Nikon D810 Musings

Sunrise this morning over Eagle Crest Mountain, The Big Thompson River and Moraine Park. To date the Nikon D810 has impressed me with its ability to handle scenes with high dynamic range like this one from this morning in Moraine Park. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 18-35mm F3.5-4.5 ED lens
Sunrise this morning over Eagle Crest Mountain, The Big Thompson River and Moraine Park. To date the Nikon D810 has impressed me with its ability to handle scenes with high dynamic range like this one from this morning in Moraine Park. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 18-35mm F3.5-4.5 ED lens

Were now firmly in whats known as ‘Shoulder Season’ in Rocky Mountain National Park and the two towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake that border Rocky. The autumn leaves are off the tree’s, the Elk rut has wound down and the throngs or visitors to Rocky, Estes, and Grand Lake has decreased considerably. Even with our mild weather to date, the cool nights have frozen over much of the surfaces of the higher lakes and at this point it’s only going to take one cold front and some snow to propel Rocky Mountain National Park into full winter mode. As of this writing it looks like that cold weather event will be upon us by next week.

It’s easy as a photographer to take a step back from making images and waking in the middle of the night to make it to your destination before sunrise. Grasses have turned golden or brown and the westerly winds seem to blow unabated each day. While it’s certainly a little less glamorous of a time to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park then say summer and fall, there are still unlimited opportunities for ‘wow’ type moments and images to be had.

I’m also using this time to continue to give the Nikon D810 a full shake down in the field. As I stated last week, I picked up a Nikon D810 with a modest set of Nikkor lenses to put the famous 36 megapixel Sony Exmor sensor through its paces. Clean, pliable, high dynamic range files at low ISO are very useful for the images I create when out in the field.

My Canon’s have served me very well and over time I have been able to adjust to the limitations of my Canon bodies and sensors to create images the reflect my vision. Even with that being said, I’ve seen very little improvement in low ISO files on my Canon bodies and quite frankly my 2007 Canon EOS 1Ds III had cleaner lower ISO files then my 2012 5D Mark III does. I’m really hoping Canon takes a hard look at low ISO dynamic range and again becomes a class leading innovator in this area. In fairness to Canon their sensors at high ISO until very recently were class leading and Canon continues to add innovate and update lenses in their lineup setting them apart from every other camera manufacture. As has been said many times, photographers don’t buy a sensor, they buy a camera system. As a whole, Canon is still a very attractive and innovative system. Even so, at this time I believe it’s only fair to give the Nikon D810 and it’s class leading low ISO sensor a whirl to see if it indeed does live up to the hype and potentially help to aid my image making.

If your looking for a full on review of the Nikon D810, your looking in the wrong place. There are plenty of great sites on the internet with in-depth reviews, charts and test images. Periodically, I will use this space to reflect on my experiences with the D810 and what my real world impressions are of the camera and sensor from the perspective of a landscape photographer who typically does not need to photograph at ISO’s higher than 400.

Here are a few thoughts after having the camera in hand now for a week and having sometime to use it in the field. I expect some of my impressions to change overtime as I get used to the new interface of the Nikon system. While I was a Nikon user 15 years ago, the past 15 years of Canon usage has more or less erased all my Nikon ‘muscle memory’ so to speak and the first and most difficult thing I’m dealing with is seamlessly working with the camera in the field. I still feel quite disjointed using the D810 but I expect this to dissipate quickly with more use.

First off some of the negatives of the camera from my perspective as a Canon user. The menu system is not nearly as easy to navigate as Canon’s. While it’s not as quirky as some other reports make it out to be, to me at least it’s not nearly as intuitive as Canon’s layout.
Secondly, I miss the Canon quick control dial on the back of the camera. On the D810 there are two dials to adjust shutter speed and aperture, to my liking the quick control dial is much more easily found and accessed when one’s eye is pressed against the viewfinder. Thirdly, Live View is still very much behind Canon’s implementation. As a former 4×5 large format shooter, I use Live View religiously to check focus on my images. Canon’s Live is quick, responsive, detailed, accurate and also acts to lock the mirror in the up position during shooting to prevent additional camera shake. One of the reasons I never purchased the Nikon D800 was because I had heard Live View was more or less useless. The image on the screen was an oversampled image and not a true representation of what the viewfinder was seeing. The Nikon D810 Live View supposedly addressed this and improved upon it. While it apparently no longer over samples the image on the LCD, it’s quite jumpy when trying to zoom and its still difficult for me at least to gauge if I’m actually in focus, especially in dim lit conditions which is often the case in the predawn hours that I’m out.

Lastly, I am finding the color balance on the Nikon to be more difficult to work with. For the most part, I very much enjoyed the color balance of the Canon sensors and the Canon’s do a very good job setting a proper white balance. The Nikon on the other hand at least to me tends to lean to a more yellowish coloration and I often find I really need to play around with the white balance to get it more to my liking. Even so, none of those issues are deal breakers for me and I’m already well on my way to making adjustments.

