Saint Catherine’s Chapel On The Rock

Over the past year or so, I’ve been making a concerted effort to photograph more images in Rocky Mountain National Park that may include man made features. One of the most beautiful locations which include a man made object, is Saint Catherine’s Chapel On The Rock. Saint Catherine’s is located on the St. Malo Retreat center complex, but has Rocky Mountain National Park as a backdrop. 13,916 ft Mount Meeker towers behind Saint Catherine’s and this time of year the lighting on Mount Meeker’s southeast face is nothing short of electric. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens

It’s been a quiet couple of weeks here in Rocky Mountain National Park. After what seemed like a very active weather pattern from October through November, December has been very quiet. While there have been a few small systems that have moved through RMNP this month, most of the weather other than some light accumulation of snow have been wind events on the east side of the park.

Looking at the long term forecast for the rest of December it appears the pattern will continue to give us more of the same. Of course long term forecasts aren’t all the accurate so we can still keep our fingers crossed for some more fresh snow to blanket Rocky.

Even with it being quiet on the weather front, there have been some very nice sunrise and sunsets as there often is this time of year. While we may not end up with much in the way of snow on the east side of RMNP, those wind events often produce lenticular cloud formations. These of course make for beautiful sunrise and sunset colors once the sun illuminates the bottom of the lenticular cloud.

As we head into the holidays and the new year here in Colorado, I’ve been trying to get out and photograph as much as possible with the conditions look interesting. One of the subjects I’ve been working on with regards to my portfolio of Rocky Mountain National Park is images that include the hand of man in them.

While many landscape photographers go to great lengths not to include man made objects, buildings, trails, etc., I’ve been slowly adding to my extensive collection of Rocky Mountain National Park images by making attempts to actively photograph buildings, trails, and other interesting views that may include man made objects.

With Christmas almost upon it seems as good a time as ever to photograph Saint Catherine’s Chapel on The Rock. This beautiful church which sits along Highway 7 between Allenspark and Estes Park is a spectacular location. Not only is the church a beautiful stone church, but its perched on top of a rock with Rocky Mountain National Park as a backdrop.

While the church is not technically inside Rocky Mountain National Park, Saint Catherine’s On The Rock is oriented in such a position that it’s also a location with one of the best views of Mount Meeker. Many people mistake Mount Meeker for Longs Peak from this location, but the stunning backdrop to Saint Catherine’s is the southeast face of 13,916 ft Mount Meeker. While Mount Meeker is just short of 14er status, its still a very impressive mountain and one that ranks as the 68th tallest peak in the state of Colorado.

The lighting this time of year on the southeast face of Mount Meeker is nothing short of electric. There’s pretty much nothing to obstruct the sunrise on the side of Mount Meeker this time of year so that as soon as the sun begins to rise over the high plains of Colorado below, Meeker starts to glow. Place Saint Catherine’s Chapel on the Rock in front of Mount Meeker and you have all the ingredients for some beautiful light as well as a composition.

So I’ll continue to work on making images of Saint Catherine’s, with the goal being to photograph the area after our next snowstorm covers the landscape in fresh powder, this is a location that landscape photographers visiting Rocky Mountain National Park should not overlook.

The Buck Stops Here

Sunrise was a bust yesterday morning in Rocky. Often when this occurs I move onto a ‘Plan B’ which more times than not is wildlife photography. With fresh snow on the ground, I was able to spend a few minutes photographing this beautiful Mule Deer Buck on the side of aptly named Deer Mountain. It can be tricy to photograph both wildlife and landscapes well, but I find it a good idea to persue both opportunities in Rocky Mountain National Park to increase one’s chances of capturing images. Technical Details: Nikon D850, Nikkor 200-500mm F5.6 AF-S VR Lens

While my primary focus photographically speaking is landscape photography, those who know me and have photographed with me also know I’m apt to photograph just about any subject in good light. Next to landscape photography, wildlife photography ranks second in subjects I enjoy photographing.

Sometimes landscape photography and wildlife photography work hand in hand and one can benefit from the other. There are times when I’m out in a meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park setup for a sunrise image, when a large bull moose wanders out of the woods, undisturbed by my presence. In cases like these, I’m usually able to parlay my fortune into photographing both a landscape image, while I also being able to photograph wildlife that’s in the general vicinity.

Personally, I find those kinds of situation to be more of the exception than the rule. More often than not I find that to make compelling images, one has to commit the time to one or the other subject or you end up with mediocre images or no images at all. That being said, I believe its beneficial when photographing in a location like Rocky Mountain National Park to be prepared to photograph both landscapes, while having the ability to photograph wildlife which you may encounter trailside or roadside.

