Waving Goodbye To 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Less Than Optimal

I set out to Rocky Mountain National Park this morning hoping to capture a dramatic sunrise. Sunrise never materialized so I had to look for other subjects to photograph. While not exactly what I had in mind, this abstract of willows along Fall River in Horseshoe Park was both fun and rewarding to make. I had to just take a moment to get over the fact that sunrise was a bust, and then start looking around for other subjects. The colorful willows caught my eye. Anyone who has had to bushwack through willows will have a greater appreciation for the 'density' these bushes put forth. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 28-300mm F4.5-5.6 ED
I set out to Rocky Mountain National Park this morning hoping to capture a dramatic sunrise. Sunrise never materialized so I had to look for other subjects to photograph. While not exactly what I had in mind, this abstract of willows along Fall River in Horseshoe Park was both fun and rewarding to make. I had to just take a moment to get over the fact that sunrise was a bust, and then start looking around for other subjects. The colorful willows caught my eye. Anyone who has had to bushwack through willows will have a greater appreciation for the ‘density’ these bushes put forth. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 28-300mm F4.5-5.6 ED

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.

Sunrise might have been a bust this morning but there was no wind which allowed me to capture this pattern of willows and grasses in Horseshoe Park. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-120mm F4 ED VR
Sunrise might have been a bust this morning but there was no wind which allowed me to capture this pattern of willows and grasses in Horseshoe Park. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-120mm F4 ED VR

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.

Cant forget the obligatory ice image. Fall River has finally begun to freeze over again. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 28-300mm ED VR
Cant forget the obligatory ice image. Fall River has finally begun to freeze over again. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 28-300mm ED VR

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.

Finishing Strong

It's that time of year again. 2014 is quickly closing out. Even so, there are a few weeks left in 2014 to create images and follow adventures. Having family and freinds around this holiday season has allowed me time to get out and photograph some areas around Colorado I dont get to as often as I would like such as Garden of The Gods. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-120mm F4 VR lens
It’s that time of year again. 2014 is quickly closing out. Even so, there are a few weeks left in 2014 to create images and follow adventures. Having family and freinds around this holiday season has allowed me time to get out and photograph some areas around Colorado I dont get to as often as I would like such as Garden of The Gods. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-120mm F4 VR lens

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.

Tips For The RMNP ‘Brown Season’ Blues

It may be the so called 'Brown Season' in Rocky Mountain National Park but that certainly does not mean there are not colorful and dynamic landscapes to be photographed this time of year. Here I used a combination of backlit clouds and a frozen Sprague Lake to reflect both the mountains and the colorful sky to create a colorful and dynamic composition. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 16-35mm F4 VR

It may be the so called ‘Brown Season’ in Rocky Mountain National Park but that certainly does not mean there are not colorful and dynamic landscapes to be photographed this time of year. Here I used a combination of backlit clouds and a frozen Sprague Lake to reflect both the mountains and the colorful sky to create a colorful and dynamic composition. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 16-35mm F4 VR

For some its the ‘shoulder season’ for others its known as the ‘brown season’ and for others its the ‘off season’. Whatever you want to call it the month of November into early December is considered by many to be a less favorable time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park.

Many photographers feel the same way about the ‘brown season’ as do other visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park. Many begrudge this time of year and find other things to do to occupy their time while waiting for snow to fall or the weather to warm up come springtime. The persistent winds, frozen lakes, long shadows and bare tree’s keep many photographers at home or searching other locations to photograph.

Sure it’s a little more difficult to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park during this traditional time of year, but there are still plenty of rewarding images to be made and opportunities to be found if one’s willing to work in the wind and keep an open mind to the possibilities. Here are a few of the things I do to keep busy in the field with my photography this time of year in Rocky.

Another example of using a backlit sunrise in Moraine Park to help create color and drama. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 18-35mm F3.5-4.5 VR
Another example of using a backlit sunrise in Moraine Park to help create color and drama. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 18-35mm F3.5-4.5 VR

1. Look for reflections of color, shapes, clouds and mountains in the frozen ice. Temperatures will drop this time of year and most water will freeze over in the park. While you wont be able to get full on reflections of mountains and peaks like one can during the warmer months, frozen surfaces can create interesting patterns, foregrounds and subtle reflections. Furthermore if your lucky enough to have colorful clouds or skies overhead, the ice will reflect that color helping to warm up the scene in front of you.

2. Photograph into the sun and use silhouettes to your advantage. So what if the grasses are brown and aspens have lost all their leaves. Photographing backlit subjects will relegate most of those bland areas to black space while backlit objects like grasses and water will pop when the low angle of the sun rises and illuminates these objects.

