You Only Need A Little

A lot of people and landscape photographers always get caught up on getting out to photograph after a huge snow dump. The reality is one does not really need huge winter storms that dump feet of snow in Rocky Mountain National Park to make compelling landscape images. This morning in Rocky saw about 6 inches of snow fall in the lower elevations of the park. It was just enough to make travel easy enough but keep the landscape and trees covered with snow and allowing for the appearance of a winter wonderland. 2 ft of snow might have meant that unplowed roads would be closed in Rocky or traveling even short distances from ones vehicle would require great effort. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 lens

I’m a big fan of landscape photographer Michael Frye. I’ve been reading his articles in Outside Photographer and blog for a long time now. Michael’s skill as a landscape photographer are second to none and his ability to teach and educate are also top notch. Much of what Michael states resonates with me and in many way our approaches and philosophy on photography seem very similar. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Michael in person, but from following along as a fan for a long time now, I’ve come to believe we have similarities.

When reading his blog a couple of weeks back he was discussing a recent outing to Yosemite National Park to get out and photograph one of the recent snow storms that had moved through the valley. Michael spends as much time photographing Yosemite as I do Rocky Mountain National Park so he has great insight into photographing locations over and over again in different conditions as I like to think I do.

Frye commented in his blog post that ‘Photographically, it’s not the amount of snow that matters. I’ve made most of my best Yosemite snow photographs with just a few inches of new snow on the ground. For me, other factors are more important, like having fresh snow still in the trees, and some mist to accompany that snow. It’s fun to see a big snow dump, but all that snow makes it difficult to get around, and it’s not necessarily more photogenic’

I’ve had this thought many times, and when I reading Michaels blog post thought to myself ‘at least I’m not the only one who thinks this way’. Sometimes I feel like a bit of an imposter when posting winter imagery from Rocky Mountain National Park because of the fact that big snowstorms are not required to make beautiful winter images of Rocky.

People are obsessed with how much snow there was and how hard was it to travel and get around. The truth is in landscape photography, 2 inches is just about as good as 20 inches of snow is. As long as it covers the trees and the landscape with fresh powder the weather conditions such as wind, clouds, fog and of course composition and light will all be more important in determining how impactful the landscape photograph is.

Secondly, snowshoeing in 2 feet of fresh snow is much harder than walking in 2 inches. Driving in 2 feet of fresh snow on unplowed roads is much harder than driving in 2 inches of fresh snow. The point being here that you don’t need to wait for big storms to hit a given location to make great images. You need weather, light, atmospherics and most importantly great timing and vision to make it all come together. When looking back on images 10 years from now you wont remember if the storm dropped 2 ft of snow or 2 inches, you will just remember how great the light and conditions were that day.

Bouncing Around Boulder

Artic cold has settled in over the Front Range of Colorado this week. While its chilly out, the change in weather has really opened up opportunities to photograph some dramatic conditions for a change. I’ve been out all week trying to get myself in the most favorable locations based on the weather and cloud layer. This particular morning, Walker Ranch above Boulder was a perfect spot to photograph the inversion layer and the backside of South Boulder Peak. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens
As I sit here in my office and write this post its currently a chilly one degrees fahrenheit outside. A cold arctic blast has settled over the Front Range of Colorado bringing winter roaring back. While i’d prefer to see it a little warmer out, I can really complain about the change in weather for two reason.

For one, we’ve barely had much of winter here on the Front Range to speak of. It’s been mild and dry and we really need to start playing catch up on our moisture and snowpack. Secondly, the change in weather brings with it great opportunities for photographers looking for dramatic conditions and spectacular light and atmospherics. All those mild and dry days we’ve had so far this season have made for so ho-hum lighting conditions in what is typically a difficult season to photograph as is.

When the weather changes around here and the dominant weather pattern changes to an upslope flow on the Front Range, winds out of the east northeast bring with them snow, fog and inversions.

Fresh snow on the landscape with clouds and fog will spice up any landscape photographers day but get yourself in the right location in regards to the inversion of clouds caused by the upslope flow and you are all set to take the drama up another notch.

