Great To Finally Be Back In Rocky!

Sunrise In Moraine Park after Rocky Mountain National Park reopened
Like seeing and old friend, I was finally able to get back in Rocky Mountain National Park after a nearly 70 day hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I spent my first morning along the Big Thompson river enjoying sunrise and some nice clouds from Moraine Park. I cant wait to spend as much time as possible this summer photographing Rocky Mountain National Park again. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikon 24-70mm F4 S lens

Just like seeing and old friend, heading back up into Rocky Mountain National Park after a nearly 70 day hiatus felt great. In one sense it felt surreal heading back into the park after all the craziness of the past two plus months of closures and lockdown. In another sense it felt just like riding a bicycle again.

While the park reopened on Wednesday May 27th, I did not head up until the morning of Thursday May 28th for my first visit since the lockdowns occurred from the pandemic. NPS did not remove the barriers and get the roads opened until after 6:00 AM on 5/27 so it was not possible to be inside the park for sunrise which occurred at 5:38 AM.

Much of Rocky is still closed and there is limited access to other locations. I expect more things to open in the near future but the park service is dealing with limited staff and housing for its seasonal workers as they filter back. Currently Trail Ridge Road is not open (Rainbow Curve on the east side on the Colorado River Trailhead on the west side). Wild Basin remains closed and its unsure if Old Fall River road will open to automobile traffic this year.

Starting next week, June 4th to be exact, Rocky Mountain National Park will have a timed entry permit system enacted between the hours of 6:00 AM and 5:00 PM. If you are planning on visiting the park between those hours you will need to go online, pay a $2 fee and reserve a time slot to enter Rocky Mountain National Park. The park is allowing about 13,000 visitors a day to enter. 90% of the reservations need to be made 48 hrs in advance although the park will allow a small amount of passes to be released 24 hrs before entry.

I’m still trying to figure out my photography tour service into Rocky Mountain National Park and how I will be conducting photography tours moving forward. My commercial use permit to operate in RMNP will allow me access to the park anytime so this will benefit clients of mine who would like access to the park and possibly were unable to secure a permit in time.

Figuring out how to maintain social distancing both in a vehicle and on the trails where I often have to assist clients hiking and climbing over obstacles is more difficult. Much of this will come down to prospective clients comfort level, photographing, hiking and traveling through the park with me. I’m telling all prospective clients to contact me and we can discuss the difficulties and realities of scheduling a photography tour in Rocky Mountain National Park during the current pandemic.

With that said, my tour business has taken a big hit already due to the closure and pandemic. I plan on being out in Rocky Mountain National Park as much as I can be this summer and will use the free time I now have to explore and photograph areas of the park I have not visited recently or have wanted to revisit. I’ll do my best making lemonade out of lemons and hope we will see some return to normalcy by the end of the season and hopefully into next year. In the meantime I’ll be photographing and enjoying getting back out into Rocky more than you can imagine. Stay tuned here and I’ll update conditions and status often. If you would like to schedule a photograph tour feel free to drop me an email with your questions and I’ll be happy to answer any and all questions.

Good News

Good news is that Rocky Mountain National Park will be reopening on May 27th. Things will be very different this season and the NPS will be instituting a timed entry permit system which will make photography access more difficult. That being said, for as long as possible I’ll be getting out to locations this one on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park to enjoy the beauty and solitude. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 14-30mm F4 S lens

Finally some good news to report here. After being closed for over two months, Rocky Mountain National Park announced on Tuesday, May 12th that they were planning on starting a phased reopening of the park starting on Wednesday, May 27th.

Superintendent, Darla Sidles, along with Visitor Use Specialist, John Hannon held a meeting with the Estes Park town board on Tuesday night to explain the plan for reopening moving forward. It’s great that Rocky Mountain National Park will reopen on May 27th, but whats apparent from listening to park officials, is that it’s not going to be business as usual.

Details are still being hammered out, and as of this writing the Department of the Interior has not yet approved the reopening plan, but assuming they do, things will be very different in Rocky this summer.