With the exception of portions of the fall elk rut, I typically prioritize photographing landscapes over photographing wildlife. As is often the case with both forms of photography, mother nature does not always want to cooperate and it’s easy to head home empty handed in those situations.

The upside of photographing both landscapes and wildlife photography in locations such as Rocky Mountain National Park is that there is also a good chance you will be able to capture some beautiful images of one of the two subjects.

Many days in the field I am able to capture stunning landscapes, draped in dramatic lighting. More than likely on these mornings I’ve only caught a glimpse of animals here and there and probably haven’t had an opportunity to photograph any of them. On the flip-side, many times I’ve gone out with the intention to photograph landscapes, only to have the conditions not work in my favor. It’s at this point that I start looking for other photographic opportunities in RMNP.

This was exactly the scenario that unfolded on yesterday mornings outing. Rocky was covered in fresh snow and there were lots of clouds hovering over the Front Range as I left my house and headed towards Estes Park. Forecasts called for some clearing and it looked like we would have a good probability of a dramatic sunrise.

Sunrise came and went and clouds over the eastern plains of Colorado, blocked out any dramatic color in the sky, along with any sun for the first 45 minutes of the morning. On mornings like these, I’m going to stick around and look for other subjects such as wildlife to photograph. In mid December the low angle sun provides beautiful lighting nearly all day long and of course having a fresh coat of snow on the ground in winter is always welcome.

As can often be the case, a herd of Mule Deer were grazing near the roadside at the base of aptly names Deer Mountain. With the Mule Deer rut winding down, there were three good looking bucks just east of the grazing herd of ‘Muley’s’. One buck in particular took his time grazing and spent most of his time basking in the warm morning sun on a 4 degree Fahrenheit morning.

I always welcome these opportunities and they make for a good ‘Plan B’ if your primary subject is not cooperating. I find it to be a good idea when driving or hiking the roads of Rocky Mountain National Park to keep a camera with a long lens at the ready for opportunities like this. Have the camera setup for action, and have a lens that can give you some reach. Your vehicle makes a great blind and oftentimes, if you a prepared you can get a few minutes with your subject and capture some nice images as I was able to do yesterday.

Some Foothills Magic

The winter solstice is only a week away and this time of year I enjoy exploring areas close to home. I spent Thursday morning in the foothills just west of Boulder near Walker Ranch enjoying what was certainly our best sunrise of the week. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 14-30mm F4 S lens

Were a week away from the Winter Solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere. You can feel the change in the lighting and sun angle this time of year. Not only are our days very short this time of year with just over 10 hours of daylight, but even when the sun is out and shining, it doesn’t have quite the warmth it does most of the year in our high altitude of Colorado.

Snow from our large snowstorm just before Thanksgiving is still covering much of the open ground. That would be a rarity as we get into February and the sun rises higher in the sky and causes snow to quickly melt in all but the shaded areas quickly.

The winter winds have returned and even if its not snowing in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Continental Divide is often blanketed in clouds as storms from the Pacific dump snow on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park as well as Colorado’ ski areas.

I like to use this time of year to recharge. I’ll still spend a good amount of time in RMNP, photographing, especially when conditions warrant it based on freshly fallen snow or the promise of an amazing sunrise. This time of year however, I really enjoy spending time in the lower foothills and plains in and around Boulder

The weather and the winds down here are usually a little more cooperative and the sunrises over the high plains and foothills this time of year are often stunning. It’s a nice change of pace and it allows for different compositions and locations for photography. It also involves a little less travel and driving which can often be welcome in the middle of winter.

Thursday morning I took the opportunity to head up to Walker Ranch in the foothills just west of Boulder to photograph what was an amazing sunrise. I could tell it was going to be a good one as we had the classic setup of clouds over the foothills and mountains with a small gap in the cloud cover over the high plains. As long as the clouds aren’t moving off to the east to fill in that gap, your pretty much guaranteed and explosion of color in the sky when this occurs.

There was no disappointment with Thursday’s sunrise and other than it being breezy west of Boulder, the color in the skies over South Boulder Peak were amazing. Truth be told, the sunrise east of Boulder was even more intense and peoples social media feeds all around the Denver metro area were filled with images capturing the amazing sunrise.

With us heading right into winter now, I’ll be searching out and exploring not only locations in Rocky Mountain National Park for new compositions and photographs, but I’ll be spending plenty of time in and around Boulder on their numerous open space properties and mountain parks.

