Summer’s Back Nine

The summer photography season in Rocky Mountain National Park is currently in full swing. To borrow a golf phrase we are entering summer's back nine in Rocky. Wildflowers still look great in the park and now is the time to get out and hike to your favorite backcountry destination. I photographed this beautiful sunset last week on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The beautiful colors of sunset reflect in the placid waters of the Colorado River as seen from the Kawuneeche Valley. Technical Details: Nikon D810, 16-35mm F4 ED VR
The summer photography season in Rocky Mountain National Park is currently in full swing. To borrow a golf phrase we are entering summer’s back nine in Rocky. Wildflowers still look great in the park and now is the time to get out and hike to your favorite backcountry destination. I photographed this beautiful sunset last week on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The beautiful colors of sunset reflect in the placid waters of the Colorado River as seen from the Kawuneeche Valley. Technical Details: Nikon D810, 16-35mm F4 ED VR

I apologize for the recent lack of postings to my blog in recent weeks. It’s full on summer seasons here in Rocky Mountain National Park and it’s been keeping me quite busy. Between guiding clients on photography tours, or getting very early morning starts to head up and out to some of the lakes far in the backcountry it’s been difficult finding sometime to sit down and write up a blog post.

In a nutshell Rocky Mountain National Park is absolutely spectacular right now. Rocky is still very green from all the moisture we had this spring and early summer and the wildflowers in the higher elevations are still looking very good. Wildflowers such as Columbines and Paintbrush look spectacular in the higher elevations and I highly recommend getting out and searching for them while you still can. It may be hard to believe but I’ve already seen frost on the grasses in the higher elevations above treeline and on the alpine tundra already. This means it’s only a matter of time before the wildflowers bid adieu for another season.

Sooner than later autumn color will start to settle into the park and the Elk rut will be underway. Any day now somebody is going to post an image of an aspen tree turning yellow early and make a proclamation that fall season is underway early this year. As is the case every year there is always one or two trees that will begin to show their autumn colors early in Rocky Mountain National Park. So before the autumn season settles in and we begin to lament just how quickly summer comes and goes I highly recommend that you get out into Rocky Mountain National Park and enjoy the back nine of the summer season.

Little Gem’s

Sometimes certain locations fail to inspire us on our first or second visit. For whatever reason this locations may not click with landscape photographers. Sometimes we have our own preconceived notions on how locations should look and photograph. Essentiall we attempt to exert our will on the landscape instead of allowing the landscape to speak to us. I had previously had this very experience at Gem Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Learning to relax and let go of the way I thought Gem Lake should photograph allowed me to open up to all the possibilities present. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-120mm F4 AF VR
Sometimes certain locations fail to inspire us on our first or second visit. For whatever reason this locations may not click with landscape photographers. Sometimes we have our own preconceived notions on how locations should look and photograph. Essentiall we attempt to exert our will on the landscape instead of allowing the landscape to speak to us. I had previously had this very experience at Gem Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Learning to relax and let go of the way I thought Gem Lake should photograph allowed me to open up to all the possibilities present. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-120mm F4 AF VR

I’m guessing that most landscape photographers can relate to this phenomena. You arrive at a naturally beautiful location but have difficulty conveying the location through your images. In other words, the place is just not speaking to you. Two things may occur when this happens. You end up trying really hard to photograph the location only to feel disappointment once you review your images back home. Contrary to the first approach, the second approach may be that you feel completely uninspired by the location, never take your backpack off and you leave your camera packed never to see that light of daylight at said location. Both approaches often leave you feeling frustrated, neither are right or wrong approaches.

I’m a big believer in both visiting a location without a camera when possible as well as an advocate that even if you’re feeling uninspired by a location you should take your camera out and make an attempt to photograph something. It may be difficult to do but sometimes just going through the process of examining and composing fires one’s creative juices and you will find yourself again inspired.

Gem Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park has been one of these locations for me. Gem Lake rests of a small shelf 1.7 miles from the start of the Lumpy Ridge trailhead. It’s a beautiful location in it’s own right and it’s one that many visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park will visit. Gem Lake is very close to Estes Park and the 1.7 mile hike is a fairly easy one. Guidebooks and locals will often recommend this hike to visitors because of the beauty, location and elevation that is lower than many of the other lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. I often get asked by clients if I have images of Gem Lake in my portfolio for sale, of which I did not. This is because I personally find Gem Lake a difficult location to photograph.

