocky for us photographers.
In typical Colorado spring fashion it was about 80 degrees here in the Denver area yesterday. Today it’s raining and snowing and temps are in the high 30’s. For the most part if we have warmer than average temperatures here on the east side of Colorado’s Front Range it means Rocky Mountain National Park is going to be windy due to westerly or down-sloping winds. This also usually means that higher level lenticular clouds may form just east of the mountain peaks.
That was the case yesterday morning in RMNP. Lots of great clouds in the sky to the east and a nice small break on the eastern horizon to illuminate the skies and mountain peaks for a short amount of time at sunrise.
I focused myself on the Mummy Range as that looked like it would have the most color based on the clouds I could observe before sunrise. Also due to the fact that it was very windy in Estes Park, I figured heading high up Bear Lake Road would just result in lots blurry images for a wind blown camera.
The Mummy Range turned out to have some very nice color though just to the east and south of Rocky the skies really popped. While my main composition was of Ypsilon, and Fairchild I did take advantage of the beautiful color over Mummy Mountain. Because of the orientation of Mummy Mountain its one of the more difficult peaks to photograph in Rocky as it often does not have direct lighting and is in the shadow of other peaks. The orange and red skies over it yesterday worked well to highlight this awesome piece of granite.
Hopefully by the end of the week I have both my truck back and we are able to capture some post snow images. Winds will remain high in RMNP through the middle of the week so its likely much of the snow will be blown off the pines as is often the case. Regardless, I’m looking forward to getting ‘Big Bertha’ back as well as getting back out into the field after this latest storm moves eastward.
It’s been a great week for sunrises up in Rocky Mountain National Park. Lots of nice combinations of clouds and light around most morning in the park. With the temperatures warming, water is flowing in the lower elevations and even though we are still awhile off from summer you can feel the tide turning against winter.
This morning’s sunrise was a little more subtle that some earlier in the week. Clouds on the eastern horizon blocked the sunrise just long enough so that we did not have what would have been a very colorful sunrise. Lots of clouds hung over the Mummy Range this morning as so I decided I would hang around the Hidden Valley area to see if we would get some decent light.
The light finally lit the peaks about 25 minutes after sunrise. It was subtle but warm and the cloud cover that hung over Chaping, Ypsilon, Chaquita and Fairchild was spectacular. The willows that lined the Beaver Pond area added a great splash of color with the warm lighting.
This coming week looks very interesting. Our mild spring like days in Rocky Mountain National Park look like they will be turning back towards winter as snow is predicted for much of the back end of the week. We may not have quite as many great sunrises in RMNP next week but the chance of snow covered landscapes and mountains already has me thinking of where I’m going to be next week if the light breaks my way.
It was a beautiful spring morning in Rocky Mountain National Park today. The temperature was mild and our bitter nemesis the wind even laid down just before sunrise allowing the silence to reveal the chirps of birds and the howls of coyotes welcoming in the new day.
My options were limited this morning as clouds covered most of the peaks in the park just before sunrise. On mornings like these where a ‘mountain blanket’ cloud is covering most of the divide, the sunrise can be great on the continental divide but you may not see any of the snow covered peaks. I call it a ‘mountain blanket’ cloud because unlike a mountain wave cloud that forms high above the peaks, this kind of cloud essentially covers the peaks like a blanket.
Longs Peak was covered, Hallett Peak was covered, Ypsilon Mountain was mostly covered. While Stones Peak had clouds around it, it was mostly free of clouds prior to sunrise. Because of this I decided to setup at one of the iconic, oft photographed locations in Moraine Park along the Big Thompson River. This is both a beautiful spot and one in which the water is now free from ice and flowing free.
Each year when the thaw out after winter starts to set in and water becomes free of ice I get excited. Not only because of the warmer weather on its way to Rocky Mountain National Park but because moving and open water creates a dynamic scene and allows for reflections to capture the warm morning light.
More importantly its exciting to watch the thaw march upward as its starts in the lower elevations of RMNP and makes it’s way higher with each passing day. It wont be long know before some of the higher lakes start to break free from ice and start to open. Exciting times ahead for photographers and summer season approaching quickly now.
The trend in landscape photography has been every more dramatic, epic, and otherworldly lighting conditions. Combine this was some iconic spot and one has the formula for a Facebook post, Tweet or Instagram post to garner lots of likes or maybe even go viral. The euphoria and endorphin rush with capturing a scene under dramatic lighting combined with lots of likes and comments on social media feeds right into one’s ego and can set a photographer on a temporary feel good high.
