Out On The Ice

As we head into the end of January and move towards February in Rocky Mountain National Park, the weather has remained mild and uneventful. For photographers, this can cause frustration. While I know the weather will soon change in Rocky, I’ve been keeping busy working on less glamourous projects in the park. Ice is always a great subject to photograph in the middle of winter. I captured this vignette of grasses frozen in the ice in the meadow of Moraine Park earlier this week. Photographers have pleny of compositions to work with like this if they open their mind to all the potential in more intimate scenes. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens

It’s hard to believe but we are almost done with the first month of 2020 already. In what typically seems like one of the slower months of the year as I try to get back into my routines and move forward on new projects after the holidays, January has flown by.

Frankly it been a fairly uneventful month for photography both in the Boulder area as well as in Rocky Mountain National Park. The reason for the lack of excitement so far in January?, mild, boring weather for us photographers.

I can remember some dry Januarys, but his January has been nearly devoid of any weather other than wind and the temperatures have been very mild and pleasant. Great for hiking and outdoor activities but not great for dramatic skies, fresh snow on the pine trees or mountain peaks cloaked snow and clouds.

As is usually the case, I suspect at some point here in the near future, the weather will change and I’ll be lamenting all the snow and cold as I eagerly await the spring and summer months in Rocky Mountain National Park.

I’ve been out a fair amount working on different projects and keeping myself busy trying to stay creative. This time of year is typically my slowest in regards to taking photography tour clients out in the field, so I have more time than usual to work on personal projects. Of course having time to photograph personal projects is great, but it can also be a little frustrating when the weather and elements are not cooperating.

Keeping an open mind, there is always tons of subjects to photograph in Rocky Mountain National Park even in the middle of an otherwise uneventful winter. I’ve been splitting my time between photographing buildings, cabins and other ‘hand of man’ subjects and landscape and wildlife when the opportunity presents itself.

One great subject when the weather is bland in RMNP is ice. In the middle of winter, most photographers head up to Dream Lake to photograph the after the famous winds of Rocky quickly blow fresh snow from the surface. While any of the high lakes in Rocky are great for ice, there are lots of areas in Rocky in winter that require less effort to get to and will present some unique opportunities.

I photographed the image above in Moraine Park just before sunrise. A large frozen expanse of water in a flat area of Moraine Park has frozen over from the freeze and thaw cycle that this mild winter has afforded. Unlike the ice up at Dream Lake, this flat plain in Moraine Park has lots of grass frozen within the ice. This made for some interesting perspectives and compositions that one usually would not expect to find at the high mountain lakes which are devoid of frozen grasses.

With these images of ice, one pretty much has limitless compositions available to them. Between the grasses, the fractures in the ice, bubbles, frozen snow, etc., be prepared to spend a good amount of time photographing the details.

I often use my 100mm Micro/Macro lens to photograph the details in the ice, but my 24-70mm F4s lens on my Z7 focuses down almost to a 1:3 ratio. I find this just about perfect for ice compositions. I also like to shoot the ice when its still in shade and the skies above are blue. Those blue skies will refract in the surface of the ice and give it a blue hue. One can adjust their white balance to taste, but I find using a normal daylight white balance in the 4900-5300 K range will really allow the contrast between the white ice, and blue skies to show in the composition.

One other quick tip. Try to keep your sensor plane flush with the flat surface of the ice. When I take clients out to photograph the ice I find they often want to shoot the ice with their camera and sensor not flush to the surface of the ice. While this is a natural inclination for many photographers, you will find that getting all of the ice in focus will be very challenging and that the out of focus area where the sensor plane is not aligned will be distracting to the overall composition. I think my years of photographing with a large format 4×5 camera helped me to understand the importance of both alignment and depth of field, but for many its important to stress simple compositions that are flush with the sensor and lens. Less is more most of the time with ice.

So while I expect the weather to change as we march towards spring and I look forward to photographing Rocky after some fresh snow, keep your mind open and look to photograph some of the more subtle subjects such as ice and or man made objects until the conditions become more favorable for grand landscapes.