In what seems like has been few and far between, we finally had a really nice sunrise this morning in Estes Park. The weather so far this January has been mostly mild and tame. While up on the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park there has been some snow this month, its mostly been wind or clear blue skies. For January, the weather has been awesome. Mild, sunny and we’ve been absent the arctic cold snaps that typically make an appearance or two this month.
I’ve been watching the weather intently these past few weeks looking for something interesting to happen. A nice dumping of snow, a dramatic sunrise, any of that would work. For whatever reason things just have not come to fruition.
Like a baseball player mired in a slump, you always know if you just keep heading out eventually your luck will change. So while I’ve been getting skunked at sunrise of late, I’ve used the time to work on other projects in the park that are more conducive to flat, diffused lighting. In particular I’ve been documenting the remaining man made structures still remaining in Rocky. While I’ve recently added a gallery depicting some of this work, this is a project I continue to enjoy when conditions are not optimal for landscape photography. You can find this new gallery and project at this link. Man, Nature and Rocky Mountain National Park
The prospects for sunrise this morning looked pretty good in RMNP. As I headed into the park long before sunrise, things did not look as good as I though they might. The mountains were shrouded in snow and the wind was howling. Snow was falling, but not enough to cover anything. If we had a sunrise it certainly looked like the clouds and squalls floating over Rocky Mountain National Park would likely obscure any light and color. Besides, even if I wanted to photograph the mountains, they were covered in clouds.
I headed down to Lake Estes east of Rocky and downtown Estes Park to see what would happen. It looked pretty dicey, but about 15 minutes before sunrise the skies to the east of Estes Park exploded in color. Lake Estes is only about half frozen right now so the open water helped to exacerbate the beautiful sunrise.
So while I was looking forward to photographing inside of Rocky Mountain National Park, the consolation prize along the shores of Lake Estes wasn’t bad either. More importantly, here’s to hoping the weather pattern is about to change and start to make things a lot more interesting.
A few weeks back I was interviewed by David Johnston for the podcast he produces, ‘The Landscape Photography Show’. I’ve been a big gan of David’s photography as well as a listener to his podcasts for years dating back to his original set of interviews prior to this latest incarnation of his show.
We had a great discussion about a wide range of topics related to landscape photography, life, business and some other interesting topics as well. It’s always fun to be interviewed, and podcasts are a personal favorite of mine. Spending countless hours traveling and in vehicles, podcasts help to fill a lot of time for me when I cant be out in the field photographing or working with clients.
If you would like to hear the podcast and interview, follow the link at the bottom of the page. If you follow my work or are interested in heading out into Rocky Mountain National Park with me on a photography tour or workshop, you can get a little better feel of who I am and how photography, or more specifically landscape photography has played an important part in my life.
Regardless, I highly recommend you subscribe to David’s Landscape Photography Show and check out the long line of interviews he’s conducted with some of the heavy hitters in the landscape photography genre. It’s a great show and a fun listen.
With 2019 in the rearview mirror and the holidays now behind us, it’s nice not only to reflect on the previous year, but also think about all of the potential for 2020. In one sense, turning the page on 2019 brings a feeling of a fresh start, while on the other, getting back into your normal day to day routine after the holidays brings comfort to somebody like myself who enjoys and looks forward to their routine.
During Christmas and the New Years holiday I try to stay busy photographing as often as I can. That can be a tall order with social commitments, photography tour clients visiting Rocky Mountain National Park during the holidays, and weather and conditions which were for the most part blasé.
Working through the holiday parties, social and business commitments at the end of the year means I would have liked to have finished out 2019 on a strong note. It’s a lot easier said then done with all the distractions and average conditions for photography.
I did manage to spend quite a few days out in the field at the end of 2019, either guiding photography clients, are finding locations and subjects to photograph that did not require beautiful sunrises or sunsets. With that said, 2019 transitioned into 2020 with more of a whimper than a bang for me.
