Nature First


Working as both a professional photographer and photography guide in Rocky Mountain National has great rewards. I get to spend much of my time out in the natural and wilderness areas of Rocky Mountain National Park hiking, photographing and most importantly, showing other photographers and visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park, the pristine beauty of this 400 square mile protected land.

Thankfully, for people such as John Muir and Enos Mills we have this place no known as Rocky Mountain National Park accessible and preserved for my generation and future generations. The foresight of those who have preserved these natural areas has now been passed on to future generations and it is now our stewardship to continue to protect, preserve and educate others on the importance of wilderness and wild places. I’ve been photographing Rocky Mountain National Park since 1998.

In that time I have seen tremendous changes not only to Rocky Mountain National Park, but to all the National Park and natural areas I visit. In that time, Rocky has gone from about 3 million visitors a year to nearly 5 million visitors a year. Most of those visitors come to Rocky in a 7 month period, so the increase in visitation is readily apparent throughout the park.

As a photographer and guide, I struggle with my impact and my businesses impact on a place I greatly love. In recent years I have made an attempt to educate my photography tour clients on Leave No Trace principles, impact to sensitive locations and leaving things better than you find them. I make every attempt to visit locations in the park at times when impact will be minimized. For the most part, most of my clients are as aware and concerned with their impact on wild places as I am. I find it just as important to help clients understand the importance of Leave No Trace principles as it is to help them along their photographic journey.

The Leave No Trace orginization has done a great job to help educate visitors on the proper protocols to adhere to when visiting sensitive wilderness and wild areas. With that said, a group of photographers here in Colorado have decide to take it a step further and come up with additional principles for photographers to be mindful of when out in the places we not only photograph, but love.

My friends Scott Bacon and Erik Stensland enlisted the help of a handful of other photographers here in Colorado and they created both the Nature First Organization as well as the 7 principles of Nature First.

These 7 principles the Nature First group created came through long discussions and meetings. They are designed not to scold photographers or prevent from photographers from going to the places they love, but instead to remind photographers to be mindful when out in wild places as well as to help educate others who may not be aware of their impact on sensitive areas.

Moving forward with both my photography, as well as guiding photographers in RMNP, I will be adhering to both Leave No Trace guidelines as well as the 7 principles Nature First has created.

To be perfectly clear, I strongly believe these public lands were designed to be cherished and visited by all. They act as places that refresh and renew the soul. It’s important that we continue to use and access these gifts our predecessors had the foresight to protect for future generations.

At this stage, It’s become vitally important that we not love them to death or create situations where access is limited or restricted. Thats not the answer, but it will always be the easiest solution when our impact overwhelms both the land and those responsible for protecting the land. Nature First helps to not only educate fellow landscape photographers, but more importantly, keeps us from becoming the problem when visiting places we love.

Edward Abbey once wrote the following about protecting wilderness, “A man could be a lover and defender of the wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, powerlines, and right-angled surfaces. We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to set foot in it.” Abbey’s word as important today as when he wrote them over sixty years ago.

Nature First has done a great job bringing this to the forefront of the landscape and wildlife photography community. I strongly recommend you visit the Nature First website to not only educate yourself on the seven principles, but also become a member.

THE NATURE FIRST PRINCIPLES

1.Prioritize the well-being of nature over photography.

2.Educate yourself about the places you photograph.

3.Reflect on the possible impact of your actions.

4.Use discretion if sharing locations.

5.Know and follow rules and regulations.

6.Always follow Leave No Trace principles and strive to leave places better than you found them.

7.Actively promote and educate others about these principles

The Buck Stops Here

Sunrise was a bust yesterday morning in Rocky. Often when this occurs I move onto a ‘Plan B’ which more times than not is wildlife photography. With fresh snow on the ground, I was able to spend a few minutes photographing this beautiful Mule Deer Buck on the side of aptly named Deer Mountain. It can be tricy to photograph both wildlife and landscapes well, but I find it a good idea to persue both opportunities in Rocky Mountain National Park to increase one’s chances of capturing images. Technical Details: Nikon D850, Nikkor 200-500mm F5.6 AF-S VR Lens

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.