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.

Order And Chaos

They key to capturing intimate landscapes is being to make order out of chaos. It’s knowing what to exclude from a composition, not include. I photographed this particular composition above the Roaring River this fall in RMNP. The colors of the aspens along with the forest floor was striking. Finding a way to make a compelling composition that was not too busy was more difficult. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens

Making order out of chaos. That’s one of our primary jobs as landscape photographers. I preach to students on my photography tours that photography is not about what to include in a particular scene, but what not to include. Landscape photography is more about exclusion of objects and landmarks than it is about inclusion.

What I often see from clients out on a photography tour with me in Rocky Mountain National Park is a desire to capture what are large expansive vistas. They are beautiful to behold and frankly can be overwhelming to many photographers who are not accustomed to Rocky Mountain National Park high peaks and ridgelines.

Students first instincts are to pull out their wide angle lens, rack it back to 11,14 or 16mm and make an attempt to get all the landscape they can into the frame. The problem with this approach is that the beauty of the subject they are trying to convey quickly gets lost in the vast sweeping landscape. While a wide angle lens helps to include all the scenery and landscape they are photographing into the frame, the subject is lost as is the intent of photographer.

If I’m photographing the same scene alongside my students, they are often surprised to find me photographing with my vanilla 24-70mm lens or 70-200mm lens. Often they want to know how ‘I’m fitting all that in’ with telephoto lens. I’ll show students what I’m photographing, how I’m isolating the subject, removing distracting elements from the edges of the frame and attempting to convey my subject through the use of exclusion and isolation. For many clients this is an epiphany, they quickly go to their camera bag and grab one of their plain vanilla lenses that they use ‘back home’ and begin to craft a composition as opposed to relying on the physics of a wide angle lens to create an effect.

This image posted above and photographed this fall in Rocky Mountain National Park is a good example of making order out of chaos in a landscape. I was out with clients photographing one of the well visited waterfalls in the park. We had spent a good amount of time making beautiful images of this location and were about to move on.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spied some beautiful red and orange color on the floor of the forest. There were golden aspen trees above and I climbed a ridge to get a better look at this scene. I spent quite a bit of time with my client working on compositions and discussing the importance of making order out of chaos with this scene. The colors, the trees, this small piece of real estate in the vast expanse of Rocky Mountain National Park was calling out to be photographed, it was just a matter of figuring out how.

I tell my clients all the time that scenes like these speak to me much more than a grand landscape does. They are much more personal and cerebral. It’s very unlikely that another photographer will duplicate this scene and frankly it may be years before the undergrowth and tree canopy look like this again.

I could walk by this particular scene a million times and never find a composition. This time there was just enough order amongst the chaos to make it work.

Meanwhile, Back At Rocky

It was a spectacular Thursday morning in Rocky Mountain Natinonal Park. About 8 inches of fresh snow fell over Upper Beaver Meadows overnight. Calm winds, fresh snow and beautiful light over Ypsilon Mountain made for a postcard like scene just before sunrise. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F4 AF-S VR lens

With the fall color season now well in the rear view mirror in Rocky, we’ve officially entered the brown season. I don’t personally like using that term as I found this time of year to be beautiful in its own right.

Snow is back on the peaks, grasses are really more golden than brown, and access to much of the park is still fairly decent. There’s no denying the brown season is a transitional season, but the slower pace, smaller crowds are often welcome after the hectic summer season and fall crush of visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park.

One of the things photographers can look forward to during the brown season is the first decent snowstorms of the season. Snow has been falling in earnest in Rocky all week but a nice early season winter storm dropped nearly 8 inches of snow in the lower elevations of RMNP Wednesday into Thursday morning.

The weather forecast looked great for Thursday morning as the storm was predicted to move out of Rocky Mountain National Park early in the morning leaving partially cloudy skies and very light winds. Typically when these storms move out of Rocky, the backside of these storms come in with very high westerly winds. Not only are these winds a nuisance for photographers trying to keep their cameras steady on a tripod, but they tend to blow all the powdered snow from the pines and trees.

One can arrive the next morning in Rocky Mountain National Park after a winter snowstorm to find that other than fresh snow cover on the ground, much of the park (mountaintops and trees) look as they did prior to the snow falling. This storm had all the variables for winter like photography in Rocky looking good.