As for some of the positives, there are quite a few. First off and most important to me is the low ISO dynamic range of the sensor. To date I have been blown away with the quality of the sensor. The files from the D810 are like rubber. It is very easy to push and pull shadows and highlights with little degradation to the image file. No banding, no chroma noise in the shadows and clean skies. All things I constantly had to adjust and fight with when processing files from my Canons. The native 64 ISO of the D810 creates a beautiful clean raw file to work with when exposed properly. This of course is why I purchased a D810 and to date I’m really impressed at just how much cleaner the files from this camera are.

Secondly, I am impressed with the 3 Nikkor lenses I am using on the demanding 36 megapixel sensor. With the exception of the Nikkor 14-24mm F2.8 lens which has now achieved legendary status, I had heard mixed reviews on some of the Nikkor lenses. When I shot Nikon’s back in my film days I had always been extremely pleases with Nikon glass but with pixel peeping, demanding sensors and the internet amplification affect I was a little unsure of what to expect from the 3 lens kit I have chosen. To be clear, my Nikon kit is much more modest than my Canon one, but I still need lenses that will perform on the D810 when used between F8 and F13 which is where I do 95% of my landscape shooting. The 18-35mm F3.5-4.5, 24-120 F4 and 28-300mm F4-5.6 have all proven very capable to date. While I’m guessing I may make some slight adjustments to this kit if I continue to move forward with Nikon, I feel I can cover most of my bases with this current setup.

So in summary after a week with the D810 I’m very pleased with the quality of the files coming from the camera. I would say to date, the files from the D810 have exceeded my expectations. I’m pleased with my current lens kit and at this point other than having a lens wider than 18mm, I dont see the Nikkor lenses as a weak point in the system. Live View needs lots of improvement and Canon’s is still far superior. Overall I’m still getting used to the menu’s and ergonomics of the D810 but I expect these to fade with more usage. As always, the most important thing is not gear. It’s one vision, passion for the subject and ability to put themselves in the field often that will lead to true growth and improvement. Overlook these and it wont matter what camera or lens you own.

But It’s An Afternoon Shot!

To date my favorite image that I've created from the Rock Cut along Trail Ridge Road. I almost passed up photographing from the Rock Cut this week because typically it's considered best to photograph during the afternoon. In reality, there is no such thing as optimal times to photograph a landscape, only optimal lighting conditions which can come in the morning as well as the afternoon. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
To date my favorite image that I’ve created from the Rock Cut along Trail Ridge Road. I almost passed up photographing from the Rock Cut this week because typically it’s considered best to photograph during the afternoon. In reality, there is no such thing as optimal times to photograph a landscape, only optimal lighting conditions which can come in the morning as well as the afternoon. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II

It’s an afternoon shot. Typically that’s what I would tell people who asked me for a recommendation as to when the best time to photograph from The Rock Cut along Trail Ridge Road is. While mostly true, the more I photograph locations in Rocky, especially iconic ones, the more I find equally as pleasing images when photographing during times that are considered less ideal. This also applies to exploring and photographing from vantage points that may not actually highlight the actually icon or depict the iconic scene seared into our consciousness.

Having just returned from my fall jaunt to photograph autumn colors in New York State, I was keeping my fingers crossed that Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park would stay open while I was out of town. Mostly mild weather over Rocky Mountain National Park allowed Trail Ridge Road to stay open into this week. For those not familiar with Trail Ridge Road, it’s the highest continuous road in the United States and reaches and elevations just of 12,183 ft above sea level. Typically Trail Ridge Road is closed during the first significant snow storm of the season which on average usually pans out to be the third week of October.

Essentially at this point in the season any inclement weather is likely to close Trail Ridge Road at Many Parks Curve on the east side of Rocky and the Colorado River Trailhead on the west side of Rocky for the winter season. So as soon as I set foot back on Colorado soil, I was dead set on spending time photographing along Trail Ridge prior to it becoming a long, cold, and difficult winter hike.

Tuesday was the first day I was able to get out to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park. With conditions looking promising for a nice sunrise, up Trail Ridge Road I headed long before the break of dawn. I drove Trail Ridge Road all the way to Medicine Bow curve trying to decide where I wanted to photograph from. Normally, I’ll spend a few afternoons photographing from the Rock Cut, but I had yet to do so this year.

The sunrise was looking very promising and the early morning glow was just starting to color the skies over the eastern plains of Colorado. A large lenticular cloud was forming east of Longs Peak and the skies to west had started to clear. The Rock Cut seemed like the perfect vantage point to take in sunrise. ‘It’s an afternoon shot’ is the thought that raced through my head. With little time left to mess around with what now looked like a slam dunk sunrise, I headed to the Rock Cut. I was prepared to go down in flames for photographing a location that’s supposed to be an afternoon shot.

