Chanelling Lyman Byxbe

Before the arrival of another large early season snowstorm to Rocky Mountain National Park, I was able to capture this beautiful sunrise from above Upper Beaver Meadows. My compositions here echo’s that of many of Lyman Bxybe’s copper etchings of Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s always interesting to see other artists influence in one’s photography as was the case yesterday. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 14-30mm F4 S lens

With another large November snowstorm about to descend on the Front Range of Colorado, I took a run up to Rocky yesterday morning. Based on the weather forecast, cloud cover and timing of the storm it looked like we might have some nice light at sunrise before the weather started changing over RMNP.

As I’ve stated many times, the lighting in Rocky Mountain National Park can be simply stunning in November when sunrise or sunsets cooperate. While the lighting can be amazing this time of year in Rocky Mountain National Park for photographers, there are still challenges when photographing this time of year.

The biggest challenge is accessibility. Trail Ridge Road is closed at Many Parks Curve on the east side of Rocky and the Colorado River Trailhead on the west side. Old Fall River Road is closed at the Alluvial Fan, Wild Basin is open a short distance from the entrance station to the winter parking lot. Bear Lake Road will stay open to the Bear Lake Parking lot though the road may be snow packed and icy, especially after recent storms.

While Bear Lake Road will stay open, many of Rocky’s classic landscapes in and around Bear Lake, Dream Lake, Glacier Gorge etc., are not lit very well during the shortest days of the season. Most of the peaks in the Bear Lake/Glacier Gorge area orient facing northeast. Combine this with towering mountains and valley’s and the lighting can be tough this time of year in this area of the park (contrary to the summer months when the sun is farther north and the lighting is amazing).

This leaves the Mummy Range, Moraine Park and Upper Beaver Meadows as the most accessible areas in Rocky in the winter with the best light for photography. This is a fairly small geographic area so if your not creative you can quickly run out of new or different locations to photograph.

As somebody who has been photographing Rocky Mountain National Park for well over twenty years now, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to photograph these areas so its always a challenge for me and my personal portfolio to find new locations and compositions. Of course, weather, lighting and conditions are never the same twice so it’s less difficult than I’m making it sound.

I ended up settling on a composition that is very close to a popular pull out along US 36 that has a commanding view of the continental divide and many of the prominent peaks in Rocky. I’ve seen many others photograph from this location as I have, but I’ve never incorporated this tree into the image (as others have).

While watching this colorful sunrise unfold in front of me, I couldn’t help but thinks how much the image in the viewfinder reminded me of many of the Lyman Byxbe copper plate etchings of Rocky Mountain National Park made famous in wall art and postcards.

Lyman Byxbe spent many years in his Estes Park studios creating beautiful copper etchings of what are some of the parks most iconic scenes. In fact, I would argue that Lyman Byxbe pioneered many of the compositions that photographers such as myself end up emulating today.

Often found in Lyman Byxbe’s beautiful copper etchings is the use of tree’s to add depth to a landscape presented on a two dimensional medium. Like myself, it’s obvious that Mr. Byxbe was fond of the beautiful and unique trees found in Rocky Mountain National Park and sought them out in his art.

Like a lot of artists, Lyman Byxbe’s work does not receive the credit and acclaim it probably should. In recent years with the ever growing popularity of Rocky Mountain National Park, Byxbe’s work has become more sought after and appreciated. I know I certainly feel his influence in my work often as was the case yesterday morning.

There are a few books available through third parties that chronicle Lyman Byxbe’s work but other than those books, his work is available for viewing throughout various pages on the internet. I would highly recommend anybody interested in viewing one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s most interesting artist when it comes to the landscape to use a search engine and search for Byxbe’s work. If you have not taken the time to do so I think you will really appreciate his love for the landscapes of Rocky Mountain National Park.