The biggest proposed change will be limiting the number of visitors to the park each day through the use of a timed entry permit system. NPS park officials will use a timed entry permit system between the hours of 6:00 AM until 5:00 AM to limit the number of visitors to Rocky to no more than 13,500 a day. This will help to prevent overcrowding at trailheads, parking issues and allow the Bear Lake shuttle busses to run at half capacity. Of course this is all being done to allow for proper distancing and spacing as they try to mitigate the effects of the Covid-19 virus from spreading.

With the timed entry permit system, 90% of the permits will have to be reserved at least 48 hrs prior to visiting Rocky. As I currently understand it, Rocky will allow 10% of the permits to be held back and released 48 hrs prior to a visit to accommodate a very small segment of visitors arriving at the last minute. There are many dynamics currently playing out in regards to visitation to RMNP right now, but one thing is apparent. Rocky does not want visitors showing up unprepared at the last minute, or people from the Denver area making spur of the moment day trips to visit the park. If you plan on visiting Rocky Mountain National Park this summer, park officials want you to be prepared, with a reserved permit and time slot in hand.

Obviously this is going to have a tremendous impact on visitation to Rocky Mountain National Park as well as the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake. How it effects photographers is yet to be determined.

As I currently understand it, if you arrive before or after the 6:00 AM until 5:00 PM timed permit window, you will be able to access RMNP. Superintendent Sidles said this policy will continue “at least until we realize there are 10,000 people going in before six … then we would adjust that.” So while it appears photographers may have a window to access the park without applying for the limited permits, be forewarned that this policy could quickly change if park officials feel its becoming unwieldy.

Park officials stated in the meeting that they are still working out many of the smaller details and policies. Much of this will be adjusted and re-evaluated at the end of June so look for park policy to continue to be fluid and evolve.

As for the status of my photography tour business. I’m currently evaluating what I can and cant do adhering to the CDC social distance policies as well as the parks timed entry permit system. Currently, photography tours are on hold because I don’t see a way I can manage the permit system and travel in vehicles while adhering to recommend social distance spacing. Using multiple vehicles and having to manage multiple permits does not seem like a prudent policy from both an ethical standpoint or an environmental footprint standpoint.

I’ll continue to update the status of my photography tour services and I’m hoping by later in July, I may be able to resume booking photography tours for the late summer and fall season in Rocky Mountain National Park. Meanwhile, I be out photographing in the park as much as I am able and will be keeping my fingers crossed that the current policy remains in place so that access to park is still possible during off-peak times.

Working Through Limbo

One of the last mornings I was able to spend in Rocky Mountain National Park prior to it closing due to the current COVID-19 pandemic was spectacular. Snow and frost covered the ponderosa pines along Deer Mountain. I’m hoping that we are seeing a little light at the end of the tunnel and that sooner than later we all may be able to visit Rocky Mountain National Park again as well as the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 AF-S VR FL lens

I’m still here. Still dreaming about long hikes to pristine alpine lakes deep within the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park for a sunrise shoot. Photographing wildflowers, the intoxicating smell of a pine forest after a night a rain, or the clap of thunder echoing through the rocky cliffs and canyons as afternoon monsoonal thunderstorms roll in over the divide. All these thoughts and memories keep me hopeful that sooner than later we may be able to start to return to some sense of normalcy as we begin to emerge from the past month or so of living through and with a pandemic.

It’s been difficult to get out and photograph. I’ve got some great places close to my house that I can walk or bike to, but staying motivated and more importantly avoiding the distraction of all that is going on around the world makes photographing the landscape seem trivial at times.

The good news is that we may be seeing some improvement and signs for hope moving forward. While I expect some of the summer season to be impacted by the lockdown and travel restrictions here in Colorado, I’m hoping that we will begin to see access begin to open up by the time summer rolls around.

What exactly the thats going to look like I have no idea. The impacts of the pandemic on our collective psyche combined with the economic destruction the lockdowns will have on the travel, tourism and service industry can not be understated.

Travel, tourism and the service industry account for a large portion of Colorado’s as well as the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake’s economy. Even during good times, running any of these business successfully and profitably are extremely challenging for a variety of reasons.

The competition for tourist and visitor dollars is fierce and when you combine that with the seasonality of travel to this region, there is zero margin for error. As it stands, best case scenario might be a loss of 2 or more months of business. It’s likely it will be longer than this and obviously the situation is still very fluid as of this writing.