While not your typical grand landscape, the rock walls of Gem Lake offered endless possibilities for photography. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-120mm F4 AF VR
While not your typical grand landscape, the rock walls of Gem Lake offered endless possibilities for photography. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-120mm F4 AF VR

Earlier this week there was a nice low layer of fog hanging over Estes Park before sunrise. I decided to hike up along Lumpy Ridge to get above the fog layer and photograph Longs Peak at sunrise rising above the fog and the town of Estes. I’ve been waiting quite awhile for conditions like this and it’s a fairly uncommon occurrence to get a fog layer low enough to cover Estes Park, but not high enough to obscure Lumpy Ridge. So I was fairly excited as I took off up the trail in the fog. As I’ve written before, fog is one of my favorite conditions to photograph in, but fog is a fickle friend. Minute changes in temperature or wind can cause the fog to move or dissipate so it’s always a gamble trying to figure out where to photograph from.

More often than not fog is not going to do what you want it to do. That was the case this particular morning. By the time I was up above town, most of the fog had cleared off from west to east. Fog remained over Lake Estes and I was even able to capture some moody images of the Stanley Hotel as the fog moved eastward. Beautiful clouds hung over the divide and although I was not going to be able to photograph Longs Peak rising above the fog, I was still able to capture a beautiful sunrise, just not the one I had envisioned. The light on the peaks lasted only about 10 minutes or so before it disappeared again behind some clouds. I was about 1/2 mile from Gem Lake at this point and I decided to continue onward and hike up to Gem Lake if only for an excuse for some more exercise and time outdoors.

I arrived at Gem Lake with no intention of taking off my backpack or photographing the lake. For starters the light was fairly blasé as it was now overcast and about an hour after sunrise. Secondly I had visited Gem Lake numerous times in the past with the intention of photographing this popular location and had come away with less than inspiring results. When I arrived at the lake I did what I normally do when I’m out exploring and hiking. I sat along the shoreline, surveyed my surroundings and just enjoyed the quite and solitude.

The unique coloring and striations of the rocks around Gem Lake are unlike any other found in Rocky. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-120mm F4 AF VR
The unique coloring and striations of the rocks around Gem Lake are unlike any other found in Rocky. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-120mm F4 AF VR

For those that have not visited Gem Lake it’s a unique location in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s located on the top of a shelf and surrounded by rocky walls that rise up from its sand and gravel shoreline. It has neither and inlet or outlet stream and is essentially a shallow pool of water in a sandy depression. As I sat on the shoreline relaxing I started to study the rocky walls that rise up out of Gem Lake. The striations, colorations and patterns on the rock is unique and each small section of rock had beautiful and intricate patterns. I started to see potential images everywhere and within minutes had my camera and tripod out and I was now inspired and entrenched, photographing the surface of the lake and the rocky walls that rise above its shore.

So after arriving with no intention on breaking out my camera, I was both busy photographing Gem Lake and inspired. This in a location where I had previously found little to photograph. The combination of lowered expectations combined with time spent on locations relaxing and enjoying the scene instead of trying to photograph allowed a breakthrough so to speak. I’ve experienced this many times in the past and found that being able to relax as well as releasing any preconceived notions of how the scene should look and photograph can allow for a creative breakthrough. Although it may sound somewhat corny to some, sometimes you need to let the location speak to you, not the other way around in order to truly see the beauty and uniqueness these natural places all have.

Early Bloomers

While it may be a little early  in the season for wildflowers in Rocky Mountain National Park, flowers are starting to sprout if you take the time to look for them. Currently Mountain Ball Cactus are blooming in the lower elevations of Rocky Mountain National Park. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 105mm f2.8 Micro AF.
While it may be a little early in the season for wildflowers in Rocky Mountain National Park, flowers are starting to sprout if you take the time to look for them. Currently Mountain Ball Cactus are blooming in the lower elevations of Rocky Mountain National Park. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 105mm f2.8 Micro AF.

Spring keeps settling into Rocky Mountain National Park and were as we move through the first week of May. Of course that means it must be time for a winter weather advisory and some heavy snow this weekend. As I write this post it looks like Rocky Mountain National Park, especially the higher elevations above 8000 ft are looking good for some heavy snows over this Mother’s Day weekend. I’m ready for summer and while Rocky is certainly making the transition towards summer, May snowstorms are in fact, common. So with that being said, why not discuss early season wildflower opportunities in the Park.

Rocky’s climate varies tremendously and when people joke about experiencing all four seasons over the course of a few hours in Rocky they are in fact stating a real possibility. One of the things I find most interesting about Rocky Mountain National Park is not only it’s wildly changing weather and temperatures, but the flora and fauna that must endure and exist in this climate 365 days a year. Late spring tends to bring the biggest snowstorms to Rocky Mountain National Park along with some of it’s most unsettled weather. Even with the threat of large snowstorms and large temperature swings one can find some of Rocky’s early season wildflowers on display if they look closely enough.