Thoroughly enjoying a rare late October morning at just under 12,000 ft, with a light breeze and mild temperatures, I grinned ear to ear as sunrise unfolded and my shutter clicked with the constantly changing hues of a spectacular sunrise. I often have to relearn this lesson, but mornings like these are a great reminder. There is no such thing as a morning or afternoon location. There is good light, great light and spectacular light, chase the light, not the location!.

Quickly Fleeting Fall

Fall is quickly slipping into winter in Rocky Mountain National Park. Fall color seaons in Rocky is quickly making it's exit and Winter is knocking on the door. Fresh snow coats the pines over Glacier Gorge and the Bear Lake area on Tuesday morning as Rocky's second winter storm of the seaons dumped snow on the higher eleveations of the park. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L
Fall is quickly slipping into winter in Rocky Mountain National Park. Fall color seaons in Rocky is quickly making it’s exit and Winter is knocking on the door. Fresh snow coats the pines over Glacier Gorge and the Bear Lake area on Tuesday morning as Rocky’s second winter storm of the seaons dumped snow on the higher eleveations of the park. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L

Fall in the Rockies is like natures great tease. Golden foliage, warm days and sunshine make it a favorite among many. Then, wham!. Snow, wind and freezing temperatures put a quick end to the beautiful and easy pace of autumn in the high country. As discreetly as autumn weaves its way into the meadows, forests and canyons that make up Rocky Mountain National Park, Old Man Winter arrives with all the subtlety of a canon blast.

This week Rocky has gotten it’s second significant blast of cold winter weather. The first blast which arrived on September 10th was too early to cause any damage to the foliage and in my opinion did nothing to dampen what was a very good color year in Rocky Mountain National Park. This second cold blast however has caused snow to fall over Rocky three nights in a row. Trail Ridge Road has been closed down because of snowdrifts 2-3 ft high according to the NPS and much of the Autumn foliage has either fallen or is now past peak.

The Elk Rut is still in full swing in Rocky Mountain National Park but even it's pace has slowed in recent days. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 100-400mm F4-5.6 IS L
The Elk Rut is still in full swing in Rocky Mountain National Park but even it’s pace has slowed in recent days. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 100-400mm F4-5.6 IS L

There are however, a spotty areas of fall color in Rocky Mountain National Park which may hold up through the end of the week. Higher elevations such as Bear Lake have been past peak for over a week now so I wont go into much detail regarding color status in those areas.

The Bierstadt Moraine is pretty much done. There are a few decent stands near the base of the Moraine but otherwise it’s pretty spotty. Moraine Park will still have some color through the week. There are still a fair amount of aspen stands that are mostly green. The aspens in Lower Beaver Meadows and near the Beaver Meadows entrance station are a past peak. There are a few decent stands with color and one should be able to frame Longs Peak with some color into the weekend. There are a few smaller groves in Upper Beaver Meadows that are just starting to turn and may offer some of the best late color in the park.

The Horseshoe Park area is also now past peak. Most of the larger aspen groves in Horseshoe Park are past peak and have dropped their leaves. There are a few isolated trees and groves hear and there in Horseshoe Park that still look good. If you take your time there is the potential to photograph more intimate scenes of color in and around Horseshoe Park.

The aspens on the west side of RMNP were past peak as of last Saturday. I would expect most trees to be well past peak on the west side at this point in time. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 100-400mm F4-5.6 IS L
The aspens on the west side of RMNP were past peak as of last Saturday. I would expect most trees to be well past peak on the west side at this point in time. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 100-400mm F4-5.6 IS L

I’ve not been over the the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park since Saturday. At that time much of the color was just past peak. I would have to believe that this last storm has stripped many of the tree’s of their leaves in and around the Kawuneeche Valley. The large stand of aspens at the Timber Creek trailhead was well past peak as of last Saturday. Even though the foliage in most of Rocky Mountain National Park is now past peak, many of the grasses in Moraine, Horseshoe and the Kawuneeche Valley are now golden and looking very good.

Lastly the Elk Rut is still underway in Rocky and while the Elk are very active in Moraine, Horseshoe, Beaver Meadows and the Kawuneeche Valley, especially at dusk and dawn their seems to be a noticeable turn down to the intensity of the rut at this point in time. As always theres a million things to do and photograph in Rocky Mountain National Park. Regardless of the seasons or the weather the next few weeks photographers should have little problem staying busy and creative.

Rocky Mountain National Park Fall Color Update

I photographed this beautiful rainbow over the Bierstadt Moraine yesterday morning. This view gives one a good idea what the current fall color conditions are like in Rocky Mountain National Park. While the higher elevations are at peak or just past peak, lower elevations should be good for the next week or so. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L
I photographed this beautiful rainbow over the Bierstadt Moraine yesterday morning. This view gives one a good idea what the current fall color conditions are like in Rocky Mountain National Park. While the higher elevations are at peak or just past peak, lower elevations should be good for the next week or so. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L

It’s hard to believe it but we are now well into fall in Rocky Mountain National Park. It seems like just weeks ago the lakes were thawing and the snow was melting. The Elk rut is well on it’s way and as of this writing, we are for the most part at peak, or just past peak for fall color in most of the higher elevations of Rocky. As always, fall is fleeting and much to short.