Rocky Mountain National Park looked spectacular when I arrived at 4:45 AM. Clouds covered the sky and light snow was still falling when I first arrived. The park roads were not plowed and about 8 to 10 inches of fresh snow covered the park roads depending on elevation. I headed out the yet to be closed Upper Beaver Meadows Road to wait for sunrise.

When I arrived it looked like sunrise was be clouded over. As is so often the case in Rocky, clouds hanging out before sunrise quickly begin to dissipate just before sunrise and its not uncommon to go from completely clouded over skies, to cloudless skies in short order and thats exactly how this morning panned out.

I hunkered down in Upper Beaver Meadows as it gives you one of the best views of Rocky’s peak from north to south. I could see the cloud cover was breaking quickly and I wanted to be in a location where I could quickly adapt my composition to adjust for the light and cloud cover. These beautiful snowy mornings are actually quite rare in Rocky Mountain National Park and I don’t like to miss out on the opportunity to photograph Rocky when conditions are perfect.

While I was able to eek out a couple of compositions before the clouds completely dissipated from the skies over RMNP, this image of Ypsilon Mountain from Upper Beaver Meadows just before sunrise was one of my favorite. The fog was clearing in front of Ypsilon Mountains iconic face just as the alpenglow was adding color to the landscape. Its hard to think of any mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park that received better lighting during the winter months or looks better with fresh snow than Ypsilon. In minutes the sun had risen and the fog and clouds were gone leaving only a few short moments to capture Rocky Mountain National Park draped in fresh snow.

Besides yesterday mornings beautiful conditions at sunrise in RMNP, one other item of importance occurred as well. The NPS closed Trail Ridge Road for the season yesterday. This storm, combined with what looks like more snow and winter conditions early next week put an end to another great season on Trail Ridge Road. If feels like just yesterday that Trail Ridge Road opened for the season. I’ll look forward to it reopening next May ushering in the unofficial start to the summer season in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Autumn And Ice

On the back end of our winter blast that hit Rocky Mountain National Park at the end of last week, fall color in the park is mostly done now. For photographers willing to search for some of the smaller scenes and vignettes in the nooks and crannies of RMNP, capturing the back end of the autum season is still possible. I found this menagerie of fall color frozen in a cascade along the slopes of Mount Wuh yesterday. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens

It was fun while it lasted. Autumn was stunning this year in Rocky Mountain National Park. The elongated fall season that we experienced, with warm days and vibrant colors has mostly now come to an end. Thanks to an arctic blast which combined both wind and snow finding fall color in Rocky Mountain National Park has gotten a bit more difficult.

It’s still autumn in RMNP it’s just finding fall color to photograph takes quite a bit more work. For the most part almost all the deciduous plants have either dropped their leaves or they have turned brown from the cold temperatures. Some of the small ground plants still have some nice color but one is going to have to work a little harder on more intimate type scenes now to capture the back end of the fall season in Rocky.

With the exception of our blast of snow and cold last week, the weather is still fall like and spectacular in the park. Cool mornings that quickly warm once the sun rises are the norm. There are some icy spots on trails but for the most part one is able to access much of the park without having to pack a full compliment of winter gear.

After spending the morning in Moraine Park looking for some of the last vestiges of the elk rut, I headed up the Cub Lake trail to enjoy the beautiful conditions and investigate some of the nooks and crannies to see if there were any small patches of autumn color to be found.

While autumn color was mostly sparse along the cub lake trail, I did happen upon a small vignette that I just had to photograph. A small stream which runs down the side of Mount Wuh provided just what I was looking for.

The edges of the small cascade had frozen over. Aspen, mountain maples and narrow leaf cottonwood leaves had all recently fallen into the stream and become entombed in the recently formed ice. It’s rare enough to find all these leaves in such close proximity but the fact that I had variety combined with the contrasting warm colors of fall and the cool colors of the ice made me stop in my tracks and get the camera equipment out of the bag.

So while most of the fall color is now gone from Rocky Mountain National Park for the season, with some exploration and appreciation of some of the smaller vignettes of color that can be found in Rocky, one should be able to capture some of the more subtle fall scenes RMNP provides on the backend of the season.