Obviously my concern is not only that people remain safe and healthy but that the many hard working small business owners in Estes Park and Grand Lake are able to weather this storm. Many of these people are my friends and although its many peoples dream to live and work in the mountains, I am acutely aware of how difficult and stressful this is for even some of the most successful business owners in both towns.

I’ll be ready to start my photography tours as soon as we get the ok to do so and Rocky Mountain National Park reopens. More importantly, I’ll be thrilled and ready to see the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake come back to life with visitors packing the streets and sidewalks of town. Heck, I may even enjoy getting stuck in traffic on Elkhorn Ave. in downtown Estes Park for once. Stay safe and healthy.

What Now?

With a statewide stay-at-home order in effect here in Colorado, I wont be making any trips up to Rocky Mountain National Park or Boulder in the foreseeable future. The current pandemic is restricting mobility but will allow many photographers to explore their own backyards. I photographed this image here in my hometown of Erie, Colorado yesterday morning. Behind the windmill is Rocky Mountain National Park 40 or so miles west of my location. Mount Alice,Meeker,Longs Peak and Mt. Lady Washington can all be seen catching the warm light of sunrise. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 AF-VR FL lens

In the words of the great philosopher Ron Burgundy, ‘Well that escalated quickly’. In our current reality, keeping up with the latest closures, restrictions and advisements is becoming a full time job in and of itself.

First it was maintaining space and social distancing while out in public. Next it was a closure of Rocky Mountain National Park by the National Park Service and then the town of Estes Park. Finally, Boulder County issued a stay-at-home order along with other counties here in Colorado. The coup de grace finally coming when the governor of Colorado extended the stay-at-home order to extend to the entire state of Colorado in response to the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus.

Late last week I was hoping I would still be able to access Rocky Mountain National Park and the foothills of Boulder along with its great open space properties. Photography tours were out of the question but I figured I could continue to photograph, hike and get out in nature and enjoy solitude as I always do.

With the stay-at-home order extending throughout the state of Colorado thats not going to be happening anytime soon. So what am I going to do to pass time, stay busy, enjoy the outdoors and prevent my photography skills from getting rusty?. Thats fairly easy, I’ll photograph the areas in my hometown of Erie which I can walk, hike or bike to. Luckily for me, I live right along open space.

Coal Creek runs right behind my house and acts as great conduit for nature. Birds, Prairie Dog colonies, coyotes, foxes and some great sight-lines of the mountains including Rocky Mountain National Park will help to keep me occupied and outside during this difficult time.

So for the near future, look for most of posts either on my social media accounts or here on my blog to be images close to my house and easily accessible via walking or biking. While I cant wait to get out and get back into Rocky Mountain National Park or the parks of Boulder, photographing in my backyard, something I often dont have a lot of time for, will now become a fun project to dive into. We’ll see how it goes and I would suggest other photographers now restricted to their local municipalities to do the same. It may not be as glamorous as one of our iconic national parks, but it will keep you occupied, outside and your skills sharp.

New Reality

As of this writing, Rocky Mountain National Park is still open for business. While the impacts from the Corona Virus (Covid-19) have been debilatating here in Colorado, I’ll still attempt to keep some normalcy in my routine and will get out as long as I can to enjoy nature and continue to photograph that beauty. Even amongst all the grim news of this new reality, mornings like yesterdays in RMNP still allow for reprive and renewal. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens

There has been quite a lot going on since my last post to the blog. The now well known Corona virus or Covid-19 as its known was picking up steam in Asia and starting to affect Europe. While I had been following developments since early January, much of what was going on seemed far off and distance. While I knew with our interconnected world, the virus would eventually appear in the United States, it was hard to know what the impact would be on the United States as well as Colorado.

Here I sit on March 18th, 2020 and the impact of Covid-19 is more than most of us could have imagined. Major cites in the United States are on lockdown and travel has been curtailed in most locations. Currently for Colorado, and more specifically Rocky Mountain National Park the impacts have been severe but not yet crippling.

