I apologize for the lack of blog posts lately. After wrapping up a very busy 2018 year of guiding and tours in Rocky Mountain National Park, I took a brief hiatus only to have the latest government shutdown make access to Rocky Mountain National Park difficult. As a reminder you can always check my Twitter or Facebook feeds that are linked at the bottom of this page as I post to them at least a few times a week if not more.
While you can technically walk into Rocky as of right now, services are limited and getting into most areas of the park is fairly difficult. Furthermore, most of the better locations for winter photography would require quite a commitment to get to without the ability to drive to a trailhead.
As of writing this it’s difficult to tell when the current government shut down may actually end as we have just past the 23rd day of the shutdown. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for all involved that a resolution can be found sooner than later and we can get back to Rocky Mountain National Park operating as is normal once again.
While we wait out the shutdown, I’ve been keeping myself busy photographing in and around the Boulder area. Not only is this area my second favorite place to photograph after Rocky Mountain National Park, but I’m thankful I have a fallback that allows me the ability to get out and keep productive while the machinations of our current political climate grind away.
I’ll again be offering photography tours in Rocky Mountain National Park for the 2019 season. If you are interested in heading out with me feel free to drop me an email and I’ll be more than happy to discuss dates, locations and times with you.
Until we get some more clarity here, I’ll be out traversing the landscape and open space properties in and around Boulder and will try to make a few expeditions into Rocky because I miss getting out and exploring the park as much as you all do. Stay tuned for lots of posts and images as 2019 unfolds here.
I get asked often what motivates me to get up five, six or seven days a week to head out at an ungodly hour of the morning for most people and head out into nature ready photograph whatever is in store that particular day. It’s a good question without an easy answer.
Head over to social media, podcasts or other photographers blog and this subject comes up often with some photographers while others never discuss it at all. Some photographers feel strongly that if your motivations behind your photography and the reasons you connect with nature and discussed openly than you are discrediting your imagery and craft. While sharing your images with other is important too many that is not enough.
Photographers on the opposite side of the argument may feel the need to share and detail all their personal feelings and motivations each time the create and share and image is necessary. In the modern age of ever shrinking privacy and autonomy, sharing one’s personal feelings, beliefs and motivations each day beyond the image itself may not only make them uncomfortable but may leave them feeling narcissistic and overly self important.
Where do I fall in the discussion? Not to be a cop-out but I would say I fall somewhere in the middle. We as nature and landscape photographers get to witness untold beauty on an almost daily basis. For many the beauty of the light, landscape, journey and discovery is what drives and motivates us to keep returning and communing with the landscape and light. This certainly motivates me but so does the entire process motivate me.
I enjoy waking early long before most. I take great satisfaction in working out after I wake so that I can stay trail ready whether I’m hiking or not. I taking the dog on a walk in the neighborhood at 2:30 AM so I can survey the sky and conditions before I drive to my location. I love my hour long drive from my home in Erie up to Estes Park in the dead of night so I can think quietly, listen to bad music or have long conversations with myself about who knows what. Most importantly I love that I have the freedom to do not only what I love doing, but have locations such as Rocky Mountain National Park that have been preserved, protected and kept open to the public so that I can for the most part, still freely access large swaths of wilderness. Lastly and most importantly I enjoy the entire process. From start to finish each day each step along the way exciting or boring I enjoy. The minute I stop enjoying the entire process is the minute I stop taking photos. I doubt many other photographers would find my routine and process enjoyable like I do.
With that said, some days I’m motivated to write something thoughtful and engaging, and other days I may feel the image stands alone with little need or desire to delve deeper on sharing the personal intricacies that go into my love and motivation behind my craft.
In the world of art there is certainly not a need to conform to what others are doing. In fact conformity is looked down upon and discouraged. No two artists or photographers will travel the same paths nor will they ever arrive at the same destination. We should not only appreciate the difference between individuals, but embrace it.
Being original should be a goal, but it should not be the be the only goal. The goal should be staying true to yourself but remembering to enjoy and love both the experience and process while championing in a responsible manner the subjects you photograph.
As a final thought on motivation, I see many photographers today railing about photographing original compositions and shooting locations or subjects that are rarely photographed. When posting their original composition they often choose to preface it with a quote from an author or historical figure. It’s probably a quote you’ve seen many times before on the internet, in books, calendars and other forms of media. I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for these quotes and often find them interesting and amusing. But in the interest of originality, is it ok to post a never before photographed composition while recycling somebody else’s writing? If we are going to tout the importance of originality shouldn’t the quote used to describe the photograph be held to the same standard as the image and also be original?. Just a thought.