3. Get out when it’s snowing!. A fresh coating of white transforms everything in Rocky Mountain National Park to a pristine postcard winter scene. Diffused light like that during a snowstorm is some of my favorite light to photograph Rocky in. Locations where the light may never properly illuminate a subject has now evened out over the scene allowing for multiple compositions. The fresh snow will cover brown grasses and give extra detail and dimension to the landscape.

So even though it may not be the most glamorous time of year to photograph landscapes in Rocky Mountain National Park it’s still more than warrants a few expeditions to photograph the landscape during the so called ‘brown season’. Keep an open mind, embrace the season, and most importantly get out in the field and you will certainly come away with some winners.

‘Polar Vortex’

Rocky Mountain National Park is now cloaked in white courtsey of our latest visit from the 'Polar Vortex'. Now's the time to get out on the Front Range of Colorado and make winter images as this is going to be the flavor du jour until things start to thaw out in six months or so. Moraine Park looked like a winter wonderland on Saturday and the conditions open up a lot of new oppurtunities to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 28-300mm F4.5-5.6 ED VR
Rocky Mountain National Park is now cloaked in white courtsey of our latest visit from the ‘Polar Vortex’. Now’s the time to get out on the Front Range of Colorado and make winter images as this is going to be the flavor du jour until things start to thaw out in six months or so. Moraine Park looked like a winter wonderland on Saturday and the conditions open up a lot of new oppurtunities to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 28-300mm F4.5-5.6 ED VR
Winter has us well in its grips this week as early unsettled weather has filtered in from the north and west. The Polar Vortex, now the hip phrase of the day has brought with it arctic cold and snow to Colorado’s Front Range. While arctic cold and snow are certainly no stranger to Colorado, this blast of weather has arrived much earlier than is typical.

What does this mean for photography?. Well as always unsettled weather is usually good for making images if one does not mind getting out in the cold. Working a camera and playing with one’s tripod with the temperature around 0 degrees Fahrenheit can test one’s patience with numb fingers and frozen and fogged over viewfinders and LCD displays. Even so it’s a nice change of pace to see the landscape covered with fresh snow and winter like scenes.

While it looks like its supposed to warm up a little next week, winter is here to stay in the high country and places like Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s time to dust off the snowshoes, grab your winter gear from your attic or basement and get out in the field and make some images of winter scenes because we’ve got six months before things start to thaw out again!.

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.

Trick Or Treat From Bear Lake

Not a bad way to start Halloween off. A beautiful sunrise unfolds over a partially frozen Bear Lake and Longs Peak this morning. This is the first morning I've been out in the field with my Nikon D810. I'm looking forward to test driving the D810 on many more mornings but so far I'm very pleased with the results. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 18-35mm F3.5-4.5 ED AF
Not a bad way to start Halloween off. A beautiful sunrise unfolds over a partially frozen Bear Lake and Longs Peak this morning. This is the first morning I’ve been out in the field with my Nikon D810. I’m looking forward to test driving the D810 on many more mornings but so far I’m very pleased with the results. Technical Details: Nikon D810, Nikkor 18-35mm F3.5-4.5 ED AF
Happy Halloween to everyone out there. With the autumn season in Rocky Mountain National Park now past us we are now transitioning towards winter. We’ve had a very mild autumn with little early season snow with mostly mild to warm days. The leaves are now down and the grasses have turned a golden brown in most areas. The lakes in the higher elevations have just started to freeze over along the edges but it wont be long until the lake surfaces are completely covered over with ice.

Everything starts to slow down in the park. While tourists still visit the park, the numbers decline considerably compared to the large number of summer and fall visitors. It’s a great time to catch up on images in the backlog and enjoy the quietness of the season. It’s a little more difficult to find subjects to photograph, but even so, photography this time of year is just as rewarding as the summer and fall months.

I’ll be out in the field photographing as often as I can. As you can see from the image posted above I am currently taking a Nikon D810 for a test drive. While I shot with Nikon during my film days in the 1990’s, I switched over to Canon in 1999 and have been using their equipment ever since. While my Canon gear is more than adequate, I felt it was time to give Nikon and the D810 a test run as the camera’s higher resolution and more importantly to me at least, higher dynamic range sensor. At this point in time, while Canon continues to make amazing camera equipment, they appear less interested in improving the dynamic range of their sensors which is very important to landscape photographers.