With restaurants and bars closed with the exception of pickup only, and most of my fellow Coloradans working from home or furloughed, the prudent thing to do limit contact with others in public places and follow the CDC guidelines for our newest catch phrase regarding ‘Social Distancing’. Life has been greatly altered and the apprehension and anxiety that goes with having daily life turned upside down is palatable.

The current situation makes landscape and wildlife photography seem unimportant in the grand scheme of things. While this may have merit on many levels, the truth is being out in nature is still just as important as it ever has been. Trying to adhere to some form of a daily routine is important to allow for normalcy and furthermore, at some point in the future we will move forward from our current situation.

With Rocky Mountain National Park still open with recommendations that social distancing and CDC guidelines be adhered to, I will continue to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park as long as access is possible. It’s a nice distraction to the wave of news that many are exposed to far too long as we isolate in our homes and apartments waiting for the next ball to drop.

So I’ll keep photographing Rocky Mountain National Park as long as I can as we move through this crisis. Photography tours and workshops are still possible during this time but precautions and space will be needed to do so. The situation is constantly evolving so this may change in the near future and it’s possible access and travel could be further restricted.

I’ll keep the blog updated and for some reason if I cant photograph Rocky Mountain National Park or the areas around Boulder in the near future due to restricted access or closings, I’ll find something to photograph and post to the blog.

Lets keep our fingers crossed that we can get through this difficult time quickly and with as little collateral damage as possible to our personal and work lives. As always, nature is still there doing her thing with little regard to what humans are doing or thinking. She still acts as a great reprieve and renewal and even during these difficult times we should attempt to keep some normalcy in our current new reality. Stay safe out there.

Mummy Reveal

We had lots of snow and winter weather in Rocky Mountain National Park this February. Even with it being an active month in Rocky, photographing the winter conditions in Rocky proved to be more difficult than one would think it would be. Even with that said, we had some beautiful conditions over the park last Wednesday as a new system moved in at sunrise with fog and sunlight. From the side of Deer Mountain, I was able to get a fleeting glimpse of Ypsilon Mountain basking in the sun as Horseshoe Park filled with fog just before the snow started flying. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 AF-S VR FL lens

With it being a leap year, February gets one extra day this year. Even with an extra day this month, February is nearly over and March is almost here in Rocky Mountain National Park. With a very mild January preceding February, the weather pattern in Colorado changed quickly and we had a much more active month.

Even with February being a very active month weather wise, as is always the case with RMNP, capturing winter images is always more difficult than it appears it should be. We had plenty of snow this month, but as is the case more often than not on the east side of Rocky, snow was often followed with clear bluebird skies the following morning and or gale force winds. Timing of the storms also made it tricky and photographing upslope systems above the clouds or being in Rocky as a storm cleared proved illusive in February.

There were still some interesting mornings, and although photographing the iconic peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park covered in fresh snow proved difficult in February, last Wednesday the 19th was a spectacular morning to be out.

Last Wednesday morning, a new system was moving onto the Front Range of Colorado. Snow would begin to fall just after sunrise, but would wrap up and clear out before Thursdays sunrise. While the landscape itself was free of snow, the unsettled weather created some great atmospherics just as the sun was rising over the eastern plains.

Fog is a rarity in Rocky Mountain National Park, so anytime I get a chance to be out in the field photographing it, I get excited. As the upslope system moved into Rocky, fog began to fill Horseshoe Park and Moraine Park. Longs Peak, Hallett Peak, and the Mummy Range all played peak-a-boo with color and light.

From a ridgeline along Deer Mountain, with a commanding view of most of the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park, I was able to take in the show. Sure it would have been epic if snow had covered all the landscape, but I’ll take the fog and beautiful atmospherics any day.

The great news as we move into March, is we are entering the best time of year to capture winter images in RMNP. The lighting in the park is at it’s most favorable and the months of March, April and May will all yield great opportunities to capture spring storms moving through the park. Even better, we are moving closer to the summer season and sooner than later we will be photographing the peaks of Rocky reflecting in placid mountain lakes or cruising over Trail Ridge Road again. Regardless, it’s we are entering prime season for winter photography in Rocky and I’m looking forward to see whats in store this year.