Pasque flowers are some of the earliest bloomers in RMNP. Look around the base of Ponderosa pines to find them. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 105mm f2.8 Micro AF
Pasque flowers are some of the earliest bloomers in RMNP. Look around the base of Ponderosa pines to find them. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 105mm f2.8 Micro AF

Some of the first and hardiest bloomers in Rocky Mountain National Park are the Pasque flower and the Mountain Ball Cactus. Pasque flowers tend to be the first wildflowers to appear in Rocky Mountain National Park. Typically they can be found in shady areas at or near the base of Ponderosa pine trees. They grow in small groups and their lavender coloration is subtle and much more understated then their summer wildflower brethren. It’s easy to walk right past a Pasque flower without even noticing it’s there. Pasque flowers which are aptly known as ‘Easter Flowers’ tend to start blooming as early as late March right through April. Pasque flowers can still be found in the park though we are nearing the end of Pasque season.

Another early wildflower bloomer is one of my personal favorites, the Mountain Ball Cactus. When we think of Rocky Mountain National Park the first thing that comes to mind is cactus right?, probably not. When most of us think of Rocky Mountain National Park we think of high mountain peaks, alpine tundra, majestic lakes and snow, not so much cactus. Two forms of cactus actually exist in Rocky Mountain National Park, the first being the Prickly Pear Cactus, and the second being the Mountain Ball Cactus.

The Mountain Ball Cactus can also be found in the lower elevations on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Mountain Ball Cactus tend to bloom in late April through mid May when the cactus springs back to life after going dormant for the winter. Mountain Ball Cactus are small plants and again are fairly easy to overlook. They tend to grown on southern facing slopes and some one of the best places to find them are in Upper Beaver Meadows and along the south facing slopes of Deer Mountain. Mountain Ball Cactus blooms are small but they produce a very colorful and beautiful pink bloom.

Isolation of the subject is one of the reasons I look using Macro lenses for the early wildflowers such as this Pasque flower in Horseshoe Park. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 105mm f2.8 Micro AF
Isolation of the subject is one of the reasons I look using Macro lenses for the early wildflowers such as this Pasque flower in Horseshoe Park. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 105mm f2.8 Micro AF

Photographing Pasque flowers and Mountain Ball Cactus can be challenging. Many photographers will simply ignore these wildflowers, preferring to wait for the summer blooms. When photographing Mountain Ball Cactus and Pasque flowers one has to work a little harder to be creative and capture images that display these wildflowers understated beauty. Unlike the summer wildflowers, one is not going to find fields or large groupings of either of these flowers. You are also not going to be able to create classic near/far compositions of wildflowers in the foreground and mountains in the background. Photographers will need to concentrate on the flowers themselves to create compelling imagery.

I personally like to use a dedicated Macro lens to photograph these blooms. While I don’t often use a dedicated Macro lens when photographing wildflowers, I find these understated wildflowers conducive to Macro photography. Using a dedicated Macro lens in the 100mm range l allows for photographers to eliminate distraction and uninteresting portions of the scene. I like to experiment with my aperture, often using smaller f-stops and apertures to blur the background and allow the focus to be on the wildflowers themselves.

I’m not advocating using only a dedicated Macro lens to photograph these wildflowers, by all means experiment with other lenses in your kit. I am however, advocating to keep an eye out for some of the more subtle and understated beauty in Rocky Mountain National Park. Yes it’s still early in the season for wildflowers but even so there are small pockets of beauty to be found if one just takes the time to look for it.

Navigating Springtime In Rocky

Springtime is a loosely defined term in Rocky Mountain National Park. Spring in Rocky Mountain National Park can mean warm weather and thawing lakes it streams. It can also mean snow, rain or a likely combination of both. This image of Bierstadt Lake from last week is a good example of spring in Rocky Mountain National Park. Snow had fallen the previous two days on Bierstadt Lake but the lake remained open and free of ice. Just a small sliver of the sun at sunrise pierced the horizing making the snow caked pines glow red in the beautiful but brief light show at dawn. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 16-35mm F4 ED VR
Springtime is a loosely defined term in Rocky Mountain National Park. Spring in Rocky Mountain National Park can mean warm weather and thawing lakes it streams. It can also mean snow, rain or a likely combination of both. This image of Bierstadt Lake from last week is a good example of spring in Rocky Mountain National Park. Snow had fallen the previous two days on Bierstadt Lake but the lake remained open and free of ice. Just a small sliver of the sun at sunrise pierced the horizing making the snow caked pines glow red in the beautiful but brief light show at dawn. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 16-35mm F4 ED VR

After what seemed liked a mostly mild winter followed by an above average month of precipitation in April, spring and the coming approach of summer are becoming readily apparent in Rocky Mountain National Park. This time of year in Rocky is not only transitional, but dynamic and greatly varied.