Looking to reset and start 2020 off on the right foot, I headed over to Grand Lake and the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park for some inspiration. During the summer months when Trail Ridge Road is open, spending time on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my favorite things to do. Once the snows start falling in October, and Trail Ridge Road is closed for the season, traveling to the west side of Rocky is a little more involved.
Each year during the winter and spring months I’ll spend a few days at a time over in Grand Lake so that I can photograph the west side of RMNP when its draped in a cloak of fresh snow. Winter on the west side of Rocky is quiet and the hustle and bustle of summer in downtown Grand Lake is only a distant memory.
Grand Lake is about as peaceful, quiet and tranquil as it can get in the middle of winter. Boaters and hikers are replaced with visitors on snowmobiles, but overall the town of Grand Lake and the west side of Rocky see very little traffic compared to the summer months.
It’s not uncommon for me to be the only person in the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park at sunrise, something that does not happen on the east side of the park. The quiet and solitude is great but photographing on the west side of Rocky is difficult during the winter months.
The Kawuneeche Valley and Grand Lake are very cold places in January. Expect single digits to below single digits temperatures at sunrise. Getting a sunny day on the west side of the divide can also be a little more difficult. Snow and fog are common and even if its a clear sunny day on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park, theres a good chance you will find yourself in the snow, fog and clouds on the west side of RMNP.
I also cant emphasize enough how much snow is on the ground on the west side of the park by January. Head even a few feet into the woods or off the roads and you will likely be sinking into the snow up to your waist or chest. Snowshoes help, but instead of sinking into your waist, expect only to sink in to your knees. This makes getting to many of the locations on the west side of the park challenging to say the least.
With Saturday looking like the day the clouds and snow would break I decided to snowshoe out to Little Buckaroo Barn in the middle of the Kawuneeche Valley. It was 9 degrees when I started the short snowshoe in but I quickly was wading through snow up to waist even with snowshoes. Regardless, high clouds in the sky and the hint of pink to the east of the continental divide had me pushing through the deep snow towards Little Buckaroo Barn.
I’ve photographed Little Buckaroo Barn countless times during the summer and fall but capturing an image here during the middle of winter after a fresh snow has always been high on my to-do list.
After finally getting through the deep untouched snow around the barn, I setup my camera and watched as the colors in the sky over Little Buckaroo Barn and the Kawuneeche Valley exploded.
Pastels and pinks are a favorite, but combine that with fresh snow reflecting those colors and I knew I was in the right place at the right time. Feeling like 2019 went out with more of a whimper than a bang, the start of 2020 on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park quickly erased the past few weeks of disappointing conditions and had me looking forward to all the potential 2020 has.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With another large November snowstorm about to descend on the Front Range of Colorado, I took a run up to Rocky yesterday morning. Based on the weather forecast, cloud cover and timing of the storm it looked like we might have some nice light at sunrise before the weather started changing over RMNP.
As I’ve stated many times, the lighting in Rocky Mountain National Park can be simply stunning in November when sunrise or sunsets cooperate. While the lighting can be amazing this time of year in Rocky Mountain National Park for photographers, there are still challenges when photographing this time of year.
The biggest challenge is accessibility. Trail Ridge Road is closed at Many Parks Curve on the east side of Rocky and the Colorado River Trailhead on the west side. Old Fall River Road is closed at the Alluvial Fan, Wild Basin is open a short distance from the entrance station to the winter parking lot. Bear Lake Road will stay open to the Bear Lake Parking lot though the road may be snow packed and icy, especially after recent storms.
While Bear Lake Road will stay open, many of Rocky’s classic landscapes in and around Bear Lake, Dream Lake, Glacier Gorge etc., are not lit very well during the shortest days of the season. Most of the peaks in the Bear Lake/Glacier Gorge area orient facing northeast. Combine this with towering mountains and valley’s and the lighting can be tough this time of year in this area of the park (contrary to the summer months when the sun is farther north and the lighting is amazing).
This leaves the Mummy Range, Moraine Park and Upper Beaver Meadows as the most accessible areas in Rocky in the winter with the best light for photography. This is a fairly small geographic area so if your not creative you can quickly run out of new or different locations to photograph.