As with both light and capturing that light with a camera and creating a photograph, these conditions and moments in time are ethereal. Both the photographer and their mostly anonymous social media fan club that liked, shared and retweeted the image, will move on to another image or shiny object.
Make no mistake about it, as a landscape photographer the condition that allows me to convey my message and portray my subjects personality and mood is the lighting. Like most other landscape photographers I strive to photograph my subjects in the most dramatic lighting conditions possible. I study the conditions, topography and subject envisioning the best conditions that will render what I perceive as a reflection of the sense of place of a given location based on what the potential lighting conditions may be. I’ll stare at a landscape and envision what it would look like wrapped in fog or lit with sun and clouds in a manner that flow with jagged peaks or deep canyons.
Even though I strive to photograph locations in dramatic lighting conditions, some of my favorite light on the landscape is still plain old diffused lighting found on cloudy, rainy and snowy days. For me, while this particular lighting is more subtle and quiet, it often allows me to photograph subjects and conditions that would not reflect the sense of place under more dramatic lighting conditions.
Earlier this week I found myself immersed one morning in cloudy overcast lighting conditions on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park. I headed out in Rocky this particular April morning with the hopes that we would get some breaks in the cloud cover at sunrise. Snow had been falling the night before and being as difficult as it is to capture landscape images in Rocky after snow (on account of high winds and bluebird days preceding storms), I’m always going to take my chances hoping the light breaks my way. While I’ve had more than my shares of sunrises and sunsets where this has not worked, many of my most dramatic images have happened on mornings when chances were slim anything dramatic would happen.
Well as so often happens the dramatic lighting did not come this morning. It looked good at times with breaks in the cloud cover but just as sunrise approached snow moved back in over Rocky Mountain National Park’s east side and the lighting on the landscape remained gray and diffused.
I could have packed it up and left the park. Instead I started scanning the list in my head of locations I wanted to photograph under these conditions. That list is as long or longer than the locations I want to photograph in RMNP under prime lighting conditions and sun. Instead of sulking and heading home I was excited and energized by the prospect of being able to shoot locations and subjects that I’d normal pass on.
With this in mind I headed out into Hollowell Park. Hollowell Park is a beautiful location accessed from Bear Lake Road. Great hiking trails emanate out of this small park but I would think for most landscape photographers shooting Rocky, its not high on the ‘to-do’ list as the view of the mountain peaks are not quite as sexy as they are further up Bear Lake Road.
But there is plenty to photograph in Hollowell Park, especially under gray, diffused light. Fresh snow on the landscape and snow covered pines, willows and aspens could keep me and my camera busy and clicking all morning. Even better was I had the entire area to myself that morning kept company only by a pair of ravens, the occasional mountain bluebird and a pack of coyotes.
It get’s tiring hearing many well known photographers rail against the copycat nature that seems perverse in the craft these days. Comp-stomping has become and epidemic and social media only serves to fuel this behavior. That being said, we’ve all been there at one point or another and I can still get just as excited for a dramatic sunrise at Dream Lake as I could twenty plus years ago when I first started photographing Rocky Mountain National Park.
Nowadays I get just as excited for cloudy, gray days to photograph. In fact, with 300 plus sunny days a year here on the Front Range of Colorado, getting these kinds of conditions can be difficult at times. The bottom line is that its important to embrace all kinds of light.
Enjoy and photograph dramatic lighting, but also learn to embrace and enjoy the more subtle lighting when it arrives. It will make you concentrate of both your subject, your composition and your surroundings more. I think you will also find this kind of lighting will allow you to create images that are both more original, and speak to your creative side as much or more than dramatically light iconic subjects.
So long March and welcome April. As seems typical these days the months keep passing by more quickly each year. In it’s usual fashion, March did its thing. The month started out with sub-zero weather and lots of snow. March warmed up but lots of fresh snow fell during the month which bodes well for summer and fall.
April, like March often has a polarity that seems to switch and change at a whim. Warm spring days, grasses starting to green and Pasque flowers blooming under the Ponderosa forests at lower elevations of Rocky Mountain National Park can quickly be disrupted by large and powerful spring snowstorms. April means be ready for pretty much anything and everything.
The first day of April in Rocky Mountain National Park dawned in true April fashion. A mild morning quickly saw the winds pick up and snow squalls cover over the high peaks of RMNP and the continental divide. The skies east of the divide however, exploded with color as the sun rose to welcome the new month.
With the continental divide covered and most of the streams and waterways still frozen or mostly frozen, I headed to this long dead tree to frame the colorful skies. Rocky did not play and April Fools joke on me and lets hope this is a harbinger or things to come in RMNP the rest of the month of April.