‘Oh Shoot’

It’s always a good idea to have a location close to home that one can quickly head to if spectaular conditions sneak up on you. My ‘Oh shoot’ location located about 5 minutes from my house here in Erie is a spot I can quickly head out if sunrise or sunset looks to good to pass up but I cant get anywhere else. This windmill with Rocky Mountain National Park, Mount Alice,Longs Peak and the Twin Sisters as a backdrop has saved my bacon a few times as was the case this past Saturday. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 AF-S VR FL lens

Do you have and ‘oh shoot’ location?. You know a location close to where you live that you can quickly run out to when amazing lighting or conditions sneak up on you and catch you off guard. ‘Oh shoot’ is the rated G version of a spot close to one’s home that when you look out the window of your house and see what is going to be an epic sunrise or sunset you can grab your camera and be shooting in five to ten minutes.

I have a few of these spots close to my house. While I’m pretty good about being up long before sunrise to assess the conditions and probability of a good sunrise, there are times when beautiful conditions sneak up on me and being a spectator watching from my home office window isn’t going to cut it.

Last Saturday I had the in-laws in town to help celebrate my daughters birthday. We had been out for dinner and all the predictive weather forecasts I had inspected looked like sunrise would be mostly clear and uneventful. Even walking my dog long before sunrise gave very little indication that there were many clouds in the sky or that sunrise that particular morning would be noteworthy.

After getting back in from my walk with Jackson, I headed off to my office to work on updating my web site, answer emails etc with no intention of heading out to photograph that morning. As the sky started to brighten up after a few hours of work on the computer that morning, I took a break to gaze out the window. ‘Oh shoot’(Rated G version) I though as I looked out the window.

The skies had filled with clouds and the easter horizon had that small break in indicating a short window for the sun to illuminate the skies. Furthermore, the skies had already started turning a beautiful magenta and soft red. I could immediately tell that not only did I misjudge conditions this morning, but we were about to have one heck of a sunrise unfold.

Sure it would have been great to have been up in Rocky Mountain National Park, or setup in one of the open space properties in Boulder but there was no way I would have the time to get anywhere close to either of those locations.

With 10 minutes or less before the light show really started, I quickly grabbed my camera gear and jumped in my truck. Off to my ‘Oh shoot’ location which is about a 5 minute drive from my house. I was able to get setup and shoot this familiar location within 10 minutes of deciding to leave my house and head out. With Longs Peak and Rocky Mountain National Park as a backdrop, the skies over Erie put on a show for a short while. One things for sure, I was glad I avoided being a spectator this morning all thanks to my ‘Oh shoot’ spot.

Snow Days

During the middle of last week we had some amazing conditions for landscape photography in Rocky Mountain National Park. Another snowstorm dropped almost 30 inches of fresh snow on RMNP and in somewhat of a rarity, conditions remained calmed as the storm moved off to the east. I was able to capture this image of Ypsilon Mountain and the Mummy Range in fresh snow on Wednesday morning which often not an easy task to do. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S Lens

I hope everybody enjoyed their Thanksgiving holiday here in the States with their families. Maybe some of you were even able to get a few extra days off from work and sneak in some field time with the camera and create some new images.

This past week in Rocky Mountain National Park was a whirlwind with regards to the weather. Another great snowstorm dropped over 30 inches of fresh snow in and around Estes Park and RMNP by Wednesday morning. Even better is that the wind that so often wont cooperate after snows (more on that later), stayed calm as the front moved off to the east. Skies did not completely clear and we were left tons of fresh snow on the landscape, no wind and some beautiful cloud over the mountains on Wednesday morning.

In fact, conditions stayed fairly calm right through Thursday morning which allowed two decent sunrise shoots after a large helping of snow, much more of a rarity than many think here on the Front Range of Colorado.

That all changed again by Friday into Saturday as the jet stream moved right over the top of the northern Colorado. After a little more snow, those winds I spoke about earlier returned with a vengeance. Hurricane force winds descended over Rocky with nearly eighty mile and hour gusts recorded and ninety mile and hour gusts recorded just south of Estes Park in Nederland.

All our fresh snow quickly began to blow around and over the roads which the park service had done a great job keeping clear. Snow falling combined with fresh snow on the ground created ground blizzard like conditions in RMNP and by the middle of Saturday morning, the NPS had to close many of the roads in Rocky Mountain National Park on account of large snow drifts, high winds and some trees that had fallen over the roadways.

All in all, par for the course here on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park as we head from November into December. That being said there was a nice window from Wednesday until Thursday for photographing beautiful winter landscapes on the east side of RMNP.

The remainder of this week looks a lot more calm then last weeks weather pattern, though the winds will remain and we may have some light snow by Thursday. As always with Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter, one needs to make quick work of any chances to shoot freshly fallen snow and keep an eye on the weather and hope for a little bit of good luck with the timing of the storms for conditions to come together like the image of Ypsilon Mountain and the Mummy Range at sunrise on Wednesday morning.