The Snow Moon And A Little Luck

The waining Snow Moon sets behind Stones Peak and Moraine Park on a beautiful winter morning in Rocky Mountain National Park. This idyllic scene looks great with fresh snow covering the landscape. While I’d love to say I planned out photographing the Snow Moon setting over Stones Peak, luck was on my side this morning as I just happened to be in the right place at the right time when the moon set. Technical Detail: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 AF-S VR FL lens

Being in the right place at the right time certainly benefits a photographer. Nothing will net you more usable and portfolio worthy images then being in the field as much as possible. In my opinion there is no single variable in photography that will yield a better return of investment than spending it in the field. Of course understanding light, being in beautiful locations and having a reasonable understanding of how to work your camera and equipment will all add to your yield.

Sometimes, there is something a little more going on than just being out in the field opening yourself up to the opportunities presented on a particular shoot. Every so often, if a photographer spends enough time in the field, they are going to stumble upon an opportunity. Call it serendipity, call it luck, or for the more mathematically inclined call it probability.

Spend enough time out and about and you will find that every now and then you are just going trip over a good photograph. This was exactly the circumstance I found myself in yesterday morning in Rocky Mountain National Park.

February’s unsettled weather has been the complete antithesis to the mild and calm weather we had in Rocky in January. Unsettled weather and living on the edge of weather systems are where we landscape photographers butter our bread.

After another night of snow, I headed up to RMNP hoping to capture the landscape covered in fresh snow. Winds were supposed to be moderate and while the forecast was not looking great for lots of cloud cover in the morning, I don’t want to be sitting in my office watching a beautiful sunrise unfold thinking I should have just headed out.

Sunrise yesterday in RMNP was indeed mostly clear. There were some clouds hanging on the Continental Divide but for the most part the skies lacked any great drama and color. I spent the early morning photographing the town of Estes Park just before sunrise before heading back into Rocky Mountain National Park to see if I could find any wildlife or landscape to photograph.

The winds were starting to pickup in the park by the time I arrived and it was cold. Estes Park was -7 degrees Fahrenheit when I arrived and when I headed into Moraine Park my temperature reading on my truck was -13 degrees Fahrenheit(wind chill not included). My plan was to cruise the roads in Moraine Park and look for elk, coyote, deer or anything else that might be of interest on the snow covered landscape.

Driving past the group of cabins along the Big Thompson River, I decided to photograph this location I’ve photographed many times before. With fresh snow covering the meadow and mountains and some clouds and blowing snow making for some interesting atmospherics, it seemed a worthwhile proposition to setup and hang out in the snow.

While I was aware of full Snow Moon that had taken place just two days prior, I had not the slightest inkling or idea where the now waining Snow Moon would be setting or even if there was potential in photographing it.

Setting up along the Big Thompson River in the -13 degree morning air and started framing my composition with my 70-200mm lens attached to my Nikon Z7. This particular composition is trick in that trees, fences and other distracting elements allow very little leeway on setting ones composition. Go wide and you have distracting pines, willows and fences in your image. Shoot to tight and you will cut off the tops of the mountains in the distance and your composition will be unbalanced.

I setup and settled in on my composition. The cabin looked beautiful covered in fresh snow as did the South Lateral Moraine and Spruce Canyon in the distance. The winds were picking up and snow and clouds were blowing right down Spruce Canyon making for postcard like winter scene. While the lighting was about an hour after sunrise, the warm winter light illuminated the entire scene in front of me. As is always the case, I’m always pleased when I can capture the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park after a recent snowstorm. As I’ve stated many times before, doing so is much more difficult than one would think here in Colorado.

Firing off the shutter, I took a few images. I then noticed something that I hadn’t when I first setup my composition. The now 2 day waining Snow Moon was setting just above Stones Peak. In a few minutes the Snow Moon was be in the perfect position as it set behind Stones Peak. You couldn’t ask for the Snow Moon to set in a better spot. With fresh snow covering the landscape, and the Snow Moon setting in the upper right corner of the image, all I had to do was wait a few minutes for it to descent into my frame.