Stretches of mild and warm days in Rocky can be quickly followed by weather systems that bring cold and snow back to the park. Conditions also vary greatly based on elevation right now. The lower elevations of the park such as Moraine Park, Horseshoe Park and Beaver Meadows are all but free of snow. The Big Thompson as well as Fall River are starting to run swiftly with the spring snow runoff. Grasses are greening in the lower elevations and some wildflowers are just starting to bloom.

Move on up in elevation to places like Dream Lake and spring is not quite as apparent in the higher elevations of Rocky Mountain National Park. Currently about half of Dream Lake is covered under a sheet of ice. The remaining layer of ice should start to melt of quickly moving forward but unsettled weather all week is likely to slow progress. The east inlet of Dream Lake is open though much of the shoreline is still covered in snow. Nymph and Bear Lakes are still mostly covered with ice while lakes such as Sprague Lake, Bierstadt Lake and Cub Lake are now open and free of ice.

More signs of spring with Cub Lake thawed and green grasses growing along the edge of Cub lake. Soon the Pond Lillies that adorn Cub Lake during the warmer months will begin to grow and bloom.  Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 16-35mm F4 ED VR
More signs of spring with Cub Lake thawed and green grasses growing along the edge of Cub lake. Soon the Pond Lillies that adorn Cub Lake during the warmer months will begin to grow and bloom.Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 16-35mm F4 ED VR

National Park Service crews are busy working on Trail Ridge Road clearing all the snow from the winter. With a little luck from the weather, Trail Ridge should be open again by May 22nd if there are not any major setbacks from late spring snowstorms. Having Trail Ridge Road back open not only signals the start of the summer season, but it opens up a lot of new opportunities for photography.

So as of right now, many seasonal changes are taking place in Rocky Mountain National Park. Lakes are thawing, grasses are greening and wildflowers are beginning to bloom in some of the lower areas of the park. Keep in mind that conditions can and do change quickly this time of year. After a few temperate days, winter may descend right back on the park coating the landscape in white, freezing over the lakes and making the trials difficult to navigate.

So when it comes to photography my advice is to stay flexible and try to keep a handle on the changing and variable conditions. Look for dramatic sunrises unfolding over some of the now unfrozen lakes. If it’s rainy or gray be prepared to use the diffused light to your advantage and photograph moving water and waterfalls. Keep and eye out for newly budded aspen tree’s who’s beautiful and glowing translucent green spring leaves do not get nearly the amount of love they do when they turn golden in the fall. In a nutshell be prepared for just about any and all types of photography and embrace Rocky’s topsy turvy season known as spring.

Photographing Big Mac’s

Photographing icons is always and interesting experience as a landscape photographer. Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park is one of the most photographed locations on the entire planet. Mesa Arch is iconic for a reason but expect to be joined by lots of other photographers making similar images or an often photographed location. While it can be fun to photograph icons, it can also be stressful and less rewarding then photographing lesser known locations. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 16-35mm F4 ED VR
Photographing icons is always and interesting experience as a landscape photographer. Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park is one of the most photographed locations on the entire planet. Mesa Arch is iconic for a reason but expect to be joined by lots of other photographers making similar images or an often photographed location. While it can be fun to photograph icons, it can also be stressful and less rewarding then photographing lesser known locations. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 16-35mm F4 ED VR

I’ve just returned from a few amazing days out in the red rock country surrounding Moab,Utah. Specifically, I spent time photographing Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. It was certainly a nice change of pace and it’s always fun to get out of your comfort zone and work in different surroundings. In the past I’ve spent a fair bit of time photographing the area around Moab, mostly with my 4×5 large format film camera. Even so, it felt like it had been eons since I last photographed the area.

With my photography focusing mostly on Rocky Mountain National Park and a four year old daughter at home, I’ve spent much less time photographing the red sandstone of Utah then I care to admit. Finally however, I had the opportunity to return to the desert for a few days of photography and fun. I must admit I felt both a bit out my element while also torn deciding which locations I should attempt to photographs. Moab and the National and State parks surrounding the town are filed to the brim with iconic locations to photograph. At times it seems as if you only have to go a few hundred yards to find yet another iconic western vista. In the past I’ve photographed many of these locations and over the course of the last few years I’ve seen thousands of jaw dropping compositions on both magazine covers and on the internet.

This of course led me to question both what I was seeking to accomplish photographically speaking and furthermore how did I feel about standing next to a dozen or more other photographers while trying to make a meaningful connection to the landscape as well as meaningful images. Guy Tal, a Utah based photographer and writer whom I greatly admire once commented, and I’m paraphrasing here that photographing Mesa Arch was like going to a five star restaurant and then requesting the chef make you a Big Mac. Guy’s sentiment certainly resonated with me.