Big Changes On The Way

As I write this, big changes are on the way to Rocky Mountain National Park. After a late, but elongated fall color season in the park, an October snowstorm with record low temperatures is settling in over Rocky. Yesterday, before the storm moved in over RMNP, I took advnatage of a beautiful day and spectacular sunrise to photograph what is likely to be the end of the fall color season. Sunrise over Longs Peak from Moraine Park yesterday morning was a jaw dropper and a great way to likely finish up on the autumn season. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens

This autumn in Rocky was an unusual one. We got off to a very late start this season with many of the aspens remaining green long past the time they usually lose their leaves. A warm and dry late summer and early fall seemed to be the reason behind the late change in the foliage.

With fall color kicking off this year around the third week of September in the highest elevations, and with the warm and mild weather sticking around, the color remained very good in many parts of Rocky Mountain National Park into the second week of October. Normally, one would be looking for the last remnants of autumn gold in RMNP during the second week of October while lamenting on how quickly the season turns.

Furthermore, with the late start to fall, warm weather and lack of any early season snowstorms or cold through the second week of October, the fall color both hung on late but also remained colorful and vibrant. With the elongated fall, both the trees and the underbrush stuck around long enough so that they peaked simultaneously. Many years in RMNP, the timing with the understory and the tree canopy will occur at different times.

All in all its been an amazing fall color season in Rocky Mountain National Park and one of the more colorful but unusual ones I can remember in my twenty-one years of photographing in the park.

As of today, October 10th you can more or less stick a fork in the fall color season. While its still autumn and there are still going to be some great opportunities for landscape photography and wildlife photography in the next few months, a powerful and cold weather system has moved over the park.

While snow falling in Rocky Mountain National Park during October is nothing unusual, this front is going to pack some record low cold temperatures with it. Lows are expected to be in the single digits tonight, through Friday morning.

Normally, I would expect some of the foliage in Rocky to make it through an early season snowstorm. While there are still some trees that have yet to even turn and remain green, the single digit temperatures coming in on the back end of this front will more than likely put an end to the fall color season. Hopefully I’m wrong, but I’m going to guess that the foliage that remains in Rocky after this system moved through is going to turn brown on the account of the extremely cold early season temperatures.

I expect to be photographing some winter like scenes tomorrow morning in RMNP, but yesterday I spent as much time as I could taking advantage of one last day of peak fall color in the park. In fitting fashion, sunrise was stellar over the park. So while there is a bit of melancholy associated with the end of the fall color season, warmer weather is supposed to return to the area by the weekend and there still plenty of great opportunities for photographers before winter formally settles into Rocky.

Autumn’s Homestrech

The fall color in Rocky Mountain National Park is still looking great even with the first week of October behind us. I shot this image on the Bierstadt Moraine yesterday and color on Bierstadt is still looking great. Snow and very cold temperatures are moving in Thursday so I would expect these next few days to be autumn crescendo in RMNP. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S

The fall color in Rocky Mountain National is still looking pretty good for the first week of October. We continue to experience a later than usual season with everything running about a week or so behind.

Winds late last week through parts of the weekends certainly did a number on the leaves at or near peak around the Bear Lake area and Hidden Valley but overall everything is still looking pretty good in areas below Bear Lake.

On a typical year in Rocky, I would expect almost all of the autumn color to be down or past peak in the higher elevations like Bear Lake, Bierstadt Moraine, Boulder Brook, Hidden Valley etc. Even lower elevations like Moraine Park and Horseshoe Park would be passing peak most years by this time though as always there are patches here and there that will hang on longer than others.

I expect the fall color to look pretty good through Wednesday of this week. After Wednesday all bets are off as it looks like Rocky Mountain National Park will get hit by an early season snowstorm combined with record cold temperatures on Thursday and Friday.

While there may be some interesting opportunities with the combination of snow and remaining fall color, I would expect whatever color makes it through Thursday and Friday is going to turn brown and fall from the hard freeze.

My advice at this point is if you want to photograph the remaining fall color in Rocky Mountain National Park, it would be best to get out there in the next 3 days and enjoy the end of what has been an awesome fall color season in RMNP albeit a late one. Don’t overlook the interesting opportunities that may present themselves on Thursday and Friday, just don’t forget to bring the winter coat and gloves.