As somebody who has been photographing Rocky Mountain National Park for well over twenty years now, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to photograph these areas so its always a challenge for me and my personal portfolio to find new locations and compositions. Of course, weather, lighting and conditions are never the same twice so it’s less difficult than I’m making it sound.
I ended up settling on a composition that is very close to a popular pull out along US 36 that has a commanding view of the continental divide and many of the prominent peaks in Rocky. I’ve seen many others photograph from this location as I have, but I’ve never incorporated this tree into the image (as others have).
While watching this colorful sunrise unfold in front of me, I couldn’t help but thinks how much the image in the viewfinder reminded me of many of the Lyman Byxbe copper plate etchings of Rocky Mountain National Park made famous in wall art and postcards.
Lyman Byxbe spent many years in his Estes Park studios creating beautiful copper etchings of what are some of the parks most iconic scenes. In fact, I would argue that Lyman Byxbe pioneered many of the compositions that photographers such as myself end up emulating today.
Often found in Lyman Byxbe’s beautiful copper etchings is the use of tree’s to add depth to a landscape presented on a two dimensional medium. Like myself, it’s obvious that Mr. Byxbe was fond of the beautiful and unique trees found in Rocky Mountain National Park and sought them out in his art.
Like a lot of artists, Lyman Byxbe’s work does not receive the credit and acclaim it probably should. In recent years with the ever growing popularity of Rocky Mountain National Park, Byxbe’s work has become more sought after and appreciated. I know I certainly feel his influence in my work often as was the case yesterday morning.
There are a few books available through third parties that chronicle Lyman Byxbe’s work but other than those books, his work is available for viewing throughout various pages on the internet. I would highly recommend anybody interested in viewing one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s most interesting artist when it comes to the landscape to use a search engine and search for Byxbe’s work. If you have not taken the time to do so I think you will really appreciate his love for the landscapes of Rocky Mountain National Park.
As most of you who follow my blog or photography know, easily eighty percent of my photography takes place in Rocky Mountain National Park. While I love photographing in Rocky, just like every other photographer I enjoy getting out and spending time in the field in different and new locations when possible.
Earlier in the week, I made eight hour drive down to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, NM. The point of the trip down to Bosque was to photograph the sandhill crane migration along with large flocks of snow Geese that also congregate there this time of year.
Primarily, I would consider myself a landscape photographer. That being said, I enjoy photographing wildlife when the opportunity presents itself and find both birding and avian photograph fun as well as very challenging. Visiting Bosque del Apache would allow me to really practice my birds in flight photography and get me plenty of opportunities to photograph beautiful sandhill cranes as well as snow geese. On top of these two birds, photographing an iconic southwestern bird like a roadrunner would be nice to stumble upon.
From November through mid winter, Bosque del Apache plays host to a large groups of migrating Rocky Mountain Sandhill Cranes. These sandhill cranes spend their days in the various fields around the refuge, eating grain in the fields that the refuge manages as they head south along the Rio Grande river.
This makes Bosque del Apache one of the premier locations in the United States in which to photograph sandhill cranes as well as snow geese. Having the beautiful New Mexico desert and mountains as a backdrop for these birds is what really sets it apart from many other locations that the sandhill cranes frequent in different migration corridors.
As an opportunist when it comes to photography, Bosque del Apache was more than I could have hoped for. The avian action was great. Plenty of opportunities in the day and half I spent at the refuge to photograph sandhill cranes, snow geese and even a roadrunner. One beautiful sunset and a jaw dropping sunrise allowed for some great landscape opportunities as well.
I certainly see myself returning to Bosque del Apache in the future as well. The landscapes and action were great and frankly, its one of the best locations to photograph in mid to late November when the fall color opportunities have dried up and many locations begin to see their first good snows of the season. The trick here is to hone your birds in flight skills and keep an open mind on what subjects you will photograph. As always, the lighting should dictate your subject and Bosque del Apache will give you plenty of both.
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.