So after spending a few days photographing some of the lesser visited locations in and around Moab, I wrestled with the thought of heading over to Mesa Arch in Canyonlands as I peered out my hotel window at the cloudless nighttime skies. Without clouds in the sky, Mesa Arch seemed like the most logical location to head out too. Dramatic skies are always a great asset for landscape photographers but Mesa Arch is one of those locations that can be dramatic both with or without a cloud in the sky. Could I do it?. Did I really want to head out to Mesa Arch, claim a spot early and then line up with throngs of other photographers to shoot sunrise from one of the most photographed locations on earth?.

With some reservation and a lot trepidation I decided I would indeed head out early and at least experience photographing at Mesa Arch once again. It had been nearly 12 years since I had last photographed Mesa Arch, so I figured at the very least I could not be accused of personally photographing a location to death.

I arrived at the Mesa Arch parking lot over two hours before sunrise. Even though I believed I had arrived early, I found the parking area bustling with activity and headlamps. Most of the parking spots had been filled and I could see other photographers preparing their equipment and gear for the short hike to Mesa Arch. I’m grumbled a bit to myself as I grabbed my bag and headed out on the trail toward the arch. Perhaps I thought by some fluke only one or two other photographers would decide to show up this day. In reality I may was in a bit of denial myself over where my decision to photograph had led me.

When I arrived at Mesa Arch I found three or four other photographers already setup. We joked about all descending on this ‘hidden gem’ at the same time, exchanged pleasantries and attempted to work as courteously with one another as possible. Within 20 minutes or so of arriving and setting up, a workshop had joined the photo line along with more photographers. Just before sunrise someone took a head count and it was just under sixty people waiting for the sun to rise under Mesa Arch.

It was a different and unique experience that morning at Mesa Arch. The only similar scenario I can think of would be standing along Maroon Lake photographing the Maroon Bells at the peak of fall color season. Maroon Lake however, has a lot more space and shoreline than does the area surrounding Mesa Arch so one does not quite have the same sense of crowding like you do in the tight confines around Mesa Arch.

After what seemed like an eternity, the sun rose, I made some pleasing images of this iconic location. I had some nice conversations with other photographers but felt a total sense of relief as I hiked back out to my car after sunrise. Hiking out the stress of shooting this busy of a location quickly receded and faded. I could hear the birds in the tree’s and smell the sweet spring air again. I thought about Guy Tal’s comment. I chuckled to myself and thought, ‘I’m good for another twelve years’.

Winter Overtime

Spring is just around the corner but we've still got two of the three snowiest months in Colorado ahead of us. It's a good time of year to bear down, get out in the inclement weather and capture some of your best winter images of the season. I made this image of Horseshoe Park from above Trail Ridge Road last week during pristine winter conditions. Maybe I'd like to be on a beach, but this is now the time to photograph some of your best winter scenes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-120mm F4 ED VR
Spring is just around the corner but we’ve still got two of the three snowiest months in Colorado ahead of us. It’s a good time of year to bear down, get out in the inclement weather and capture some of your best winter images of the season. I made this image of Horseshoe Park from above Trail Ridge Road last week during pristine winter conditions. Maybe I’d like to be on a beach, but this is now the time to photograph some of your best winter scenes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-120mm F4 ED VR

Winter is finally winding down in most parts of the country. It’s been an historic winter in many parts and most of us are ready to move on with the cold and snow. Only fourteen more days to go until the calendar officially reads spring. We will turn the clocks ahead tonight and while the sun will now rise an hour later, it wont set until after 7:00 PM now. The change is seasons is perceptible now, spring fever is officially setting in. Warmer days filled with hours and hours of sunlight can not be far of right?.

For the most part this is true. Except a funny thing happens here in Rocky Mountain National Park and the Front Range of Colorado come spring time. It tends to snow, and when it snows, it snows a lot. So while Spring Fever is setting in, March our snowiest month of the year is upon us, with April our third snowiest month of the year waiting in the wings. So while the days keep getting longer and the temperatures more mild, the chance to get out and photograph the landscape in a pristine coat of fresh powder will only be increasing here in the next two months.

For me personally March and April feel a bit like going into overtime after a tough fought four quarters of Basketball. Winter is almost over, fatigue has set in but it’s time to suck it up, dig down for a little more motivation and get out there in the field. Instead of complaining or pining for warmer weather, finish strong and make some of your best winter images before the season here does transition over to warmer weather. Winter may still have a few doozy’s up her sleeve, but before you know it the lakes will thaw, flowers will bloom and Trail Ridge Road will open for the season.