Autumn Morning At Bear Lake

It was hard to beat the rainbow of fall colors on display yesterday morning at Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Autumn continues to run behind schedule in RMNP and here we stand at Bear Lake on October 3rd, right at peak. This is easily a week behind what I would consider typical timing for autumn peak color at Bear Lake. Expect Rocky to have great color in locations through the middle of next week. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 s lens

Here we sit on October 4th in Rocky Mountain National Park with fall still in full swing. A mild and moderate fall continues and theres been lots of warm days with the nights getting cooler. With only one small dusting of snow above 12,000 ft since the autumn season started in RMNP, the autumn color in the park has taken its sweet time turning over.

Frankly, I have no issue with this as its been great being able to photograph much of Rocky’s fall color with my photography tour clients later into the season than is usual. The photo posted above from Bear Lake was taken on October 3rd. I would say Bear Lake is right at peak now or maybe a tad past. Typically, I anticipate photographing Bear Lake around the 22nd of September to take advantage of the best color. At nearly 9500 ft above sea level, Bear Lake is one of the first areas of Rocky Mountain National Park in which the aspens start to change.

Over a week past the anticipated timing of peak at Bear Lake and the colors look awesome still. Lower elevations of the park area really starting to come into their own as well now. About 50% of the Bierstadt Moraine has peaked and I would guess by the end of the weekend we should be looking as good as its going to get.

A caveat to all this is the forecast for the most part is calling for lots of clear skies and some windy days. I expect the wind forecast in the next few days to strip many of the leaves from the Bear Lake area but you can certainly expect to find fall colors well into next week. The early forecast for the end of the week in Rocky looks like we could see cooler temps and possibly some snow but expect good conditions with both the fall color as well as the elk rut through next week. See you out in the field!.

West Is Best

The west side of Rocky Mountain National Park is certainly where the most fall color can currently be found. This aspens near the south end of the Kawuneeche Valley are just about at peak right now. The east side of RMNP continues to improve but there should be lots of fall color on the east side showing up in the next two weeks or so. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 14-30mm F4 S Lens

Quick fall color update for those interested in the current conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park as of yesterday. The title sums it up best at this point. The west side of Rocky Mountain National Park is defiantly has the best autumn colors. The Kawuneeche Valley, the aspen trees around the west entrance to RMNP and the area around Grand Lake are all looking very good right now. Lots of brilliant yellow, oranges and some nice reds to be found.

The east side of Rocky is still petering along at this point. As of yesterday, about 45-50% of the hillside above Bear Lake had started to turn. This area around Bear Lake should really start looking good by this weekend.

The Bierstadt Moraine at this point might at best have about 10% of it leaves starting to change. For the most part its all green with a few trees here and there that have turned. The Boulder Brook area is mostly green with some small areas here and there changing much like the Bierstadt Moraine. Glacier Gorge around Alberta Falls is starting to look very good and the aspens along Trail Ridge Road just above Hidden Valley are now at or near peak.

Overall, signs of autumn are becoming much more prevalent now in RMNP, but as it stands and if the weather pattern holds we should have some great fall color pushing into the next two weeks or so. If that holds, I would say that would mean we are running about a week behind the traditional fall color change. Regardless, the next few weeks in Rocky and many parts of Colorado should be both interesting and beautiful.

Pockets Of Fall Color

The start of the autumn season in Rocky Mountain Natiional Park this year has been slow to get going. A few cold nights and were starting to see some good color showing in pockets. I opted to photograph this small stand of golden aspen trees this morning along Trail Ridge Road at sunrise. I’d expect really good fall color conditions in RMNP by the end of the week into next week. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens

Fall color change has been running behind in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s running so far behind that up until the last few days with few exceptions it was actually difficult finding even small pockets of fall color.

With a few cool nights over the weekend the leaves and color seemed to have picked up steamed and there are now some smaller pockets of decent color to be found in Rocky.

This morning I opted to pass on other locations to photograph this small stand of aspen trees along Trail Ridge Road above Many Parks Curve. It’s certainly not the most impressive stand of aspens in RMNP, but the color of this stand was one pretty nice and the sun was going to rise directly behind these aspen trees. Add in some clouds and I opted to pass on the grand scenics to photograph this small scene.

There are now some nice pockets of color on the west side of Rocky, some decent patches near Hidden Valley along Trail Ridge Road and aspens starting to change over in and around Bear Lake.

At the current pace, I would expect conditions to start to get really nice towards the end of the week into next week. The elk rut is also very active right now as well so although autumn may be a bit behind, the first day of fall today certainly felt every bit the part.