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.

An Autumn Morning In Harriman

A quick weekend trip back to New York to visit family allowed for me to sneak out one morning to photograph the autumn colors in Harriman State Park. A favorite location of mine when I lived in New York, Harriman State Park has some of the best autumn colors in lower New York while also being a beautiful location for landscape photography. This clear morning at Lake Kanawauke was beautiful as fog skirted over the surface of the lake. The fall colors in Harriman were spectacular as they so often are in the fall. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F4 AF-S VR lens

It’s always nice to get out of your comfort zone a little and go photograph a different location. In my case, I spend the majority of my time photographing Rocky Mountain National Park. I specialize in photographing Rocky Mountain National Park, lead workshops and tours in Rocky Mountain National Park, and consider it my favorite location to photograph. With that said, I get as excited as my clients do anytime I get a chance to head out to a different destination and photograph something a little different.

With my RMNP tour season winding down and snows starting to fall in the high country of Colorado, a quick jaunt back to New York State at the end of their fall color season is always fun. With my daughter out of school for a few days, we thought it would be a nice time to head back east and visit my 78 year old mother. While the purpose of the trip was to spend time with mom over the weekend, being a working photographer means sneaking out before everybody wakes up for the day and getting a short, but productive morning shoot in.

With only one morning to photograph before heading back to Colorado, I headed out to an old familiar and favorite haunt of mine. Harriman State Park, just across the Hudson River from where I grew up is an amazing location in fall. Lakes, streams and some of the best fall color anywhere near New York City makes Harriman State Park both a favorite of mine, and a location I can spend a few hours at in the field without missing time with the family.

While we were delayed in Denver, we landed on the backend of a large Northeaster that had just scooted up the coast. Even with all the wind and rain, most of the foliage in Harriman State Park still looked pretty good as of last weekend.

My one morning in Harriman State Park dawned clear and cool. No clouds in the skies, or overcast lighting to take advantage of the beautiful fall color but as is always the case, one just needs to adjust to the lighting and take what they are given. Luckily for me, there was some nice fog on many of the lakes of Harriman, and the strong winds from the day before had died downed.

I ended up at Lake Kanawauke at sunrise which is always a beautiful location. With about 2 hours to spare, I spend the morning in the Kanawauke area photographing the fog on the lake and the beautiful reds and oranges along the shoreline. We dont typically get foliage this colorful in Colorado so even a few hours in the field enjoying the classic east coast landscape draped in autumn colors was amazing.

Of course I could have spent hours photographing in and around Harriman State Park and Bear Mountain State Park but I had more important places to be. Leaving for the airport on Sunday morning, clouds and rain were moving in to the Hudson Valley. As I flew out over the Hudson River and looked down on Harriman State Park from high above, I wished I could have spent just one more morning in the beautiful overcast light and rain on the way that day. Hopefully, next year I’m able to spend a little more time enjoying New York, but its back to enjoying Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park for me again.

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!.

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.

Summers Entering The Back Nine

It’s hard to believe but Summer is entering the tail end here in Rocky Mountain National Park. Though fall season is only a few short weeks away, I’m taking advantage of all the great access available in the higher elevations of Rocky such as these beatiful tarns which I photographed at sunrise on Tuesday morning. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 14-30mm F4 S lens

It’s been a beautiful week here on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park. There is a definite change in the air as late summer unfolds over the park. Subtle signs of the completion of summer and the entrance of autumn can be found if you know where to look.

The summer crowds and families have thinned out a bit during the mid week (weekends are still very busy). Elk can be heard starting to bugle in the meadows of the Kawuneeche Valley and up on the tundra though I would not say the elk rut has officially started as of yet.

Frost can be found on the grasses in the valley and low lying areas and the ground cover is changing color. This is also true of the alpine tundra above 11,000 ft where the short lived green grass is now quickly turning golden and auburn welcoming in fall at this highest elevations of RMNP.

The question most people have, and of course the one most photographers want to know is if there are any signs of fall color amongst the aspen trees of Rocky Mountain National Park as of yet.

There are in fact subtle signs of aspen trees starting to change color in some locations of Rocky. Some aspens above Hanging Valley near Trail Ridge Road are showing some golden leaves now as are some aspens roadside near Hidden Valley. No need to panic as this is typical for any given year and its not uncommon to find a few trees here and there changing color even as early as Labor Day weekend.

While I enjoy seeing the signs of autumn filter in RMNP, I’m still quite focused on working on adding to my portfolio of summer images of the park. The season in the high country is so short, that summer flies by in a blink of an eye each year and before you know it these beautiful and sacred places are covered over in snow and difficult if not impossible to access until next May or June depending on the winter.

We still have at least a month or so of good weather to look forward to. Sure, we could have a snowstorm or two mixed in but access to Rocky Mountain National Park’s higher elevations should be good for another 4-6 weeks.

With that in mind I headed out on the alpine tundra on Tuesday morning to photograph what was one of our best sunrises of the summer. Alpine tarns reflecting the beautiful colors of the sunrise combined with majestic mountains and thick summer grasses are some of my favorite subjects. These are also some of my favorite locations to spent time in during the summer months in Rocky.