A Few Days At Bosque del Apache

I just returned from a short trip to Bosque del Apache located in south central New Mexico. The purpose of the trip was to photograph sandhill cranes on the refuge as well as any other subjects or landscapes that presented themselves. Overall it was a short but productive trip and I will certainly be heading back down in future years. Technical Details: Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm F5.6 AF-S VR lens

As most of you who follow my blog or photography know, easily eighty percent of my photography takes place in Rocky Mountain National Park. While I love photographing in Rocky, just like every other photographer I enjoy getting out and spending time in the field in different and new locations when possible.

Earlier in the week, I made eight hour drive down to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, NM. The point of the trip down to Bosque was to photograph the sandhill crane migration along with large flocks of snow Geese that also congregate there this time of year.

While the sandhill cranes are certainly the main attraction at Bosque del Apache, the large flocks of snow geese that arrive on the refuge are equally compelling to photograph. Photographing ‘blast off’ in the morning is an experience every photographer should have. Technical Details: Nikon D500, Nikkor 500mm F4 AF-S VR lens

Primarily, I would consider myself a landscape photographer. That being said, I enjoy photographing wildlife when the opportunity presents itself and find both birding and avian photograph fun as well as very challenging. Visiting Bosque del Apache would allow me to really practice my birds in flight photography and get me plenty of opportunities to photograph beautiful sandhill cranes as well as snow geese. On top of these two birds, photographing an iconic southwestern bird like a roadrunner would be nice to stumble upon.

From November through mid winter, Bosque del Apache plays host to a large groups of migrating Rocky Mountain Sandhill Cranes. These sandhill cranes spend their days in the various fields around the refuge, eating grain in the fields that the refuge manages as they head south along the Rio Grande river.

How can one make a trip down to New Mexico and not get a photograph of the iconic roadrunner?. These birds are common birds at Bosque del Apache but they dont sit still and pose for very long. Technical Details: Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm F5.6 AF-S VR lens

This makes Bosque del Apache one of the premier locations in the United States in which to photograph sandhill cranes as well as snow geese. Having the beautiful New Mexico desert and mountains as a backdrop for these birds is what really sets it apart from many other locations that the sandhill cranes frequent in different migration corridors.

As an opportunist when it comes to photography, Bosque del Apache was more than I could have hoped for. The avian action was great. Plenty of opportunities in the day and half I spent at the refuge to photograph sandhill cranes, snow geese and even a roadrunner. One beautiful sunset and a jaw dropping sunrise allowed for some great landscape opportunities as well.

On top of photographing the wildlife at Bosque del Apache, landscapes are always my primary focus of any trip. Bosque location on the northern tip of the Chihuahuan Desert makes it a special place, especially when the lighting cooperates. This mornings sunrise at the refuge was absolutely spectacular. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens

I certainly see myself returning to Bosque del Apache in the future as well. The landscapes and action were great and frankly, its one of the best locations to photograph in mid to late November when the fall color opportunities have dried up and many locations begin to see their first good snows of the season. The trick here is to hone your birds in flight skills and keep an open mind on what subjects you will photograph. As always, the lighting should dictate your subject and Bosque del Apache will give you plenty of both.

Weather Whipsaw

So far this autumn there seems to be only two speeds when it comes to the weather on the Front Range of Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s either beautiful or snowy and cold. This weather whipsaw is creating great opportunities for landscape photographers. Yesterday, I greeted Monday morning with cold temps and fresh snow in Rocky. With the fast moving storm moving out right out sunrise, Notchtop, Knobtop, Gabeltop and the Little Matterhorn caught some nice light with the landscape covered in fresh snow. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F4 AF-S VR lens

Can you think of a better way to start a Monday morning than to find a few inches of fresh snow falling?. Most would probably pass on starting their week this way but I’m certainly happy to take it.

In what’s become a Jekyll and Hyde autumn in Rocky Mountain National Park it’s only become par for the course to expect either a beautiful warm day, or very cold temperatures and snow. We seem to be lacking when it comes to the transition of the season from autumn to winter.