Often when photographing in Rocky Mountain National Park, one is photographing a subject with a very dramatic range of light. Mountain peaks are illuminated, while lakes and scenery below the peaks are in deep, dark shadows. So I’ll be giving the Nikon a full run down and will eventually share my thoughts and experiences on the Nikon D810 compared to the 5D Mark III and Canon EOS 1ds III that I typically photograph with. In the meantime, my first morning in the field with the D810 was a very positive one. Of course the amazing sunrise this morning would have made any camera look good.

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!.

Autumn On The East Coast

A beautiful sunrise unfolds over Harriman State Park. Harriman is located just north of New York City but plays host to some of the best fall color in all of New York State each year. This makes Harriman State Park a popular destination for many photographers from the Tri-State area. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-70mm F4 IS L
A beautiful sunrise unfolds over Harriman State Park. Harriman is located just north of New York City but plays host to some of the best fall color in all of New York State each year. This makes Harriman State Park a popular destination for many photographers from the Tri-State area. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24-70mm F4 IS L

Having just finished with photographing some of the best fall color in Rocky Mountain National Park that I’ve seen in some years, I’ve headed back to the east coast and New York State to photograph fall color here. As is typically the case when I’m back east my time is split between visiting family and getting out in the field to photograph.

Watkins Glen located in the Southern Tier of New York State is also an amazing location to photograph fall color. Even when the leaves have fallen from the tree's they make a great subject lining the bank of the stream. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II
Watkins Glen located in the Southern Tier of New York State is also an amazing location to photograph fall color. Even when the leaves have fallen from the tree’s they make a great subject lining the bank of the stream. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 24mm TS-E F3.5 L II

Autumn along the east coast is special and I would recommend that photographers who mostly spend time photographing on the west coast at least make one attempt at heading east to photograph the colorful show the trees put on here. I’ll be back in Colorado in a few days with fall being mostly a distant memory and winter knocking on the door. Until then I’m splitting my time photographing Harriman State Park and Bear Mountain State Park and some of the beautiful gorges and waterfalls in the Southern Tier region of upstate New York. So until I can get back out into the field in Rocky here are a few images of the fall color back east.

Five Reason I Love Rocky Mountain National Park

This image I made near Lake Haiyaha illustrates a few of the many reasons I love photographing Rocky Mountain National Park. Fresh snow covers Hallett Peak and this small outlet just south of Lake Haiyaha has partially frozen over. It's only October 1st but snow and ice are already part of the landscape while fall colors peak in the lower elevations of Rocky. A small break in the clouds to the east allowed for this intense sunrise to illuminate and color the clouds and peaks over Rocky Mountain National Park this morning. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L
This image I made near Lake Haiyaha illustrates a few of the many reasons I love photographing Rocky Mountain National Park. Fresh snow covers Hallett Peak and this small outlet just south of Lake Haiyaha has partially frozen over. It’s only October 1st but snow and ice are already part of the landscape while fall colors peak in the lower elevations of Rocky. A small break in the clouds to the east allowed for this intense sunrise to illuminate and color the clouds and peaks over Rocky Mountain National Park this morning. Technical Details: Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L

With the fall color season nearly over and Rocky Mountain National Park transitioning over towards the winter season, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on a few of the reasons Rocky Mountain National Park is my favorite National Park to visit and more importantly to me photograph. A lot of people ask me why I spend so much time in one area when I have all of Colorado and the west to explore as well. Frankly I love photographing Colorado and the western United States, but if I had to chose between those and Rocky Mountain National Park, I’d still choose Rocky any day. One could easily spend a lifetime photographing Rocky Mountain National Park and not even scratch the surface when it comes to all the possibilities Rocky has in store when it comes to photography. Here are five reason I personally love Rocky Mountain National Park.

1. I love Rocky’s diversity. Sure Rocky Mountain National Park is only 415 square miles in total size. While that’s certainly nothing to sneeze at size wise, Yellowstone National Park is just under 3500 square miles and The Grand Canyon National Park is just over 1900 square miles. While these two other iconic National Parks of the west have Rocky Mountain National Park beat in size Rocky has some notable icons of its own. Rocky plays host to the headwaters of the Colorado River. Tucked behind Specimen Mountain near Little Yellowstone Canyon the Colorado River begins its longs journey southward towards the Pacific Ocean. The Colorado River is the engine that helped to form what we now know as the Grand Canyon. John Wesley Powell the first American explorer to discover and navigate the Grand Canyon is also credited with the first summit of Longs Peak the year before his famous travels down the Colorado River. Rocky Mountain National Park is also home to Longs Peak which at 14,259 ft above sea level is Rocky’s highest summit. Yellowstone’s highest peak, Eagle Peak reaches to 11,372 ft above sea level. 2887 ft below the summit of Longs Peak and 811 ft lower than the highest point on Rocky’s infamous Trail Ridge Road which tops off at 12,183 ft above sea level. This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exploring Rocky. Spending time above tree line in Rocky Mountain National Park will yield a completely different experience then spending time at the lower elevations beautiful meadows and parks.