I always get a spring in my step this time of year, spring being the operative word. The first wildflowers blooms of the season are not happening in the foothills of Boulder and Rocky Mountain National Park. Pasque Flowers and Star Lily’s are starting to sprout along the slopes of the hillsides now.
Your not going to find fields of wildflowers just yet but if you head out you will find these small nondescript flowers growing the grasses under ponderosa pines or on rocky hillsides with good southern exposure. It’s a fun time to pull the macro lens out from the bag and work some close in compositions. Photographing these early season flowers can make for a nice change of pace as winter recedes from the hillsides.
With Pasque flowers now making an appearance here in Colorado we can expect other blooms to begin to follow in short succession. Mountain ball cactus, golden banner will soon begin to making appearances and then eventually the summer favorites like wild iris, paintbrush and columbine.
There is definite excitement in knowing summer is just around the corner. Take advantage of what’s blooming now because as is the case with all these wildflowers, theres a short window before they are gone for the season.
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression before that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. While the saying has become cliche this week seemed to jive with the saying. This mindset very much applies to photography and I often preach the importance of heading out into the field with an open mind and the flexibility to switch up your game plan based on how the conditions are unfolding.
Living and photographing in Colorado means for most people the big draw is exploring of photographing our high beautiful high peaks and mountains. I would say for most photographers when heading out into the field we are hoping to somehow include and convey our majestic peaks while highlighted by a beautiful sunrise or sunset. Sometimes however, mother nature is just not all the interested in what your plans are you need to adjust accordingly.
I was really hoping for some colorful sunrises this week in Rocky Mountain National Park or down here around Boulder. I was hoping for dramatic lighting and clouds over the iconic peaks of RMNP or the Flatirons of Boulder. One of the two actually happened. We had really beautiful color in the skies at sunrise towards the end of the week but for the most part the clouds driven by high winds aloft stayed east of the continental divide.
Nature as she so often does dictated the terms and it was up to me to figure out how to make that work. So instead of photographing snow covered high peaks I instead had to change my thinking around and find some other subjects to photograph. In a nutshell this mean lots of backlit trees and mountains to incorporate the dramatic color that unfolded east of the divide the last few mornings of the week. All in all it was not what I was planning but as always I was thankful for the opportunity to be able to photograph. In the end lemonade can be pretty refreshing, especially after a long hike.
Who doesn’t love fog? Well besides some of good friends who live in and around the bay area of San Francisco most photographers I know also love fog. Theres no question we all love dramatic sunrises and sunsets with colors exploding over the skies as mountain peaks turn a fire red. Nothing however, changes and alters a familiar landscape like a cloak of fog does. Fog can take a common unremarkable landscape and transform it into a mystical and magical location in mere seconds. Common landmarks become hidden from sight and the feel of the landscape changes by the minute as fog drifts in and out of valleys and canyons hiding or revealing only portions of mountains as it see’s fit. Photographing in fog is a bonanza for landscape photographers keen on searching for unique images of familiar locations.
The unsettled weather pattern we’ve been experiencing here in Colorado for what feels like the last two months has presented quite a few opportunities of late to photograph in the fog. Generally speaking, fog on the Front Range of Colorado and in the foothills in particular while not rare, is also not a common every week occurrence. Colorado’s quick moving weather systems often mean that storms move in and out of the Front Range with speed. The back end of these weather systems often leaves us with beautiful clear blue skies and little in the way of lingering clouds, fogs or moisture.
This past week has been an exception to that rule. One slow moving system after another has blanketed the Front Range with fog, rain and snow depending on elevation. At first blush it’s easy to want to make a back handed comment about another cloudy, rainy day but it’s also apparent that it’s a good idea to take advantage of the unsettled conditions in the field while one can.
I spent the past few days in the foothills just west of Boulder taking advantage of the foggy conditions. Walker Ranch Open Space on the backside of the Flatirons was just about perfect on Sunday morning. Thick fog enveloped the slopes on the backside of the Flatirons as well as the South Boulder Creek drainage making for countless opportunities to photograph the moody landscape. I could spend hours photographing in conditions like those at Walker Ranch Open Space on Sunday morning. There were literally new opportunities and compositions by the minute as I stood high on a ridgeline observing and photographing the conditions.
So while part of me was yearning for a little sunshine, the photographer in me was happy to be out in less than ideal conditions taking advantage of the conditions mother nature had in store.
It’s beginning to look a lot like spring down here in Boulder now. Snow, rain and sunshine have turned the hillsides green. Along with the hillsides turning green another sure sign of spring has appeared in Chautauqua Meadows. The parade of wildflowers that blanket Chautauqua Park have begun their procession that typically lasts right up until early July.