They say luck favors the prepared, but as I watched the Snow Moon descend right into the perfect spot in my frame, I couldn’t help but think there was a little more going on here. All the variables had come together in this tight little location and composition to make and image that I likely would not have succeeded in doing if I had planned. Whatever force of nature, karma, or good luck this morning, I walked away feeling a good bit of gratitude that for whatever reason, I ended up in the right spot at the right time and most importantly, capture a beautiful winter image.

Winter Photography In RMNP Recap

Ypsilon Mountain catches the first rays of sun on Wednesday morning of this week. Fresh snow still clings to the pines and the face of Ypsilon Mountain is covered in the white stuff. Winter photography in Rocky Mountain National Park is very challenging. Follow some of the suggestions I’ve laid out below to help improve your chances of capturing some classic winter images in the park. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 AF-S VR FL lens

Nearly all landscape photographers I know, love getting out in the winter and photographing winter scenes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Snow covered peaks, trees draped in snow and beautiful winter light draw photographers up to Rocky in the middle winter.

As I’ve written about before, photographing in Rocky Mountain National Park during the winter months is much more difficult than it looks. After a mild January, February has arrived with plenty of snow and unsettled weather. Here’s a couple quick tips and reminders to help improve your chances of capturing some great winter images in RMNP.

First, keep in mind that access to much of Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter is limited and once off the plowed roads can be much more difficult to travel through than summer months. Trail Ridge Road (Many Parks Curve), Old Fall River Road, Upper Beaver Meadows Road, and most of Wild Basin Road will all be closed in after the first big storms. With these roads closed, getting around the park and working with the conditions can be difficult. You cant just decide to head up over Trail Ridge Road because thats where the clouds are or the Kawuneeche Valley has fog. You will have to be creative and photograph along Bear Lake Road and the areas of Trail Ridge Road and US 36 that remain open.

Secondly, hiking or snowshoeing in the park to locations away from the roads is much more difficult than hiking during the summer months. Snow on the trails can make them difficult to follow and slipping and sliding along the route in the cold weather and wind will require more exertion and more importantly time to get to your destination. Microspikes or snowshoes are a must as is the proper cold weather gear. Plan on giving yourself plenty of time and dress in layers as you will perspire into your location only to be standing around in the cold and wind cooling down quickly waiting for the sun to rise.

Account for the wind. Wind in Rocky Mountain National Park is probably not only the most difficult and trying aspect to photographing in RMNP, but its also the type of weather you are most likely to encounter on a winter visit to Rocky. There are very few days in Rocky Mountain National Park in winter when one wont encounter a stiff breeze or a hurricane force gale. Keep in mind that if the weather forecast calls for 30 mph wind gusts in downtown Estes Park, plan on adding at least 20 mph to that if you are going to hike up to Dream Lake for sunrise. Standing on the ice at Dream Lake with your camera and tripod setup with 50 mph wind gusts nearly knocking you down makes it very difficult to capture images, let only keep the camera steady enough for sharp images. Also keep in mind that the the small thin pine needles found on the evergreens that dominate Rocky’s landscape will not hold fresh snow for very long once the wind quickly blows it off the trees.

Another important aspect to keep in mind during the winter months is the fact that all the lakes and streams in the park will be frozen solid. Reflections are my number one request from RMNP Photo Tour clients. Many are surprised to hear that capturing snow covered peaks reflecting in streams or open water in Rocky is nearly impossible by mid November. There may be a small opening of water here and there along a larger stream, but for the most part lakes and streams will be covered solid with ice and snow until late in the spring.

The sun angle in Rocky Mountain National Park is also another variable that needs to be accounted for in the winter. Rocky’s most popular area in the summer for photographers are not necessarily the great for photography in the middle of winter. The area along Bear Lake Road and the lakes that emanate out of the Glacier Gorge trailhead and Bear Lake trailhead are all oriented north and east. This means the northern angle of the sun during the summer months lights these areas perfectly. During the middle of winter, the sun is at its farthest point south on the horizon leaving many of these areas in shadow or backlit. Ranges such as the Mummy Range however have a southeast facing orientation and get spectacular light during the winter months. It’s also hard for me to think of a range in the park that looks better after a fresh snow than the Mummy Range.