Keep It Simple

It's easy to let gear choices overwhelm you and confuse you when out in the field. Some of the best advice I can give is to keep it simple. This was the case last week when I photographed these four Bull Elk crossing a meadow in Horseshoe Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. I only had a 70-200mm which is not typically a 'wildlife' focal length. Needless to say it helped me create this 'Elkscape' which was one of my favorite images of the day. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 70-200mm F4 ED VR
It’s easy to let gear choices overwhelm you and confuse you when out in the field. Some of the best advice I can give is to keep it simple. This was the case last week when I photographed these four Bull Elk crossing a meadow in Horseshoe Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. I only had a 70-200mm which is not typically a ‘wildlife’ focal length. Needless to say it helped me create this ‘Elkscape’ which was one of my favorite images of the day. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 70-200mm F4 ED VR

Most photographers I know love gear and equipment. Theres no doubt about it, shiny new stuff is fun and exciting. Sometimes that shiny new gear’s even useful and dare I say necessary when it comes to photography. Photographers, myself included can sometimes let our gear overpower and interfere with our power to create and make images. When it comes to photography and gear there is certainly times when one can have too much of a good thing.

Those who have been following my blog know that at the end of October I sold off some of my excess Canon equipment and purchased a small Nikon system consisting of a Nikon D810 and a handful of Nikkor lenses. So as not to bore anyone with the reason I did this, essentially I wanted to test out the Exmor sensor in the D810. For my photography I find the additional dynamic range of the sensor useful. I considered the the 36 megapixel sensor to be and additional benefit but not something I felt I required. Needless to say I’ve been very impressed with both the D810, the Exmor sensor as well as the small kit of Nikon lenses I put together. The greatest benefit however, has been minimizing my kit and working with a much more limited group of lenses.

Working with a smaller kit has allowed me to refocus on creating images instead of fumbling with lens choices and focal lengths. It’s been refreshing to say the least to essentially be working with a 3 lens kit of a 16-35mm, 24-120mm and 70-200mm with the D810. My Canon kit consists of 16-35mm,24-70mm,70-300mm,100mm Macro lens and 24mm and 17mm TS-E lenses. Granted I did not always lug all these lenses around but I would still have to make a conscious choice prior to heading out into the field as to what lenses I would keep in the bag. I also keep a Canon 100-400mm in the front seat of my truck in case I stumble along some wildlife while driving around the park. Needless to say, my Canon kit gives me a lot of choice. Perhaps to much choice.

Besides the benefit of more mental focus when working with a smaller kit, the added benefit of creating stronger images has also became apparent when photographing in Rocky Mountain National Park last week. It was a snowy winter day in Rocky. A perfect day as far as I’m concerned for landscape photography. Heavy snow and fog enveloping the tree’s, peaks and valley of Rocky.

After spending a good bit of the morning photographing the conditions in and around Horseshoe Park, I stumbled upon a group of twenty or more Bull Elk that had bedded down to weather the storm out. It was a poignant scene. The large group of Bull’s, covered in snow, large antlers still in tact congregated together with snow falling. For a split second I panicked. The longest lens I had in my Nikon kit was a 200mm. There was no way I was going to be able to make a meaningful image as the Elk were to far off in the distance with that short of a lens.

As I was berating myself for not having a longer lens with me, some of the Bulls got up and moved across the meadow in a line for the cover of the trees. I had my 70-200mm on my D810 and figured I’d make an attempt to photograph the line of Bulls. I figured with the higher resolution of the D810 I could possibly crop the image later to help negate the shorter focal length of my 70-200mm. I framed the four Bull Elk walking across the meadow and a funny thing happened. I realized the shorter focal length was a benefit, not a hinderance. Showing these majestic creatures in their habitat was more powerful than a frame filling head shot of an Elk would be.

The image I captured of the four Bull Elk walking across the meadow in heavy snow turned out to be my favorite image of the day. When I got back to my computer and started sorting through my images it occurred to me that if I had a longer lens with me I would have completely missed the shot. Most likely I would have had a longer focal length lens on my camera and would have likely been making an attempt to photograph one or two of the Elk with a longer focal length, completely missing the wider image of the Elk in their habitat. It was a bit of an epiphany for me. Photographing with less instead of more helped me as opposed to hindered me. Overtime it’s easy to end up with more than is necessary. Try working with less and keep it simple, the results might surprise you.

Working Gray

It's the time of year again. Winter doldrums have set in and it's easy to leave the camera bag in the closet and find other things to do with your time. Gray winter days are the worst and often times its difficult to get inspired on gray days to get out in the field. While things may not be as dramatic, conditions can still be quite favorable for creating unique and compelling images. This particular day was not looking very good when I entered Rocky Mountain National Park. I found the cloud layer, hoar frost and fog just above Nymph Lake. I spent an entire morning shooting more intimate landscapes which were quite rewarding to me. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 70-200mm F4 ED VR
It’s the time of year again. Winter doldrums have set in and it’s easy to leave the camera bag in the closet and find other things to do with your time. Gray winter days are the worst and often times its difficult to get inspired on gray days to get out in the field. While things may not be as dramatic, conditions can still be quite favorable for creating unique and compelling images. This particular day was not looking very good when I entered Rocky Mountain National Park. I found the cloud layer, hoar frost and fog just above Nymph Lake. I spent an entire morning shooting more intimate landscapes which were quite rewarding to me. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 70-200mm F4 ED VR