The first wildflowers have started to bloom in earnest in Chautauqua with beautiful yellow golden banner appearing amongst the green grasses. The golden banner still has a little while to go before it will reach peak in the meadow but it’s always great to welcome these yellow blooms back. Golden Banner is typically one of the first wildflowers to appear in Chautauqua Meadow in early May but other wildflowers such as silver lupine will be making appearances as we move towards June. Here’s an image of the conditions at Chautauqua Park just below the Flatirons taken this past Sunday. Exciting times lay ahead for photographers as the change of season settles in.
Leaves are starting to bud on the tree’s, early season wildflowers have begun to make an appearance, the grass is turning green and the days get longer and longer. Spring is in the air here in Colorado and what better way to enjoy a mid April spring weekend with anything other than a nice big drop of fresh snow. It would not be a true Colorado spring if it was not for the warm weather head fake that the Front Range of Colorado is so well versed at performing.
As I write this, heavy wet spring snow is falling hard outside my office window and the mountains are covered with snow reminiscent of a scene straight from a Christmas movie. While meteorologists were calling for some of the areas of the foothills to receive between two and four feet of new snow, warmer temperatures seem to have kept the snow totals down in many areas. Even so, there is a significant amount of snow that has fallen over the higher elevations of Rocky Mountain National Park as well as the foothills just west of Boulder. So while my excitement grows each day as we move towards my favorite season (summer) in the Rockies, we photographers get another chance to get out in the field and enjoy this white winter landscape that now sits before us.
So when the weather gives you lemons, it’s best to make lemonade as they say. Break out the winter parka’s, snow boots and gloves and get out and make some new images. These spring storms often offer the best opportunity to photograph your favorite landscapes covered in snow.
I spent the early part of the storm enjoying a beautiful hike up Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder. I love to get on Flagstaff Mountain when its snowing. Not only is it a great hike, but Flagstaff Mountain has in my opinion some of the most beautiful sets of Ponderosa Pines in all of Colorado. Ponderosa’s and there red colored bark make for beautiful subjects when their pine bows are crusted in snow. Before you know it we will quickly resume are melt off and the snow will once again be gone. With mild weather and temperatures predicted to near 80 degrees by the end of the week, this opportunity to photograph the snow wont last long. So while many of us are looking forward towards summer, unfrozen lakes and wildflowers have fun with the weather curveball we are so often thrown here during spring. Who knows, maybe we will get a few more chances at snow before its all said and done for the season.
Photographers are constantly seeking to create new images and content. Creating new images and photographing in different locations feeds our creative spirit and helps us to grow as artists. This involves scouting, searching and traveling to new locations looking for that next image. Or does it?.
Most photographers I know love to travel to far flung locations around the globe looking to expand their portfolio and feed that ‘traveling jones’ that most of us seem to have embedded in our DNA. Iceland and Chile being the current favorites amongst landscape photographers. While I love to travel to far flung locations just as much as the next guy, I still find photographing and exploring locations close to home the most rewarding exercise.
If you are a frequent visitor to my site or my social media feeds you know that approximately 85% of my landscape photography takes place in either Rocky Mountain National Park or in and around Boulder, Colorado. This is done deliberately and with purpose. While these locations are very close to my home and are without question my favorite subjects to photograph, visiting the same locations and areas over and over again gives me a knowledge and understanding of my subject that I do not posses when I visit a location for the first and possibly only time.
Photographing the same locations time and time again in different seasons or carrying weather conditions and light allows me to not only capture the moment that is unfolding in front of my camera on that day, but it also allows me to anticipate and plan future visits to a given location with the expectation of a different result. Knowing these subjects well so close to my home allows me to adapt and plan based on atmospherics, weather conditions and lighting. Oftentimes we think a subject can only be photographed from one location, in one direction at one optimal time of day. I think many photographers would be surprised to see just how many different interpretations of a subject one can create when they are able to visit at different times in varying conditions.
I realize most peoples styles and motivations are different than mine and my approach may not work or interest other photographers. That being said I strongly recommend finding a local area, or one close to your home and becoming intimately familiar with it. The location may not be as exotic or sexy as some far flung location around the globe, but embarking on a journey to really get to know a local subject or location over time will have just as great a reward to your portfolio and creative process as would a trip to a location you may only visit once in your lifetime.
Winter is finally winding down in most parts of the country. It’s been an historic winter in many parts and most of us are ready to move on with the cold and snow. Only fourteen more days to go until the calendar officially reads spring. We will turn the clocks ahead tonight and while the sun will now rise an hour later, it wont set until after 7:00 PM now. The change is seasons is perceptible now, spring fever is officially setting in. Warmer days filled with hours and hours of sunlight can not be far of right?.