This years colors were spectacular. We survived an early season snowstorm on September 11th through the 12th which did little damage to the trees or the vibrance of the colors. I’m not exactly sure why, but many of the aspen groves in Rocky Mountain National Park had vibrant reds and oranges along with your more typical yellow coloration. So here are the latest observations and recommendations regarding the current status of fall colors in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Even though the winds of the last few days have stripped many of the aspens of leaves at higher elevations. Places like Boulder Brook are great when the forest floor is covered with fallen aspen leaves. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 16-35mm F4 IS L
Even though the winds of the last few days have stripped many of the aspens of leaves at higher elevations. Places like Boulder Brook are great when the forest floor is covered with fallen aspen leaves. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 16-35mm F4 IS L

Overall, fall color in Rocky appears to be peaking three to five days earlier than an average year. In my opinion the higher elevations of the park, specifically the Bear Lake, Glacier Gorge and Bierstadt Moraine peaked somewhere around Sunday 9/21 to Monday 9/22. Starting on Sunday 9/21, the weather became a bit more unsettled in the park. Rain and gusty winds on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday have stripped many of the aspen tree’s around Bear Lake of their leaves. Bierstadt Moraine, while just past peak still was holding on fairly well as of Tuesday.

Lower elevations of Rocky Mountain National Park such as Moraine Park and Horseshoe Park are certainly showing their colors as well with much of the scrub and underbrush having already turned. The aspens in the lower elevations are starting to turn as well, and barring that the wind does not wreak to much havoc on the leaves, should be looking good into next week.

So what would I recommend as far as photographing the fall colors in Rocky Mountain National Park over the next week?. There are still plenty of opportunities but I would emphasize looking past grand landscape type views and instead concentrate on photographing the remaining autumn color on a smaller scale. Locations such as Boulder Brook look great right now. This is one of those locations that looks better when the aspens have dropped from the tree’s and line the forest floor and banks of Boulder Brook with gold. I could spend hours and hours right now photographing along Boulder Brook.

There is still plenty of fall color to photograph in the park. Look for smaller scenes of peak color like this one along the base of Bierstadt Moraine. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
There is still plenty of fall color to photograph in the park. Look for smaller scenes of peak color like this one along the base of Bierstadt Moraine. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II

Bierstadt Moraine still has quite a few stands of large aspens that are still looking good. Instead of looking to photograph the entire moraine, concentrate on finding batches of golden aspen trees and work those areas. The ferns along the moraine are looking very good right now so look low for compositions of colorful ferns and fallen aspen leaves. Beaver Meadows, Moraine Park and Horseshoe Park will also be providing ample fall color over the next week. Instead of looking to spend time around Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge, look for locations in the lower elevations to provide a colorful backdrop.

So while the fall colors may be just past peak now in most of the areas of Rocky Mountain National Park, there still should be plenty of opportunities to photograph fall color for the next few weeks. Stay open and flexible and if the grand landscapes are past peak, look to smaller scenes to find unique compositions.

Have Your Cake

It's hard to keep hiking by The Loch when it looks like this. This is the view I had from the western edge of The Loch this particular morning. This was just to nice to pass up even though photographing this scene caused me to miss sunrise from Sky Pond. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L
It’s hard to keep hiking by The Loch when it looks like this. This is the view I had from the western edge of The Loch this particular morning. This was just to nice to pass up even though photographing this scene caused me to miss sunrise from Sky Pond. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L

It’s been an age old issue in landscape photography since it’s inception. When conditions are dynamic but changing should you settle on one location or perhaps move to another location that may yield an even better image. Even more difficult, should you make an attempt to photograph two locations in a hurried fashion?. The second approach leaving one essentially attempting to try and both have your cake and eat it. The risk may pay off in multiple images in conditions that are rare and often no duplicated, or of course it may backfire and leave you scrambling around with nothing to show for frenetic efforts once the dust settles.

Generally speaking I advocate taking a more methodical, contemplative, mindful and less hurried approach to photography. There are times however, when spectacular conditions combined with equally spectacular locations transcend one’s contemplative approach and we throw caution to the wind and let our excitement overrun our sensibilities.

I’ve run into this quandary often when out photographing in the field. Conditions for dynamic landscape photography look perfect. The stars are aligning in your favor. The earlier morning hike to an alpine lake 4 miles from the trailhead looks like its going to reward your hard work in getting to the remote location long before sunrise.

Of course there’s that pesky little voice inside your head that both harbors doubt,questions your original intent and begins suggesting different or more favorable destinations. For me, I may find myself questioning whether my original location is really going to be ‘the shot’. Maybe a seed of doubt has now been planted, maybe that next alpine lake another mile higher will be even more dramatic. And for those now concerned for my health, don’t worry this is all part of the creative process for me. It’s my discussion with my muse, it’s my attempt at rationalizing something that most rational people wont attempt to accomplish. Somewhat counterintuitive as it may seem, it can actually be a way for me of being more immersed in the moment. I’m sensing, feeling, moving all the while attempting to anticipate how the ‘moment’ is going to unfold before my eyes and camera.