When chasing and photographing inversions on the Front Range of Colorado, the important part is figuring out at what altitude the cloud layer or inversion is at, and then figuring out how to get yourself in a position to be just above the layer of clouds. You can have ideas where you want to shoot and you may have a checklist of locations you want to shoot when conditions are right, but the weather is ultimately going to determine where you end up.

Some days when I’m out chasing the weather and trying to get above the inversion of clouds, the elevation of the inversion puts me high up in Rocky Mountain National Park. Other mornings, the layer is lower and I’m bouncing around the foothills just west of Boulder working on getting above the clouds so that I can see and photograph the light when the sun rises above the horizon.

The following day after photographing at Walker Ranch, the cloud and inversion layer settled a little lower than the previous day. This particular morning, Walker Ranch was free of fog and clouds but a little lower down Flagstaff Mountain was looking good. About 3 miles up Flagstaff Mountain just above downtown Boulder, I was able to get above the inversion layer again and photograph the north side of the Flatirons with Gregory Canyon covered in fog. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens
With the big changes this week we had a couple of good days of inversions, fog, snow and rime ice on the trees. So far this week the weather has been such that the best locations have not been up in Rocky Mountain National Park but in the lower elevations and foothills just around Boulder. The inversion did not creep up the the foothills high enough to reach RMNP this week and most mornings settled between 6000 and 7000 ft.

This put Walker Ranch as the best area to photograph one morning, and Flagstaff Mountain just west of downtown Boulder as the best place to photograph the second morning this week. While Rocky had some snow, the winds were mostly out of the west at higher elevations obscuring the mountains and pushing the upslope flow with east northeast winds below Estes Park and back up against the high plains of Colorado.

This arctic weather is going to stick around for a few more days. Every morning I’ll be out checking web cams and trying to figure out where the best spots are going to be and if I can even get above the cloud layer for dramatic photography. Regardless, it’s great to see some moisture and change and typically speaking, this pattern tends to strengthen more as we had towards spring. Either way, these mornings albeit cold, can make for some great photography if you can get yourself in the right location.

New Views

Winter keeps rolling along here in Rocky Mountain National Park though you almost wouldnt know it. It continues to be a mild and placid winter so far in 2021. The mild winter has made traversing many parts of Rocky easier then in previous years as there is a lack of snow on many of the trails below 9000ft. This lets me easily get out and explore areas withouth having to trudge through snowdrifts or wear snowshoes. This view of Longs Peak is along the burn scar from the East Troublesome Fire. The golden pines on the middle ridge are actually burned. This view has been opened by the fire and I’m hoping to get back here after a fresh dusting of snow. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 S lens
Things are quite here up in Rocky. We are almost half way through the winter season and it still feels like we’re awaiting its arrival. While its not uncommon to have dry January and Februarys, the lack of snow and interesting weather seems more pronounced this season then previous seasons. Most of our moisture will arrive as we move towards and into spring. So I’m looking forward to what is usually the best time of year to photograph winter scenes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

So as a landscape photographer how do you keep yourself busy while waiting for some weather to arrive?. For me I try to get out and explore no vantage points and locations in the park. I want to be ready when when some exciting weather and light arrives and have a handful of new locations that I can parse through and photograph when its primetime.

With the lack of snow in RMNP right now, its pretty easy to travel around the park on foot, especially in the lower elevations of the park in which conditions are much more like autumn than mid winter. There is no need for snowshoes or spikes in lower elevations as of this writing, no snowdrifts to posthole through and no head scratching moments when you lose the trail in the snow and spend 10 minutes getting yourself back on course in the pre-dawn light.

It’s easy sledding right now (pun intended) in Rocky Mountain National Park for photographers looking to be mobile in the middle of winter. I used the easy trekking to head into Upper Beaver Meadows again to look for some new compositions post fire.

While almost all the areas in or near the burn area from the East Troublesome Fire are still closed, the trails through Upper Beaver Meadow are open and skirt right along the boundaries of where the fire came down Spruce and Fern Canyon and down Beaver Mountain into the meadows burning the hillsides and in the process opening up some new locations and views.

There is a lot of potential for some new vantage points, especially looking south towards Longs Peak. I had a decent sunrise while out exploring but will need to get back to these spots after some snow or fog graces us with her presence. Until then, I’m going to keep exploring, hope for some good weather and most importantly some good light.