For some landscape photographers, cloudy days can be the bane of their existence. Combine cloudy days with your typical winter doldrums and some landscape photographers may avoid heading out to photograph all together. Cold weather, lack of a dramatic sunrise or sunset and subjects like streams and waterfalls frozen over narrows down the amount of options one has in the field to work with. While I cant argue it can be more difficult creating compelling images, cloudy and grey winter days still can produce dramatic, moody and unique images if one keeps and open makes sure to get the camera out of the bag. Here’s some ideas for those less then optimal grey winter days.

Go where the snow is. Cloudy gray days with no fresh snow are very challenging to photograph in. The weather here in Colorado during the winter months can vary greatly over a short distance. Much of our winter weather is determined by both elevation as well as which side of a mountain range your on. Depending on locations of weather systems, one side of a mountain range may be more optimal for producing snow then another. Here on the Front Range we are typically on the leeward side of the mountain range. This means that while it may be snowing very heavily on the windward side of the range only a dozen or so miles away, the leeward side has little in the way of clouds or snow. This is common here in the winter months of Colorado with snow falling heavily on the west side of the Continental Divide while little snow and mainly winds occurs on the east side of the Divide. This scenario will reverse often act in the inverse when ‘upslope’ conditions are occurring on the east side of the Continental Divide. On days like these it’s best to either head over to the west side of the Continental Divide, or head higher up in elevation on the east side of the Continental Divide where blow over from the storm may be causing snow to fall. The downside of staying on the east side or leeward side of these conditions is that it’s likely to be very windy.

Ponderosa Pines on a cloudy gray day near the summit of Flagstaff Mountain west of Boulder. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 70-200mm F4 ED VR
Ponderosa Pines on a cloudy gray day near the summit of Flagstaff Mountain west of Boulder. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 70-200mm F4 ED VR

Head out on days when inversions or a low lying cloud layer form either during or after a storm. Sure it may be cloudy and gray with little to no snow down along the lower elevations of the Front Range, but you may have fog and snow and higher elevations if conditions are more favorable a little higher up the mountainsides. Typically inversions occur along the Front Range when we have ‘upslope’ conditions or winds that are blowing in a north easterly direction. A couple of positive outcomes may occur if you head out into the cloud layer caused by and inversion. First you may be lucky enough to actually get above the cloud layer and into clear or sunny skies. Obviously the ability to get above the cloud layer creates all sorts of opportunities for dramatic landscape photography. Secondly, even if your unable to get above the inversion layer, you may be able to get at or near the transitional zone where fog, snow, and hoar frost are occurring. Snow, fog and pines coated with ice or hoar frost can lead to limitless possibilities for photography. Personally, this is one of my favorite kinds of weather conditions to photograph in. Familiar landscapes take on a anonymous like quality. Suddenly iconic locations, photographed time and time again are incognito and allow for new viewpoints and photographic interpretations. When conditions are like this, the landscape truly transforms into a winter wonderland.

Lastly on cloudy and grey days I’ll parrot the advice I consistently give to photographers not just on cloudy and grey days, but anytime they are out in the field creating images. Pay attention to the details and look for the little things. Study the bark of a Ponderosa Pine to see if the details, patterns and colors warrant a deeper look?. Look for subtle transitions in color such as the red willows along a creek or stream. Take a look down at your feet and study those ice fractures and patterns on the surface of a frozen lake or stream. Fractures and patterns on the ice will never look the same. Each inch on the surface of a piece of frozen ice will be different and unique. Even the coloration of the ice will vary greatly depending on your locations, the depth of the water and the location of the water which is frozen.

Wnen in doubt, look down and look for interesting patterns in the ice like these at Dream Lake. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 105mm Micro AF
Wnen in doubt, look down and look for interesting patterns in the ice like these at Dream Lake. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 105mm Micro AF

It’s going to be more difficult making dramatic images on cloudy grey days, especially in winter. Even so, remember that while the lighting is less dramatic on grey days, the soft diffused glow of a cloudy day on the landscape allows photographers the opportunities to explore and revisit compositions that may not be feasible on sunny days when the lighting is more direct and harsh. The longer I photograph the more I desire and appreciate cloudy days and soft diffused grey light which they bring to the landscape. So even if its cloudy and grey, grab your camera bag and head outside to make some images. Your imagery may be more subtle, but its also likely to be more original and unique as well.