I found myself in this very situation a few weeks back. The plan was to get to the Glacier Gorge trailhead early so that I could be up at Sky Pond for sunrise. Arriving at the trailhead a little after 4:15 AM I found the skies over Rocky Mountain National Park still covered with clouds. Skies to the east over the plains of Colorado were clear so the conditions were shaping up to be perfect for this four and half mile trek up to Sky Pond. Sunrise was around 6:15 AM, so this particular morning so I had a good amount of time to make it to my destination but not so much that I could dilly dally along the way.

The consolation prize. Lake of Glass and Taylor Peak at sunrise. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L
The consolation prize. Lake of Glass and Taylor Peak at sunrise. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L

I set out from the trailhead with my headlamp lighting the way feeling pretty good about my prospects. Clouds drifted overhead and the wind was still as I bounded along the trail. I made it to western edge of The Loch in good time. I stopped briefly to survey the eastern horizon to confirm there were still nice breaks in the clouds. Sure enough it looked great, maybe too much so. It was not even 5:30 AM but the pre dawn colors had already begun to explode in the sky and The Loch was still as glass. While I was set on photographing Sky Pond, the little voice inside my head said ‘you have to photograph this!’. Anyone who has attempted to photograph Loch Vale enough times knows windless mornings are rare, and windless mornings with beautiful clouds even more so. I glanced at my watch and attempted to reason with myself. If I was going to photograph from Sky Pond and give myself enough time to setup, I really needed to keep moving. I’ll be quick I figured, Just a few exposures and I’ll be on my way.

So I quickly setup my tripod and camera and started making images of this beautiful and tranquil scene unfolding before me. Photographers of course know that photographing in predawn light often requires very long exposure times. So even ‘a couple’ of exposures was taking much longer that I had anticipated. But I could tell from reviewing the display that these images were worth making. My five minute pit stop quickly turned into fifteen minutes and I forced myself to pack up and start heading up the trail towards my original destination.

It was now 5:40 AM and I was still one and a half miles from my final destination. The sky looked great, the clouds looked great and I was beginning to strongly question my decision to stop at The Loch. The last 1.5 miles to Sky Pond include a fairly steep ascent from The Loch as well as a scramble up and over Timberline Falls. I knew I was cutting it much too close for comfort at this point. Worst case scenario I figured I would stop short of Sky Pond and shoot Lake of Glass just below Sky Pond. So I pushed onward at a very fast pace huffing and puffing as I ascended the steep switchbacks just below Timberline Falls.

As I started the scramble up the side of Timberline Falls, the sky was really starting to explode with color. There was no way that I was going to be able to get to the western edge of Sky Pond for sunrise and the last thing I wanted to be doing was hiking along the trail as an epic sunrise unfolded over the peaks and lakes. As I crested the top of Timberline Falls and arrived at Lake of Glass it was apparent that I would have to setup here if I wanted to catch first light.

While I was unable to get to Sky Pond for sunrise, the lighting remained good enough for a few short moments when I finally did make my way to the lake. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L
While I was unable to get to Sky Pond for sunrise, the lighting remained good enough for a few short moments when I finally did make my way to the lake. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L

Tired and sweaty from the final push up Timberline Falls I setup along the shore of Lake of Glass just as the sun started to illuminate Taylor Peak and the Cathedral Spires. Sunrise was beautiful and if only for the fact that my original intent was to be at Sky Pond for sunrise I was quite pleased with my results from Lake of Glass.

I again packed up my camera gear and hiked up to my final destination along the western edge of Sky Pond. The clouds that had made sunrise so beautiful earlier had now obscured the sun. There were still a few breaks in the cloud cover so I again setup and waited to see if the sun would make a brief appearance as it rose in the sky. Shortly thereafter the sun illuminated for one last time the bottom half of The Cathedral Spires before again being blocked out by the cloud cover for the remainder of the morning.

What a morning it had been. A little more excitement and hustling around then I had anticipated but I felt good about the images I had created. It felt like not only did I have my cake, but I was able to eat it as well. While there’s a small part of me that wonders what sunrise would have been like at Sky Pond if I had not stopped at The Loch and Lake of Glass I’m pleased with my how the morning turned out. The next time I’m heading to Sky Pond however, there will be not pit stops made along the way regardless of what that little voice suggests.

