Capturing Albert Bierstadt’s Light

In a scene that is reminiscent of an Albert Bierstadt painting, high winds and snow create drama over Hallet Peak. Bierstadt's dramatic paintings were often panned by critics as being unreal. However, conditions like these make it easy to see what Albert Bierstadt was seeking to convey. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 L
In a scene that is reminiscent of an Albert Bierstadt painting, high winds and snow create drama over Hallet Peak. Bierstadt’s dramatic paintings were often panned by critics as being unreal. However, conditions like these make it easy to see what Albert Bierstadt was seeking to convey. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 L
Every so often, the light, wind and snow come together just perfectly enough to create a scene that looks otherworldly. A strong storm was moving in over Rocky Mountain National Park this past Saturday that provided the perfect conditions to produce what I refer to a Bierstadt lighting. Clouds swirled over Hallet Peak as the intense first rays of sunshine filtered through the blowing snow off the Continental Divide.

The light was changing quickly and only lasted a short time before the sun began to be blocked out by the passing of ever more clouds in the sky. I chose to isolate Hallet Peak from it’s neighboring peaks to highlight the drama going on in the sky and around Hallet. Isolating Hallet Peak allowed for me to showcase the drama unfolding this morning. The resulting image of Hallet this morning seemed to take on an owed to Albert Bierstadt.

Albert Bierstadt’s name is familiar to many visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park as well as Colorado. Bierstadt Lake only a mile or so from where this image was photographed is named in this nineteenth century painter in his honor. Bierstadt travelled the west painting dramatic canvases of the high peaks and breathtaking mountain vistas. Bierstadt travelled to Estes Park during his second journey through the west in 1863.

If you have ever viewed one of Albert Bierstadt’s paintings in person, they are quite a site to behold. Bierstadt often painted on very large canvases. The Hudson River School painter emboldened the scenes before him and often took liberties in exaggerating the scale of the mountains and the drama and weather surrounding them.

In many ways, Bierstadt’s dramatic style is mirrored by today’s landscape photographers. Like many of today landscape photographers, Bierstadt’s style was often panned by critics as being unreal and over the top. Modern day landscape photographers often here similar critiques. On mornings such as this one, it’s easy to see what inspired Bierstadt’s love of the west and his desire to showcase it’s dramatic beauty.

2 thoughts on “Capturing Albert Bierstadt’s Light

  1. Always loved Bierstadt’s paintings. This is definitely reminiscent of them and a lovely image indeed. I often get to hear that my images must have been ‘shopped because people just rarely see it with the amazing color like that as they are rarely out and about when crazy people like us are of course ;-). As a counterpoint you should read Alain Briot’s essay on audiences: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/columns/audiences.shtml where he talks about one of his best selling images being best selling not because it is most esthetically pleasing but because it is exactly as people that do the trail down the Grand Canyon see it when they start hiking. Quite interesting.

    1. Jao,

      It’s an interesting observation that Alain makes in his column. I have seen him mention that quite a few times before. I really enjoy viewing Bierstadt’s paintings. In a lot of ways they seem to be a precursor to modern day landscape photography. They tend to be very large pieces with lots of color. Fine art landscape prints seem to be getting larger and more colorful all the time as the process improves.

      Bierstadt always painted with dramatic light and weather, the things we ‘crazy’ photographers get up in the middle of the night hoping to capture. Obviously Photoshop was not around in Bierstadt’s time but I’m guessing he was often told his pieces were gaudy or unreal. I’m sure during Bierstadt’s two expeditions across the American West he witnessed countless spectacular sunrises and sunsets. I would have to venture that this played a hand in helping to shape his colorful and dramatic style and representation. While we often witness spectacular scenes unfolding before us due to our passion to capture the light on the landscape, I think one of the most enjoyable parts of this craft is each persons unique interpretations of the scene before them whether that be ours or Bierstadt’s.

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