Watching a late season summer sunrise unfold over the high landscapes of Rocky Mountain National Park and understanding how fleeting these moments are is both intoxicating and bittersweet. You never forget mornings like this one, while at the same time you understand well that summer is coming to a close and this precious moments in the park are fleeting as always.

One last note. I still have a few morning openings left for my Rocky Mountain National Park Photography tours this fall. As of this writing I still have the morning of 9/16,9/18,9/24, 10/2,10/3 and 10/4 open. If you are interested in any of those dates or dates before or after for a photography tour of Rocky Mountain National Park please contact me via email or phone.

Sometimes It’s Good Enough

Its not first light but the lighting this particular morning along Fern Creek at Odessa Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park still looked pretty good. I had a photography tour client out with me this morning and while he was a little disappointed to put all the effort into getting to Odessa Lake for sunrise, not catching alpenglow and first light due to clouds was quickly forgotten once the sun did break through the cloud cover this morning. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 14-30mm F4 S lens

Whether you are a beginner when it comes to landscape photography, or a seasoned veteran of the craft, we’ve all been there. You have a location you’ve been dying to photography for months or years and the stars finally align and you have now arrived at the said destination.

You’ve played the scenario through in your head multiple times, you have all your camera gear dialed in, you know just what lens you need to use, you’ve been working out and training so you can make the long difficult hike before sunrise and the weather forecast looks promising.

You’ve now done it, you’ve arrived. Only problem is you’ve arrived to find clouds blocking the first rays of sunlight over the landscape. How could this be?. You’ve put in all this time and effort and now that you are standing behind your camera and tripod waiting to trip the shutter the light is not cooperating. Those dreams of alpenglow hitting the mountaintops, while the sky turns pink and red at sunrise will now remain in your imagination only.

For landscape photographers, this scenario plays out all the time. Having a sunrise or sunset busted by by light or no clouds or other weather related factors that take away from our perceived bias on how the scene looks is one of the most frustrating parts of being a landscape photographer.

While I have no actual numbers to base this claim on, I would bet tarnished expectations is one of the leading causes of burnout amongst landscape photographers. There’s no doubt about, putting all that time, effort and money into making an attempt at capturing a dramatic scene can begin to feel like a fools folly when it doesn’t work out.

As a professional photographer and a photography guide in Rocky Mountain National Park I see this scenario unfold often when I have clients out in the field. I’m rooting for my clients to get killer light and conditions more than anyone and when it doesn’t happen I feel for them and empathize with them as I’ve been there as many times in the exact same situation.

For many landscape photographers, the perfect window of light is the 15 minutes before and after sunrise and sunset. No doubt about it that this is the most dramatic window of light during the day. One can build a career off being in the right place at the right time while the light breaks and the landscape is filled with dramatic otherworldly lighting. The truth however, is this happens quite rarely.

When I have photography tour clients out in the field with me in RMNP, I try to manage their expectations and keep them in a positive frame of mind. Sure, we may not get that perfect image of Dream Lake at sunrise, but the light thats appeared a half hour after sunrise once its cleared a cloud bank to the east is pretty darn nice as well.

One of the things I constantly like to reinforce with my students and photography tour clients, is that you can’t only hit homeruns. Sometimes you need to hit singles, doubles and triples to set the tone or in our case our portfolios.

Just last week this very scenario unfolded. I had a client out in Rocky Mountain National Park for a sunrise photo tour. This client was hoping to capture some great images of Odessa Lake and Fern Creek at sunrise. We started early with a 2:40 AM departure from the Boulder area which culminated in the 4.3 mile long hike into Odessa Lake for sunrise.

Conditions looked promising this morning and there were clouds hanging over the divide and Rocky Mountain National Park. All landscape photographers love to have clouds in their composition unless they are blocking the sun. After our moderate hike into Odessa Lake long before sunrise, this is exactly what happened.

6:25 AM came and went and there was no alpenglow on the landscape. No fire red clouds over The Little Matterhorn or Notchtop Mountain. My client while enjoying the experience, the location and the hike in was disappointed that the sun was not shining. I tried to assure him that I thought the sun would make an appearance and while it might not be exactly the light he had envisioned, even the light a little after sunrise can look really good when you are framing Odessa Lake, The Little Matterhorn and Notchtop Mountain through your camera viewfinder.

Finally, after about 35 minutes past sunrise, the sun started to shine down on our location. While there was some disappointment, going through the motions of shooting the scene in front of you can quickly change ones mood. We spend the next 15 minutes photographing various composition at Odessa Lake until we once again lost the sunlight behind the clouds.

The light was moody once it did make an appearance and I could tell that we would be able to capture some really nice images of Odessa Lake and Fern Creek. While it wasn’t exactly the light my client had hoped for, he was very pleased with his images once he was able to get back home and get them downloaded on his computer.

As I try to reinforce with my clients, photography is all about the light. Sometimes the light may not be exactly what you had hoped for, but sometimes the light is just good enough to work.