Lastly, some of the best times to head out in Rocky Mountain National Park for winter type photography is the end of the fall and the back end of spring. On the Front Range of Colorado we tend to get our strongest snowstorms in October and or March, April and May. These storms move in and out quickly after dumping lots of snow. Winds tend to not be as intense these times of year and more importantly, one can often find lakes and streams either not yet frozen, partially frozen or thawing out. Even better, later in the spring the sun is rising fairly north in the sky and the popular locations along Bear Lake Road will be lit as well as they are during the summer months.

Truth be told as we head into February, the lighting is getting better and our chances for good snow and quick moving storms are now getting better. Keep your expectations reasonable, watch the weather forecast, and plan on capturing winter images now right through May and you should be able to add some classic winter images of Rocky Mountain National Park to your portfolio.

Backlighting Longs

A backlit sunrise over Longs Peak on Saturday morning takes shape. I was headed up to Dream Lake for sunrise Saturday morning with a photography tour client when the wind and weather changed our plans. We opted to photograph the backside of Longs Peak over Glacier Gorge as clouds, snow and high wind obscurred our chances at Dream Lake. The lighting this morning was perfect for backlighting and if we had pressed on to Dream Lake, we would have missed this opportunity. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 AF-S VR FL lens

One of my favorite kinds of light to use when photographing landscapes is backlighting. In some ways backlighting goes against the basic principles of photography. We are taught early on that we should have our source of light behind or on the side of our subject. This was especially true during the days of film photography.

Latitude and dynamic range with film photography was very limited, especially with transparency or slide films like Fuji Velvia or Kodachrome 25 or 64. You could certainly backlight subjects during with film, but often you would have little to no details in the shadow areas and the results would be a hard silhouette.

Todays digital sensors have so much dynamic range, that there is still plenty of detail in the shadow areas of the frame which allows one to become even more creative with the light. If you combine backlighting with first light or the soft lighting the occurs just before dawn or right after dusk, you can open up opportunities to photograph subjects and locations at times that typically might not be considered perfect.

This was the case on Saturday as I had a client out in the field. The original plan was to photograph Dream Lake at sunrise. The winds were blowing pretty good when we left downtown Estes Park, headed for the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. I knew if the winds were blowing this hard into town that we should just figure on at least doubling the gusts by the time we reached the Bear Lake parking lot.

Sure enough it was blowing pretty hard up at Bear Lake but with some light snow flurries coming down and some nice cloud structure in the sky over RMNP, we figured we could deal with the wind up at Dream Lake and possibly be treated to a really nice sunrise over Hallett and Flattop Mountain.

Heading up the snow trail towards Dream Lake, and orange glow like an orb began to form over the high plains of eastern Colorado. With sunrise almost an hour away the clouds were over Rocky Mountain National Park were already starting to glow magenta, red, yellow and orange. Blowing and falling snow were adding to the atmospherics and things were looking good.

We took a little longer than expected to get up the trail as my client had just flown in the night before and was working and a short nights rest. Looking over Glacier Gorge towards Longs Peak and the Keyboard of the winds showed great promise as the kaleidoscope of color formed over Rocky’s tallest peak and only 14er.

We stopped to give my client a rest and shoot the predawn light that was really starting to explode. While the color was great the winds were howling now. From time to time, I could just see the tomahawk edge of Hallett Peak come in and out of the clouds which had cloaked most of the divide at this point. Amazingly, Longs Peak and Glacier Gorge were for the most part free of being cloaked in clouds and only had clouds move in and out of the landscape periodically.

With Dream Lake appearing to be a bust, and the sunrise really starting to ramp up, I opted to set this shot up with my client and take advantage of the backlighting and color east and south of Longs Peak. While we weren’t going to be able to capture sunrise at Dream Lake this morning, I knew we would have some great backlighting that would be more dramatic than we would have had up at Dream Lake.

It’s a good lesson in not only having a backup plan when out shooting, but also one in which you look to work with the conditions presented to you as opposed to the ones you hoped for. We could have pressed on to Dream Lake and ended up with windburn, but instead we chose to photograph Longs Peak at the wrong time of day. Regardless we came away with some beautiful images of Longs Peak in dramatic winter lighting, while we learned the importance of taking advantage of the conditions given that particular morning.

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.


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