One of the questions I get asked most frequently is if I give tours or workshops within Rocky Mountain National Park. In the past I had hesitated to offer photography tour or workshop services in the park mainly because of the time commitment required to offer tour services. As many of you know I greatly value my time in the field being able to create and find new opportunities for my photography.
As of late, the drum beat to offer photo tour services in Rocky Mountain National Park had only been growing louder. With there only being one other photographer who offers these services working out of Rocky Mountain National Park at this time, and a few fellow Estes Park photographers whom I greatly respect suggesting strongly that it was time for me to offer photography tours, I’m pleased to announce that I am now offering photography tour services in Rocky Mountain National Park. I’ve met all the requirements of the National Park Service and have been issued a Special Use Guide Pass to conduct photography tours in Rocky Mountain National Park.
I’m excited to be offering photo tour service in RMNP now and I’m looking forward to getting out in the field with my clients and helping them capture the magnificent beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park. Rocky is my absolute favorite place to spend time. While Rocky Mountain National Park is close to the Denver metro area, it offers pristine wilderness and some of Colorado’s most iconic locations to photograph. Rocky is an amazing location and I look forward to helping clients of all skill levels capture the beauty of the park.
I’ve spent the last sixteen years photographing Rocky Mountain National Park in all seasons, all kinds of weather and all kinds of lighting. It will be a rewarding experience for me to take fellow photographers out and share my knowledge of a location I’ve spent years getting to know.
For those of you who may be interested in booking a photography tour in Rocky with me, please feel free to contact me for available dates, times and suggestions on what would be a good itinerary to fit your skill levels and expectations. My goal is for you to have fun, learn a few things and come away with some great images.
For more information on photography tours in Rocky Mountain National Park you can click on this link Rocky Mountain National Park Photo Tours. Also feel free to follow my blog to see the latest conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park as well as my Twitter and Facebook accounts. I post near daily images on both Twitter and Facebook, often with current conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today marks the 100th anniversary of Rocky Mountain National Park. While it’s true the area we now call Rocky Mountain National Park was here long before people explored and populated the region, the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park is a true testament to what can be accomplished when people work together for a common cause and goal. While millions of people are now able to freely visit, explore and enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park, differing circumstances and goals could have easily lead to the area we now know affectionately as ‘Rocky’ as being off limits, exploited, and reserved for only the few.
There are many people to thank and be grateful for when celebrating this milestone today. The cast of characters responsible for helping to preserve the area and bring awareness of the beauty of Rocky reads almost like a movie script, or fictional western novel. If it was not for the grit of early pioneers like Abner Sprague, who played host to early visitors and tourists to the area who knows what we have become of the park. Surely, Abner Sprague’s strong dislike of The Earl of Dunraven and his attempts to turn the valley into his own hunting reserve played a part in eventually freeing up huge swaths of land once the Earl threw in the towel and moved on from his attempts to buy up the Estes Valley.
Perhaps it was Enos Mills chance encounter on a California beach with John Muir that charged Mr. Mills to champion a cause and make it his life’s work to lobby for the creation of what would become Rocky Mountain National Park.
While some have played larger parts than others in creating Rocky Mountain National Park, all of those who have fallen in love with the area have become champions and stewards of this beautiful landscape. Those of us who have followed in the footsteps of these great pioneers and have fallen in love with Rocky Mountain National Park have a duty to continue to protect, preserve and educate people on the value of free and open lands and wilderness.
It is important to not only continue to protect and preserve places like Rocky Mountain National Park, but to protect and steward other important and sensitive locations no matter how large or small. Wild places are continually being destroyed and impeded upon. In the spirit of Rocky’s 100th birthday we should take it upon ourselves to be forward thinking, to make an attempt to protect a place for future generations to enjoy and preserve much like we are able to do when we visit Rocky Mountain National Park today.
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.
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.
We all dream about setting up on location and waiting for a stunning sunrise to unfold before our camera. It’s the kind of dreams that get people out of bed at zero dark thirty so they can be ready and on location just for the chance they may photograph something special. The truth of the matter is that even though magazines, coffee table books and the internet are chock full of locations with screaming light, more times than not one will not experience epic light or optimal conditions while out in the field photographing.
We all need to make the most of our time in the field. You’ve put a lot of time, energy and money into being at the right place at the right time. There’s no reason a busted sunrise needs to be a make or break proposition, especially when photographing in one of the most beautiful locations in the continental United States such as Rocky Mountain National Park.
This very situation unfolded when I was out in Rocky this morning. In fact, I have this very scenario unfold when out photographing Rocky Mountain National Park countless number of times. Once I get over the self pity of not being in one of the worlds most beautiful places for a spectacular sunrise or sunset, I gather my thoughts and start to think of ways I can make images in the moment and under the current, even is less favorable conditions. You know what?, these kinds of days in the field have yielded some of my most original as well as most satisfying personal images.
While they may not all be book or magazine cover material, finding compositions and working under conditions and lighting that may be deemed by some as less than optimal, allows a photographer to free his mind and create unique, subtle images that help to unveil the more modest side to beautiful locations like Rocky Mountain National Park.
So by all means sacrifice and seek out epic and spectacular sunsets. Get up early, stay late, hike the extra mile. Do so with an open mind however. Be ready to switch gears if the light and clouds don’t materialize how you were hoping they would. Slow down instead. Look for the overlooked, the patterns in nature whispering, not screaming for you to photograph. Look to create a more personal and unique body of work on days like these. Most of all enjoy your time and efforts in the field regardless of the conditions.
Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and are keeping busy spending time with family and friends this holiday season leading up to Christmas and the New Year. I’ve been busy with both my photography as well as chaperoning family members whom have been in town the last few weeks around the beautiful state of Colorado. It’s a great time of year to wind down, enjoy the festivities, spend time with family and take time to reflect on the accomplishments of this last year.
We’ve been having a mild start to our winter season here along the northern Front Range. There has been only a few small storms that briefly coat the mountains in white and at this juncture in the season, strong winds have been more plentiful than snow. Of course as photographers we want the seasons to be as dynamic and unsettled as possible because as is typically the case, bad weather leads to great photographs. Long term weather models continue to show more of the same as far as the weather is concerned but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this just means the weather will do a one hundred and eighty degree turn sometime around the new year and become more unsettled.
Even with the relatively uneventful early winter season, there has been plenty to photograph during the shoulder season both in Rocky Mountain National Park as well as along the lower elevations in and around Boulder. While snow has been sparse, we have had our fair share of beautiful sunrises and sunsets. In fact I would have to say that in the sixteen years that I have been living in and photographing Colorado, 2014 has been a banner year for beautiful sunrises and sunsets along the Front Range.
So while many of us our looking back over our accomplishments and images from 2014 as well as looking forward to new adventures and opportunities in 2015, I’m hoping to finish out 2014 with a few more beautiful mornings in the field spent photographing these spectacular sunrises we’ve been having this year. Who knows, maybe we will even get some of the white stuff to help out before the year closes out.