Turn Around

We've had what seems like and exceptional run of beautiful sunrise and sunsets over Rocky Mountain National Park this summer. Additional moisture in the atmosphere appears to be helping in keeping things colorful when the sun rises or sets over Rocky. Use this change in the weather to take advantage of alternative view of iconic locations in the park. This morning for example I was able to capture a strikingly colorful sunrise over Dream Lake looking eastward as opposed to the iconic view looking west towards the peaks. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
We’ve had what seems like and exceptional run of beautiful sunrise and sunsets over Rocky Mountain National Park this summer. Additional moisture in the atmosphere appears to be helping in keeping things colorful when the sun rises or sets over Rocky. Use this change in the weather to take advantage of alternative view of iconic locations in the park. This morning for example I was able to capture a strikingly colorful sunrise over Dream Lake looking eastward as opposed to the iconic view looking west towards the peaks. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
been spending quite a bit of time in the field these last 3 weeks. I’ve made it a priority to get out and photograph as much as I can this summer. Summer is my favorite season in Rocky Mountain National Park. In my opinion you just cant beat hiking to alpine lakes, the smell of the pines when hiking through the forrest and the sounds of brooks babbling over rocks.

Since setting aside this time in the field to shoot, two things have become apparent to me. First off, perhaps all the time I’ve been able to spend photographing Rocky has skewed my recollection, but as far as I’m concerned we’ve had some of the best sunrise and sunsets on a consistent basis that I can even remember. Not to jinx my string of good luck, but it seems that we have consistently had beautiful sunrises filled with colorful clouds three to four days a week. In the past I can remember going eight or nine straight days with nary a cloud in the sky, especially during our drought years in the early 2000’s. Without a doubt this is tied to the increased moisture thats been present over Colorado the last year or so.

The second thing thats apparent, and is something I stress often is the need to assess and photograph locations both looking towards the peaks and mountains, as well as looking away from the peaks and mountains. For example, some of the best color in the sky occurs over the eastern plains of Colorado during sunrise. While it’s tempting to always want to point your camera towards the mountains, don’t neglect the opposite view.

This morning for example I used this principle to photograph sunrise over Dream Lake. While this image did not include iconic Hallett Peak or Flattop Mountain and in fact did not include any of the prominent peaks associated with Dream Lake, I came away with one of my favorite images of a subject I shoot often. So go ahead and take advantage of both the colorful sunrises and sunsets, but also take advantage of the opportunity to try something new when photographing in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Exploring The Ute Trail

Sunrise over Longs Peak and Forest Canyon from the Ute Trail. Hiking away from Trail Ridge Road will give photographers some of the best views from the alpine tundra in Rocky Mountain National Park. Technical Details:  Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L
Sunrise over Longs Peak and Forest Canyon from the Ute Trail. Hiking away from Trail Ridge Road will give photographers some of the best views from the alpine tundra in Rocky Mountain National Park. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L
Being above tree line in Rocky Mountain National Park is one of those special and unique experiences that come with exploring the park. While there are many places in Colorado where one can get above tree line, Trail Ridge Road allows easy access by car and trailheads found along Trail Ridge Road such as the Ute trail allow visitors and photographers the ability to get out on the alpine tundra and explore the world above tree line.

The Ute trail in particular is popular with visitors and it offers some of the best views of Rocky Mountain National Park and many of its high peaks. Because of this its a favorite location of mine to photograph, especially in the summer when the conditions are favorable, which at over 11,000 ft above sea level is often easier said then done.

It is often told that the Ute trail was one of three crossings of the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park used by Native Americans prior to the arrival of European-American settlers and travelers to the region. While there is no doubt the Ute Indians used this area for travel and game hunting the name itself is mo it’s more likely the route was named by the Colorado Geographic Board as a tribute to one of the two native tribes, the Ute and Arapaho whom inhabited this area prior to the discovery by early European-American settlers.

Another view from above tree line in Rocky Mountain National Park and the Ute Trail. The sun is seen peeking just above the horizon at sunrise. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L
Another view from above tree line in Rocky Mountain National Park and the Ute Trail. The sun is seen peeking just above the horizon at sunrise. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L

The Ute trail is a very interesting area to explore and it’s geographic orientation allows for good lighting and photography in both the mornings and afternoons. Whenever hiking above tree line in Rocky, one should be mindful of the weather and avoid being out on the alpine tundra if there is any chance whatsoever of lighting from electrical storms. Lighting storms above tree line are no joke and people are struck and killed by lighting almost every year in Rocky, especially in areas of the park above tree line.

If one is looking for opportunities to photograph some of the finest alpine scenery in all of Colorado, hiking along the Ute trail can make for a very rewarding day. Even a short excursion along the Ute trail will allow one to move away from the crowded and busy overlooks along Trail Ridge Road such as the Rock Cut and Forest Canyon overlook. So be it sunrise or sunset one the Ute trail is one of the best vantage points a photographer can choose to capture some of Rocky Mountain National Park’s best scenery.

