Sunrise On Lake Estes

With snow squalls blowing over Rocky and the wind howling, I headed east of downtown to Lake Estes to photograph sunrise this morning. With open water, geese and some beautiful light at sunrise, Lake Estes was just the elixir I needed after what seems like lots of bland sunrises and weather so far this January. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens

In what seems like has been few and far between, we finally had a really nice sunrise this morning in Estes Park. The weather so far this January has been mostly mild and tame. While up on the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park there has been some snow this month, its mostly been wind or clear blue skies. For January, the weather has been awesome. Mild, sunny and we’ve been absent the arctic cold snaps that typically make an appearance or two this month.

I’ve been watching the weather intently these past few weeks looking for something interesting to happen. A nice dumping of snow, a dramatic sunrise, any of that would work. For whatever reason things just have not come to fruition.

Like a baseball player mired in a slump, you always know if you just keep heading out eventually your luck will change. So while I’ve been getting skunked at sunrise of late, I’ve used the time to work on other projects in the park that are more conducive to flat, diffused lighting. In particular I’ve been documenting the remaining man made structures still remaining in Rocky. While I’ve recently added a gallery depicting some of this work, this is a project I continue to enjoy when conditions are not optimal for landscape photography. You can find this new gallery and project at this link. Man, Nature and Rocky Mountain National Park

The prospects for sunrise this morning looked pretty good in RMNP. As I headed into the park long before sunrise, things did not look as good as I though they might. The mountains were shrouded in snow and the wind was howling. Snow was falling, but not enough to cover anything. If we had a sunrise it certainly looked like the clouds and squalls floating over Rocky Mountain National Park would likely obscure any light and color. Besides, even if I wanted to photograph the mountains, they were covered in clouds.

I headed down to Lake Estes east of Rocky and downtown Estes Park to see what would happen. It looked pretty dicey, but about 15 minutes before sunrise the skies to the east of Estes Park exploded in color. Lake Estes is only about half frozen right now so the open water helped to exacerbate the beautiful sunrise.

So while I was looking forward to photographing inside of Rocky Mountain National Park, the consolation prize along the shores of Lake Estes wasn’t bad either. More importantly, here’s to hoping the weather pattern is about to change and start to make things a lot more interesting.

Saint Catherine’s Chapel On The Rock

Over the past year or so, I’ve been making a concerted effort to photograph more images in Rocky Mountain National Park that may include man made features. One of the most beautiful locations which include a man made object, is Saint Catherine’s Chapel On The Rock. Saint Catherine’s is located on the St. Malo Retreat center complex, but has Rocky Mountain National Park as a backdrop. 13,916 ft Mount Meeker towers behind Saint Catherine’s and this time of year the lighting on Mount Meeker’s southeast face is nothing short of electric. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens

It’s been a quiet couple of weeks here in Rocky Mountain National Park. After what seemed like a very active weather pattern from October through November, December has been very quiet. While there have been a few small systems that have moved through RMNP this month, most of the weather other than some light accumulation of snow have been wind events on the east side of the park.

Looking at the long term forecast for the rest of December it appears the pattern will continue to give us more of the same. Of course long term forecasts aren’t all the accurate so we can still keep our fingers crossed for some more fresh snow to blanket Rocky.

Even with it being quiet on the weather front, there have been some very nice sunrise and sunsets as there often is this time of year. While we may not end up with much in the way of snow on the east side of RMNP, those wind events often produce lenticular cloud formations. These of course make for beautiful sunrise and sunset colors once the sun illuminates the bottom of the lenticular cloud.

As we head into the holidays and the new year here in Colorado, I’ve been trying to get out and photograph as much as possible with the conditions look interesting. One of the subjects I’ve been working on with regards to my portfolio of Rocky Mountain National Park is images that include the hand of man in them.

While many landscape photographers go to great lengths not to include man made objects, buildings, trails, etc., I’ve been slowly adding to my extensive collection of Rocky Mountain National Park images by making attempts to actively photograph buildings, trails, and other interesting views that may include man made objects.

With Christmas almost upon it seems as good a time as ever to photograph Saint Catherine’s Chapel on The Rock. This beautiful church which sits along Highway 7 between Allenspark and Estes Park is a spectacular location. Not only is the church a beautiful stone church, but its perched on top of a rock with Rocky Mountain National Park as a backdrop.

While the church is not technically inside Rocky Mountain National Park, Saint Catherine’s On The Rock is oriented in such a position that it’s also a location with one of the best views of Mount Meeker. Many people mistake Mount Meeker for Longs Peak from this location, but the stunning backdrop to Saint Catherine’s is the southeast face of 13,916 ft Mount Meeker. While Mount Meeker is just short of 14er status, its still a very impressive mountain and one that ranks as the 68th tallest peak in the state of Colorado.