For the most part this is true. Except a funny thing happens here in Rocky Mountain National Park and the Front Range of Colorado come spring time. It tends to snow, and when it snows, it snows a lot. So while Spring Fever is setting in, March our snowiest month of the year is upon us, with April our third snowiest month of the year waiting in the wings. So while the days keep getting longer and the temperatures more mild, the chance to get out and photograph the landscape in a pristine coat of fresh powder will only be increasing here in the next two months.
For me personally March and April feel a bit like going into overtime after a tough fought four quarters of Basketball. Winter is almost over, fatigue has set in but it’s time to suck it up, dig down for a little more motivation and get out there in the field. Instead of complaining or pining for warmer weather, finish strong and make some of your best winter images before the season here does transition over to warmer weather. Winter may still have a few doozy’s up her sleeve, but before you know it the lakes will thaw, flowers will bloom and Trail Ridge Road will open for the season.
For some landscape photographers, cloudy days can be the bane of their existence. Combine cloudy days with your typical winter doldrums and some landscape photographers may avoid heading out to photograph all together. Cold weather, lack of a dramatic sunrise or sunset and subjects like streams and waterfalls frozen over narrows down the amount of options one has in the field to work with. While I cant argue it can be more difficult creating compelling images, cloudy and grey winter days still can produce dramatic, moody and unique images if one keeps and open makes sure to get the camera out of the bag. Here’s some ideas for those less then optimal grey winter days.
Go where the snow is. Cloudy gray days with no fresh snow are very challenging to photograph in. The weather here in Colorado during the winter months can vary greatly over a short distance. Much of our winter weather is determined by both elevation as well as which side of a mountain range your on. Depending on locations of weather systems, one side of a mountain range may be more optimal for producing snow then another. Here on the Front Range we are typically on the leeward side of the mountain range. This means that while it may be snowing very heavily on the windward side of the range only a dozen or so miles away, the leeward side has little in the way of clouds or snow. This is common here in the winter months of Colorado with snow falling heavily on the west side of the Continental Divide while little snow and mainly winds occurs on the east side of the Divide. This scenario will reverse often act in the inverse when ‘upslope’ conditions are occurring on the east side of the Continental Divide. On days like these it’s best to either head over to the west side of the Continental Divide, or head higher up in elevation on the east side of the Continental Divide where blow over from the storm may be causing snow to fall. The downside of staying on the east side or leeward side of these conditions is that it’s likely to be very windy.
Head out on days when inversions or a low lying cloud layer form either during or after a storm. Sure it may be cloudy and gray with little to no snow down along the lower elevations of the Front Range, but you may have fog and snow and higher elevations if conditions are more favorable a little higher up the mountainsides. Typically inversions occur along the Front Range when we have ‘upslope’ conditions or winds that are blowing in a north easterly direction. A couple of positive outcomes may occur if you head out into the cloud layer caused by and inversion. First you may be lucky enough to actually get above the cloud layer and into clear or sunny skies. Obviously the ability to get above the cloud layer creates all sorts of opportunities for dramatic landscape photography. Secondly, even if your unable to get above the inversion layer, you may be able to get at or near the transitional zone where fog, snow, and hoar frost are occurring. Snow, fog and pines coated with ice or hoar frost can lead to limitless possibilities for photography. Personally, this is one of my favorite kinds of weather conditions to photograph in. Familiar landscapes take on a anonymous like quality. Suddenly iconic locations, photographed time and time again are incognito and allow for new viewpoints and photographic interpretations. When conditions are like this, the landscape truly transforms into a winter wonderland.
Lastly on cloudy and grey days I’ll parrot the advice I consistently give to photographers not just on cloudy and grey days, but anytime they are out in the field creating images. Pay attention to the details and look for the little things. Study the bark of a Ponderosa Pine to see if the details, patterns and colors warrant a deeper look?. Look for subtle transitions in color such as the red willows along a creek or stream. Take a look down at your feet and study those ice fractures and patterns on the surface of a frozen lake or stream. Fractures and patterns on the ice will never look the same. Each inch on the surface of a piece of frozen ice will be different and unique. Even the coloration of the ice will vary greatly depending on your locations, the depth of the water and the location of the water which is frozen.
It’s going to be more difficult making dramatic images on cloudy grey days, especially in winter. Even so, remember that while the lighting is less dramatic on grey days, the soft diffused glow of a cloudy day on the landscape allows photographers the opportunities to explore and revisit compositions that may not be feasible on sunny days when the lighting is more direct and harsh. The longer I photograph the more I desire and appreciate cloudy days and soft diffused grey light which they bring to the landscape. So even if its cloudy and grey, grab your camera bag and head outside to make some images. Your imagery may be more subtle, but its also likely to be more original and unique as well.