Horseshoe Blue

Photographing during the 'blue hour' is often overlooked by photographers. Our internal wiring works against us when attempting to photograph during the late evenings and early morning. Even so, being mindful of the conditions can lead to some interesting and moody imagery. This particular morning, sunrise was subdued over Horseshoe Park. Prior to daybreak, the sky and clouds put on a beautiful display of blue over Deer Mountain and Horseshoe Park. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
Photographing during the ‘blue hour’ is often overlooked by photographers. Our internal wiring works against us when attempting to photograph during the late evenings and early morning. Even so, being mindful of the conditions can lead to some interesting and moody imagery. This particular morning, sunrise was subdued over Horseshoe Park. Prior to daybreak, the sky and clouds put on a beautiful display of blue over Deer Mountain and Horseshoe Park. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
Blue is moody, blue is subtle and blue is contemplative. Blue is a color closely tied to emotion, in fact it’s the only color that can be used to describe one’s mood. Blues has its own genre of music, and some of the most legendary jazz musicians recorded under the legendary Blue Note label. For landscape photographers however, blue seems to often loose much of it’s appeal.

I often hear landscape photographers quipping that they need to spend more time adding subjects of blue to their portfolio. Landscape photographers even have a term used to describe the hour or so before and after sunrise and sunset as ‘the blue hour’. This is the time when the sky and landscape are still illuminated enough to cloak ones surrounding in a slight but perceptible blue cast.

Another example of the moody atmosphere present during the pre-dawn hours. A beautiful crescent moon rises over the clouds and Horseshoe Park prior to sunrise. Blue conveys very well the overall feeling in Horseshoe Park this morning. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 L
Another example of the moody atmosphere present during the pre-dawn hours. A beautiful crescent moon rises over the clouds and Horseshoe Park prior to sunrise. Blue conveys very well the overall feeling in Horseshoe Park this morning. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70-300mm F4-5.6 L

There is good reason for our inclination to avoid and ignore photographing in blue light. Much like auto white balance on our cameras, our brain performs much the same function when the lighting conditions favor the blue end of the spectrum. Our brain and eyes will adjust for the heavy blue lighting cast making the landscape appear more neutral or bland.

Many times while photographing late in the evening or early in the morning I’ll return to review my images wondering why there is such as strong blue color cast present. My recollection of the light is of a more neutral scene. This is because my cameras sensor is capturing the blue present in the atmosphere while my brain and eyes are making adjustments lessening the amount of blue light perceived .

There is another reason that one tends to see fewer photographic images that trend towards the blue end of the spectrum. Our brain is wired and conditioned to be attracted to or fixated towards images that contain vibrant colors like reds and oranges. It’s a fact that the majority of my best selling images are colorful, with images containing vibrant reds being some of my most popular images.

So with our brains wired to reduce and compensate for the amount of blue we perceive early in the morning and late in the day, combined with our propensity to seek and be attracted to vibrant reds and oranges it’s no wonder we see fewer photographs depicting blues. My suggestion is to stay mindful when in the field during the ‘blue hours’ of morning and evening. While your waiting for the sun to rise and set the sky ablaze in reds and oranges, pay attention to the light prior to sunrise and don’t be afraid to experiment with your camera. As always, photograph early, late and often.

Original Icons

Locations such as Dream Lake are renowned world wide for their natural beauty. This beauty also attracts landscape photographers from far and wide looking to capture this beauty. For photographers it can feel like a daunting task to photograph these popular locations while putting a unique take or our vision on the image. Photographing these popular locations in varying weather conditions is one way photographers can attempt to make original images of iconic locations. Alluvial Fan Falls or Horseshoe Falls is a popular and often photographed location in the park. Snow falling on a thawing Roaring Brook helped to make this image different than most which are photographed in the summer months. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 24-70mm F4 IS L
Locations such as Dream Lake are renowned world wide for their natural beauty. This beauty also attracts landscape photographers from far and wide looking to capture this beauty. For photographers it can feel like a daunting task to photograph these popular locations while putting a unique take or our vision on the image. Photographing these popular locations in varying weather conditions is one way photographers can attempt to make original images of iconic locations. Alluvial Fan Falls or Horseshoe Falls is a popular and often photographed location in the park. Snow falling on a thawing Roaring Brook helped to make this image different than most which are photographed in the summer months. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 24-70mm F4 IS L
With the advent of digital photography it seems at times that everybody has become a photographer. Photography and specifically the landscape photography genre has seen a large increased the number of people using their digital cameras to capture beautiful and iconic scenes. The internet is now full of terrific images of some of our most famous iconic landscapes. Rocky Mountain National Park is no different than Yellowstone or Yosemite and one can easily fine a plethora of beautiful images of Dream Lake, Longs Peak or Moraine Park.

It can be downright frustrating at times trying to create work that is unique and original, especially when it comes to capturing some of the iconic locations in Rocky Mountain National Park. Even with that being said, there are still plenty of reason why one should make attempts at photographing the iconic locations in Rocky, as well as to search out some of the less known areas of the park. Below are a few quick reminders of what you can do to photograph both the iconic locations as well as some of the less photographed areas of Rocky Mountain National Park. Remember, Rocky Mountain National Park is over 400 square miles, there is plenty of room for everybody.