It’s not unusual to being seeing snow this time of year in Rocky Mountain National Park and already this fall we’ve had as I count them, four good snowfalls in Rocky with another decent one in late August that covered the high peaks above 12,000 ft. Whipsaw like weather here on the Front Range of Colorado is nothing new, but while it creates headaches from commuters and travelers, it makes for great opportunities for landscape photographers.

One of my most common requests from workshop and photography tour clients is to capture Christmas card like scenes in Rocky after a fresh snow. Most visitors and photographers to Rocky Mountain National Park assume it’s quite easy to capture postcard scenes of Rocky draped in fresh snow.

As one who believes in both transparency and managing expectations, I spend a lot of time explaining to prospective clients that capturing winter scenes in RMNP is one of the harder things to do. As I’ve stated in past blog posts, winds, sun and either too much snow or too little snow often conspire to throw a wet blanket on photographers well laid plans to capture images of snow in Rocky Mountain National Park.

One other item I like to tell clients looking to photograph snowy scenes in Rocky is that the best times to do so are often fall and late spring. This is because fall and late spring are very transitional in Rocky. Not only do we often get unsettled weather during these periods, but access and overall conditions such as open water are better than the middle of winter.

So with this season off to a decent start as far as opportunities go for photographing snowy scenes in Rocky Mountain National Park, I was more than happy to wake up Monday morning to fresh snow on the ground with more falling.

The forecast called for clearing right around sunrise so it was as good a morning as any to get out and take my chances with the weather and clearing storm. So while we had weather in the 60’s and 70’s on Saturday and Sunday in the Boulder area, Monday morning greeted me with snow and a cold 11 degrees fahrenheit.

With that said, all I could think as I scraped the ice and snow off my truck before heading the 45 miles up the hill to Estes Park was ‘what a way to start the week’. Hopefully our pattern of whipsaw weather continues because as a landscape photographer, I’m certainly enjoying all the opportunity.

Freeze And Thaw

November is a transitional season in Rocky Mountain National Park. A mix of just about anytype of weather can lead to lots of opportunities for landscape photographers. It’s a quiet time in the park as the summer crowds have moved on. I photographed this image yesterday morning in Moraine Park. The Big Thompson River is partially frozen and the cycle of freeze and thaw will continue until winter really settles into RMNP. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens

As I write this blog post, summer and autumn seem like long distance memories at this point. It was only a month ago that I was out enjoying our late season autumn color. Fall took it sweet time to arrive this year in Rocky Mountain National Park, but winter certainly wasn’t going to provide the same courtesy.

As of early November, Rocky Mountain National Park is already 3 good snow events into the middle of autumn. From a landscape photographers perspective, were more or less into the winter season. The snow is going to stay on the high peaks from now until June and the lakes will remained covered in ice through May,June and July depending on their elevations.

One can still find a few open pockets of water here and there and with a few warm days thrown in here and there, it may remain so for some of November. It’s an interesting time of year to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park. The crowds are gone and so are many of the photographers who make their appearances each fall for the fall colors and elk rut.

Even though much of the park is now frozen and or snow covered, I enjoy shooting in Rocky this time of year. Sunrises and sunsets can be amazing this time of year. In fact the quality of light with the low sun angle is spectacular. Get the right conditions and you may be able to photograph one of the most colorful sunrises or sunsets all year.

November is also a great time of year to capture winter landscapes. The caveat with photographing winter scenes in Rocky is always the timing. On account of the winds and sun, the snow wont hang around very long on the pine trees, or ice covered surfaces of the lakes. One needs a little bit of luck regarding the timing of the storm and what time it exits the area and brings in high winds on the backside of the front and sun which quickly melts snow even in the middle of winter.

Overall, November can be a very exciting time to photograph Rocky. You get a little bit of everything this time of year without the crowds found during the summer months. On top of that, sunrises and sunsets are some of the best and a well timed snowstorm is always a possibility as we move through the brown season into the winter season in RMNP.