Winter Fatigue

It's that time of year again. Were fully immersed in the winter season and winter fatigue may be starting to set in for some. It can be hard to be motivated to get out when the weather turns cold and snowy, but this time of year can yield some beautiful images and classic Colorado scenes. It was a cold and snowy day when I photographed these beautiful Ponderosa Pines on the side of Flagstaff Mountain just west of Boulder. Sure I'd take some warm weather, but being out in the elements during a Colorado winter is exciting and rewarding. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-120mm ED VR
It’s that time of year again. Were fully immersed in the winter season and winter fatigue may be starting to set in for some. It can be hard to be motivated to get out when the weather turns cold and snowy, but this time of year can yield some beautiful images and classic Colorado scenes. It was a cold and snowy day when I photographed these beautiful Ponderosa Pines on the side of Flagstaff Mountain just west of Boulder. Sure I’d take some warm weather, but being out in the elements during a Colorado winter is exciting and rewarding. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-120mm ED VR

Cold, snow, ice and wind. That’s how 2015 has been progressing so far here on the Front Range of Colorado. 2014 ended on a cold chilly note and 2015 picked up the baton from 2014 and has been providing much of the same. My personal mantra as well as many other landscape photographers I know’s of ‘bad weather = good image’ holds true as ever. Commitments have prevented me from taking full advantage of this unsettled weather and unfortunately I have not been able to get out in the field to take advantage of this winter weather to make images.

Fortunately for me my schedule should be freeing up shortly and I am planning to take full advantage of my time and get out in the field early and often in the coming weeks. 2014 was one of my most productive years as a photographer and I plan on carrying and building on that momentum right through 2015. It doesn’t feel quite right watching the snow and wind howl from the comforts of a heated office while I should be out in the elements with frozen fingers and toes doing what I love to do and attempting to capture the essence of winter here in Colorado. So while winter fatigue may be setting in and daydreams of beaches, chaise lounges and margaritas cloud your mind, take advantage of the winter weather and immerse yourself in it. I know that’s what I’ll be doing soon enough.

Waving Goodbye To 2014

2014 has been a banner year for me. I've been able to devote more time in the field in Rocky Mountain National Park then any other previous year. I'm hoping to continue forward with the momentum I've built and continue to add to my portfolio of Rocky Mountain National Park in 2015. Even though 2014 is nearly complete, I'm still trying to sneak in a few more images before 2015 greets us. I photographed this beautiful view of the Mummy Range yesterday after Rocky Mountain National Park was covered with a foot of fresh powder. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-120mm F4 ED VR
2014 has been a banner year for me. I’ve been able to devote more time in the field in Rocky Mountain National Park then any other previous year. I’m hoping to continue forward with the momentum I’ve built and continue to add to my portfolio of Rocky Mountain National Park in 2015. Even though 2014 is nearly complete, I’m still trying to sneak in a few more images before 2015 greets us. I photographed this beautiful view of the Mummy Range yesterday after Rocky Mountain National Park was covered with a foot of fresh powder. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-120mm F4 ED VR

2014 is quickly coming to a close. It’s truly unbelievable how quickly 2014 passed by, something each progressive year seems to do at a more expedited pace then the previous year. 2014 was a watershed year for me. I made numerous changes to both my photography and personal life that allowed me to spend more time in the field, specifically Rocky Mountain National Park as well as devote more time honing my craft and working on my portfolio of images.

It’s been my goal for sometime now to be able to devote more time in the field photographing Rocky Mountain National Park and this year everything came into alignment and allowed me to dedicate myself to photographing Rocky on a near daily basis. It’s been productive and enlightening to be able to spend so much time in a place that I feel a very deep connection to, one that feeds my soul and creative muse. I’m hoping to continue to build momentum and continue to grow and improve my portfolio of not only Rocky Mountain National Park as well as the area around Boulder and the Boulder foothills and mountains.

My to-do list of locations to photograph keeps growing and even with the ability to dedicate as much time as I have done in the past year, sometimes there just aren’t enough days in the year or hours in a day to get to all the locations one dreams about when looking over a map. So I’ll keep pushing ahead enjoying the time I able to get out into the field and make an attempt to avoiding fretting over missed sunrises and locations realizing one can only be so many places at a time.

As 2015 approaches I’m looking forward to moving my photography business forward while continuing to learn new skills and improve my craft. I’m also looking at providing a photography guide/tour service for photographers in Rocky Mountain National Park. I’m still in the process of working with the Park Service, but should by the start of spring by licensed, insured and registered with Rocky Mountain National Park to provide photography tours within the park. Look for more information and rates on my web site in the near future regarding photography tours in Rocky Mountain National Park.

So with a spate of snow and arctic cold weather bearing down on us here in Colorado I’m going to do my best to see if I can still manage to create a few more images before 2014 waves goodbye and we usher in 2015 and wrap a nice bow on what has been a banner year for me.