2. Rocky has two very distinctive sides to the park. The continental divide splits Rocky Mountain National Park into an east side and a west side. Trail Ridge Road which is only open from Memorial Day until mid October is the means for which 99% of all visitors to Rocky will travel and experience each side of the park. The east side of Rocky Mountain National Park plays host to some moderate and short hikes that allow visitors to visit beautiful alpine lakes such as the iconic Dream Lake. The east side is also home to Longs Peak, the highest peak in the park and the challenging eight mile hike to it’s summit has become a goal of many of the park’s visitors. The west side of the Rocky Mountain National Park while just as beautiful as the east side is more mysterious. It’s alpine lakes and peaks are just as majestic as the east side but require long strenuous hikes to visit. Your just as likely to encounter a Moose in the back country of Rocky west side as you are other hikers.

3. Rocky has some of the most beautiful sunrises and early morning lighting anywhere. The geographic location of Rocky Mountain National Park allows it to garner some of the most beautiful light at sunrise. Situated above and just west of the Colorado high plains, Rocky Mountain National Park high peaks have a completely unobstructed view to the rising sun over the flat Colorado high plains. First morning light in Rocky Mountain National Park comes early and is intense. The peaks and summits will glow a fiery red and if one’s lucky enough to have clouds in the sky at sunrise they will begin to change color and hue 30 to 45 minutes before the sun actually rises. The light show in Rocky Mountain National Park on a partly cloudy morning is simply breathtaking to take in and photograph.

With only the high plains of Colorado between Rocky and the high peaks, brillant and colorful sunrises like this one over Lake Helene are magical. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L
With only the high plains of Colorado between Rocky and the high peaks, brillant and colorful sunrises like this one over Lake Helene are magical. Technical Details: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16-35mm F4 IS L

4. I’m a student of history and Rocky Mountain National Park is chock full of interesting events and people. From the early Ute and Arapahoe tribes that spent time in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park to characters that seem to read from a movie script such as The Earl of Dunraven, Rocky Mountain Jim Nugent, John Wesley Powell, William Byers, Abner Sprague,Squeaky Bob, and Enos Mills the park has been visited and explored by some of the hardiest, most interesting and in the case of the Irish Earl, self interested people to visit Colorado and the west. While many of the people listed above helped paved the way towards making the area a destination, none played a more integral part in having the foresight to protect and conserve the area than Enos Mills. Enos Mills is considered the father of Rocky Mountain National Park. His conservation efforts, explorations and writings on the area acted both as a treasure trove of information, but also helped in getting congress to set aside this land for protection in 1915. While Enos was a great outdoorsman and spent countless days wandering the forests that now makeup Rocky Mountain National Park, it was a chance encounter with John Muir, the father of the Sierra Club movement that spurred Enos to champion conservation of what is now Rocky Mountain National Park. There is a clear and distinct line between Rocky Mountain National Park founding and John Muir, the person considered the father of the American conservation movement. For that we have Enos Mills to thank.

5. Last and not least one of my personal favorite things about Rocky Mountain National Park is sharing and experiencing the beauty of the park with friends, family and visitors from all over the country and the world. Rocky Mountain National Park was the first National Park I ever visited when I moved to Colorado in 1998. It had an immediate and indelible effect on me the minute I drove through the entrance. I had spent time all over Colorado prior to visiting Rocky Mountain National Park and had figured the whole state of Colorado is practically a National Park, why do I need to go fight the crowds and cars?. Rocky’s unique and it only took one visit over sixteen years ago in which I had to be egged on by a friend for me to figure that out and fall in love with Rocky. Watch for the change in visitors when you bring them to Rocky to show them around. See how friendly and happy people become as they hike farther from the trailhead and into the backcountry. Once away from their vehicle and the influence of man one can easily see the effect wilderness and wild places have on people. Did you ever notice how almost everybody makes eye contact, says hello and smiles when they are four or five miles from their car?. You can almost gauge how close you are to the trailhead based on how friendly, outgoing and engaging people are on the trail. That’s a powerful effect and one that was not lost those that had the foresight to protect and preserve what I now consider my favorite place on the planet, Rocky Mountain National Park.