The lighting this time of year on the southeast face of Mount Meeker is nothing short of electric. There’s pretty much nothing to obstruct the sunrise on the side of Mount Meeker this time of year so that as soon as the sun begins to rise over the high plains of Colorado below, Meeker starts to glow. Place Saint Catherine’s Chapel on the Rock in front of Mount Meeker and you have all the ingredients for some beautiful light as well as a composition.

So I’ll continue to work on making images of Saint Catherine’s, with the goal being to photograph the area after our next snowstorm covers the landscape in fresh powder, this is a location that landscape photographers visiting Rocky Mountain National Park should not overlook.

Flagstaff Mountain Yucca

Spring Yucca on Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder, Colorado, OSMP
Yucca plants make for great photographic subjects. It can be difficult finding a Yucca plant with it's pointy and sharp leaves arrainged in a manner that allows a composition that's not too busy. After scouting out dozens of Yucca plants along the hillside of Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder, I finally settled upon this Yucca. This particular plant was open enough, and free enough from encroaching leaves to allow for a clean view of the inside of the plant. Technicial Details: Canon EOS 1Ds III, 24-105mm F4 IS
Yucca plants are symbolic of the dry landscape of the American West. They are hardy plants that can survive in climates that are dry and experience great temperature swings. On the Front Range of Colorado, and in particular many of the hillsides around Boulder and on Open Space properties they are quite prevalent.

Native peoples have utilized Yucca plants for all sorts of helpful purposes. From cooking skewers to fibers for baskets and clothing, the Yucca plant provides a hearty staple. For photographers, Yucca plants make for equally interesting subjects in their many forms.

This particular Yucca was located on a hillside of Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder. The flower bloom on the Yucca plants this year has been quite spectacular in this section of Colorado. For the most part, the bloom has peaked, but I still figured I’d explore this hillsides to see if I could find anything of interest to photograph.

I eventually settled on this composition of these Yucca leaves fanning outward from the flower stalk. It was actually quite a challenge to find a clean composition. I attempted a similar composition on over a half a dozen other plants before finally finding this particular plant.

Successful Morning At Lake Haiyaha

Lake Haiyaha sunrise image at Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
First light just begins to illuminate Hallet peak from Lake Haiyaha in Rocky Mountain National Park. All the elements came together for me this morning and enabled me to capture some beautiful morning light. Technical Details: Canon Eos 1ds III, 17-40mm F4 L
Lake Haiyaha in Rocky Mountain National Park was named by Native Americans and means ‘lake of many rocks’. Any hiker or photographer who has traversed the 2 miles or so from the Bear Lake trailhead will quickly understand the rational behind the naming of the lake which sits at the base of Hallet Peak. Boulders and rocks abound along the shores and outlet of Lake Haiyaha. Depending on the time of year, the amount of rainfall, and to what degree the snow melt is occurring, access and photography around the lake is in a constant change of flux. Lake Haiyaha’s rocky shores make for great leading lines and foregrounds in a photograph. Even better, Lake Haiyaha tends to be much less visited and photographed then the other lakes near and around the Bear Lake trailhead such as Nymph and Dream.

I visit Lake Haiyaha often and have photographed along its rocky shores many times. The lighting at this location becomes more favorable as summer wanes and the sun begins to move back towards the south from its northern most point at the summer solstice. Lake Haiyaha sits at the base of southeastern flank of Hallet peak. Because of it’s southeastern orientation, photography of Hallet peak is more favorable when the sun begins retreating towards the south later in the summer and fall months.

I woke up this morning at 3:00 AM to see what the conditions looked like outside. More often than not, summer mornings in Colorado break with bluebird skies and not a cloud to be found for hundreds of miles. My heart skipped a beat when I peaked out my window and viewed the nearly full moon breaking through pretty thick mix of cloud cover. I quickly got my gear together and jumped in my truck and headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park. Having clouds in the sky is only half the battle in trying to capture a dramatic landscape image in the park. For it all to come together successfully a few things need to happen.

First of all you need the clouds to remain in the sky. Easy enough concept right?. Many times, the clouds will dissipate right before sunrise as the atmospheric conditions change. If the clouds don’t dissipate, they then need to be positioned above what ever landmark it is you want to shoot. I cant tell you how many times I’ve had great clouds in the sky, but nowhere near the subject I am shooting. It’s like my photography subject is emitting reverse polarity on the clouds and causing them to scoot away from where I need them to be in my frame, this can be a very frustrating proposition. Lastly you need what I call a ‘sucker hole’. A ‘sucker hole’ is a small break in the cloud cover or along the horizon where the sun will be rising or setting. It’s aptly named a ‘sucker hole’ for good reason. Many a photographer has been ‘suckered’ into waiting for the light with the hope that the sun will peak through the break in the cloud cover and illuminate your subject with brilliant light and cloud cover. More often than not, the light never comes, and the ‘sucker hole’ lives up to its name.