1. Photograph in poor or varying weather conditions. Your not likely to create an image of Hallet Peak from Dream Lake in a completely unique manner. Let’s be honest, Dream Lake has been photographed six ways to Sunday. Even so, it’s an amazing location and one that deserves to be photographed again and again for good reason, it’s one of the most beautiful locations in the United States. So when do I photograph Dream Lake?. I prefer to photograph popular locations like Dream Lake when the weather looks less than ideal. Fog and rain turn Dream Lake into an unrecognizable icon. If the sun does happen to break through the clouds you will be treated clouds and dramatic light. Your likely to find yourself alone in conditions like these, and even more likely to be able to create images that are unique.

This image was photographed on a cloudy morning at Dream Lake while I waiting for a sunrise that never materialized. Technical Details: Toyo 45 AX, Rodenstock 150mm APO Sironar-S, Fuji 4x5 RVP-100
This image was photographed on a cloudy morning at Dream Lake while I waiting for a sunrise that never materialized. Technical Details: Toyo 45 AX, Rodenstock 150mm APO Sironar-S, Fuji RVP-100 4×5 film

2. Explore the lesser known and photographed areas of Rocky Mountain National Park. Sometimes we photograph the icons because they are slam dunks. People invest lots of time, money and travel to visit Rocky Mountain National Park and most want to return home with images that capture the beauty of the park. Even so, after shooting some of the iconic locations, study a map of Rocky Mountain National Park and look for places in some of the less traveled locations. While you may encounter a dozen or more photographers at Dream Lake during a morning sunrise, another mile long hike to Lake Haiyaha from Dream Lake means you are likely to find yourself in total solitude at sunrise with just as stunning a setting as Dream Lake.

3. Icons are icons for a reason. Loose the guilt and go ahead and photograph from some of the more popular iconic locations in Rocky. Spend time exploring lesser known areas, try to shoot from the iconic locations in the park such as Dream Lake, Bear Lake, the Rock Cut when the weather is dramatic or different. Rocky Mountain National Park is a spectacular location to photograph, start with the icons and then work your way to some of the lesser known areas and features of Rocky. Your time is valuable, use it how you see fit photographing makes you happy. Even for me, photographing a spectacular sunrise at Dream Lake is as thrilling today as it was for me the first time I visited Dream Lake. While even the best images of Dream Lake may get lost in a sea of other beautiful images, the experience of being at Dream Lake and witnessing a beautiful sunrise unfold over Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain is something even the best photographs cant replicate.

Sunrise At Sheep Lakes

Deer Mountain reflects in the mostly placid waters of Sheep Lakes. The rising sun illuminates the side of Deer Mountain and the skies over Horseshoe Park. Technical Details: Canon 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
Deer Mountain reflects in the mostly placid waters of Sheep Lakes. The rising sun illuminates the side of Deer Mountain and the skies over Horseshoe Park. Technical Details: Canon 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
Many who visit Rocky Mountain National Park are familiar with Sheep Lakes and the bighorn sheep road crossing along Highway 34 in Horseshoe Park. Visitors wanting to see and observe bighorn sheep in the late spring and early summer will be directed to the Sheep Lakes parking area by park rangers.

Aptly named Sheep Lakes is a destination point not only for visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park, but also for the herd of bighorn sheep that call Rocky home. Sheep Lakes is a great location to view bighorns because of the minerals and salts that can be found in the soils around the two lakes. As the weather warms and the shallow lakes evaporate and recede, salt licks form along the muddy edges. For the bighorn sheep which have been subsisting on a winter diet of foods with low calorie and mineral content the salt that forms along sheep lake is a boon to their diet come spring.

During the spring and early summer, the herd of bighorn sheep will make a daily trek down to Sheep Lakes and the salt lick to replenish themselves after the long winter months. This near daily migration down from the hillsides overlooking Horseshoe Park is where most visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park are able to see and observe big horn sheep.

The skies over Horseshoe Park put on an impressive display of color as they reflect in Sheep Lakes. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
The skies over Horseshoe Park put on an impressive display of color as they reflect in Sheep Lakes. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II

I find Sheep Lakes to be a great location to photograph Horseshoe Park at sunrise, especially during the spring season. Sheep Lakes are one of the first bodies of water to thaw out in the park. The lakes offer a stunning view to the east looking back over Horseshoe Park as well as a commanding view of the Mummy Range to the west. Many of the most colorful sunrises will occur over the eastern portion of Rocky, and both Horseshoe Park and Sheep Lakes offer and unencumbered view to the east with Deer Mountain providing a recognizable but impressive backdrop.

Last week, with a nice set of clouds built up over the east side of Rocky and Sheep Lakes thawed, I headed over to the lakes to photograph sunrise. The winds were howling at higher elevations but at Sheep Lakes the winds were not nearly as intense. Sunrise was short and sweet. The lightshow only last twenty minutes or so before the clouds overtook the sun, but it was more than enough time to photograph one of my favorite viewpoints in all of Rocky.