This morning at Lake Haiyaha, it all came together quite nicely. While the cloud cover thinned as sunrise approached, there was still enough clouds in the sky above Hallet peak that as long as the sunrise was not blocked by additional clouds cover over the eastern plains, things were looking good. Furthermore, it was quite windy at Dream Lake when I passed the trail junction on the hike in but this sheltered area of Haiyaha kept the wind at bay and the reflection intact. I used my 17-40mm lens at 17mm to capture as much of the sky an foreground as I could. I could have easily used a 14mm lens this morning and gone wider but did not have one in my backpack. As the sun began to rise and illuminate the cloud cover overhead in a pink, red and magenta hue, the rocks along the shore of Haiyaha reflected the glow in the sky making for an intense palette of colors on the rocks and peaks. Fighting off the swarms of mosquitoes who also found the windless sheltered area to their liking, and trying to keep them off the front of my lens, I was able to make a handful of images in the quickly changing lighting conditions. It all came together quite well for me this morning. Its morning like these that keep me jumping out of bed when the alarm goes off at 3:00 AM. There never a sure thing in photography, but when conditions look favorable it’s better not to hit the snooze button.

Flatirons Redux

Flatirons Sunrise from Boulder, Colorado
Clouds from Colorado's active monsoon season party ways as the first rays of the day breach a hole in the cloud cover to the east. The active and wet monsoon season is making for some great lighting conditons. Technicial Details: Canon Eos 1dsIII, 24mm TS-EF3.5 L II
I try to avoid returning to the same locations on consecutive days if possible. That’s not to say I do return to the same location over and over again in an attempt to capture a scene under varying lighting conditions. You only have so many sunrises and sunsets, so I try to keep the line moving. I had previous commitments on Saturday and Sunday that prevented me from heading up into the high country or to Rocky Mountain National Park in search of images so I stayed local in Boulder.

We continue to have a very wet summer here on the Front Range of Colorado, and the monsoon has really kicked in full force. Most afternoons we are getting very strong thunderstorms and rain. This has made for some great sunrises the past few weeks. Clouds from the previous nights thunderstorms have been hanging around at dawn accompanied by good size breaks in the clouds on the eastern horizon out over the high plains. This particular sunrise of the Flatirons from Chautauqua park was particularly nice. Further north, over Rocky Mountain National Park the sunrise looked to be even more intense. Hopefully some other photographers captured that display, I was glad to be able to sneak in this image.

Spring in Colorado?

Yuccas and Ponderosa Pines
Yuccas and Ponderosa Pines are coated with fresh snow in May. I photographed this scene this week on Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder, Colorado. Technicial Details: Canon 5D Mark II, 17-40mm F4L
At the risk of boring everyone to death, I will avoid digressing more on how we have yet to see springtime here on the Front Range of Colorado. I will only say that in the last week I have been able to photograph lots of wintry type scenes on and around Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder. It’s fairly safe to assume that by mid May, most of my photography has shifted from winter like scenes, to views of Golden Banner blooming in Chautauqua meadow amongst the green grasses. Enough of the belly aching, regardless of the fact I am looking forward to warm sunny days, I’m quite pleased with the end results. I’ll let the image speak for our weather this week.

Opening Day

Yarrow blooms from within a Juniper Skeleton. I photographed this shot in the area just outside of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Technical Details: Canon 5D Mark II 24-105mm F IS
Opening Day, for Baseball that is. This has to be my favorite day of the year. It signals an end to what always feels like too long of a Winter. It signifies that Springs is here, and Summer will here even sooner. Each day stays lighter longer, and the Sun begins to feel warm and comforting again. Of course for every Baseball fan, hope springs eternal on this day. Every team starts off 0-0, and every team still has hope.

For Photographers, the time around Opening Day also signals a change. New opportunities will soon present themselves. Snow draped pine trees and peaks will soon begin melting. Leaves will start to bud on Aspen trees and Maples. Grasses in the Meadows will begin turning from brown to green, and sooner than later will begin to yield the first wildflowers of the year. It’s also a time to pull out the map book, do some research and start planning where our Summer photo expeditions will take us. Hope does indeed spring eternal on this day. Excitement builds not only for what the Baseball season holds, but for what new opportunities, trips, circumstances and places the budding new photography season holds. Lets go Yankees!.