Say that three times fast!. In what seems like a winter season that just wont end, finally are signs of spring throughout Rocky Mountain National Park. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of signs of winter in the park to go along with all the snow, but progress is being made.
The exceptionally snowy and wet spring we’ve had is a blessing for sure. Rocky needs every little drop of moisture it can get before the hot and dry summer season settles in.
Monday morning at Sprague Lake had all the elements of spring melding together. Sprague Lake is nearly free from ice. The resident Mallards of Sprague were busy quacking in protest at my presence and the ever so subtle smell of pines could be detected over the frosty air.
It’s the subtle things like the return of the ducks and the organic and earthy smells of tree’s and plants the foretell the coming of summer. It’s being able to stand lakeside and watch a sunrise unfold in the chilly morning air and not feel cold. All in all it’s a pretty good place to be on a Monday morning
We finally had what seems like our first spate of warm weather this spring. Temperatures in the 70’s had me daydreaming about possibilities and adventures planned as the high country finally begins its thaw out.
The summer season in Rocky Mountain National Park is always too short. Just when you feel like your hitting your stride, cold weather settles back in and one’s left to contemplate all the places you did not have enough time to visit.
Therein lies the beauty of being on the cusp of summer. The possibilities and adventures are endless. I wont even scratch the surface of the adventures I conjure up in my head, but the excitement and anticipation is palatable.
Who knows what this summer will bring. Which lake in Rocky will I be out this summer as an epic sunrise unfolds over the beautiful peaks of the park?. I cant wait to find out. For now it’s time to take the dog out for a walk on another pleasant morning. That’s because if you didn’t hear, we’ve got heavy snow moving in again tonight!.
Normally I would expect for the Big Thompson river to be flowing at a steady pace this time of year. The winter melt off in the high country would have begun and the streams around Rocky would be thawing and filling with this winters snowmelt. The end of April is a transitional season, the end of April this year seems to have us transitioning back towards January.
Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park desperately need all the moisture they can get. April has helped to get the area nearer to normal levels. Bear Lake recorded 32 inches of fresh snow at the end of last week. All this moisture should go a long way to help mitigate the fire danger and provide a beautiful display of wildflowers through June, July and August for us photographers.
Finding running or open water anywhere in the park last week was a challenge. In fact it was mostly impossible. The best I could do is find some areas of open ice along the Big Thompson in Moraine Park to reflect this beautiful sunrise after trudging through the a few feet of snow in Moraine Park to get to this bend.
The warm weather, thawed lakes and snow free trails are just around the bend. I just need to keep reminding myself of this fact and keep the winter gear handy for a little while longer.
It’s that time of year again. The time to start making plans for summer vacations and weekend trips to beautiful locations. It’s time to shake off the winter doldrums and dust off your camera gear and to start getting back out in the field to photograph again. It’s time to get motivated again and taking advantage of the upcoming season to add to your portfolio. Below are three simple and easy ideas that will help to improve your motivation and success rate this year.
1. Start A Project: Most photographers I know dream of travelling the world and heading to exotic locations to create images of the worlds most dramatic and beautiful locations. It sounds amazing and a lucky few may even get to pursue this endeavor. The reality is most of us will not be able to break out the black American Express card and start booking flights to Fiji or Bora Bora.
For most of us, we have limited time and resources available. Whether your a professional landscape photographer or a weekend warrior our time and resources are precious and limited. Starting a project and building a portfolio of work from that project is a great way to circumvent this problem. Not to sound like an economist as opposed to a photographer, but there are real efficiencies built into creating a specific body of work.
Projects allow a photographer to manage cost and expenses while maximizing their time and resources building a specific body of work. The more time you spend working on a specific project, the more you become and expert in that subject. Building on your knowledge of your subject while immersed in a project allows you to target locations, set goals, and intimately understand the workings of the subject and area. Like a rolling stone, the momentum of a project builds upon itself to produce superior results.
2. Make A To-Do List: I realize this is supposed to be a landscape photography blog, not time management 101 but hear me out. It’s contrary to how most believe landscape photography works but I believe its important even for photographers in the field.
Many believe that nature photographers wander around aimlessly until something strikes their fancy. While we have all used this technique to varying degrees and some probably have even had some moderate success doing so, I’d be willing to bet more often than not this technique ends with lots of missed opportunities and time spent out of location.
Having a subject To-Do list allows you to keep your eye on the prize and stay focused. I usually keep a list in the note section of my phone that’s easily accessible. The list acts as a way for me to quickly jog my memory and settle on a destination for a shoot.
It’s a loose list and its not meant to be the be all and end all, but it helps me to avoid ‘paralysis by analysis’ syndrome in the field. Indecisiveness causes delay, delays will often cause you to be out of position or rushed when the magic starts to unfold. Having a To-Do list of subjects or locations will let you quickly work through indecisiveness and increase your chance for success.
3. Get In Shape: I cant tell you how often on online forums I read about landscape photographers obsessing over the weight of their gear. There are pages of discussions online about the benefits of compact lightweight tripods. Most of these center on expensive tripods made of the latest state of the art composite materials which cost an arm and a leg to purchase.
A good tripod is certainly an asset and weight is a real issue that photographers need to be addressed. But lets be honest, the most beneficial way to cut down on weight in the field is probably staring right back at you when looking in the mirror. Losing a few pounds here and there will not only make you feel better, but being physically fit in the field with most certainly improve your photography.
Landscape photography involves early mornings and late nights in the fields. It most often involves hiking long distances over difficult terrain. Much of the time in the field may not be spent in ideal weather conditions either. To find dramatic lighting, photographers often have to work and function along the edges of lighting and weather conditions.
Working under these conditions can be challenging both physically and mentally. Being physically prepared to work under these circumstances is a benefit to your photography. Instead of being tired or worn down in the field, being fit will allow you to concentrate on your surroundings and more importantly your photography.
I find staying ‘field ready’ essential to my photography. It allows me to arrive on time to my destinations without feeling rushed. I can quickly recover from the physical challenge and spend time studying my subject and concentrating on my photography instead of trying to catch my breath and keep the sweat out of my eyes. You don’t need to start running ten miles a day to see the benefits of being physically fit. Small steps towards achieving this goal will immediately make a big difference in your photography.
I find these three steps beneficial to my landscape photography. What I find most beneficial about these three steps is that they are all free of charge. You wont need to spend thousands of dollars to see results. Enact these three steps even in small stages and I believe you will quickly see positive results to your photography.
If push came to shove and I had to pick a favorite peak or mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park, I’d have to pick Hallet Peak. Picking a favorite peak is kind of like being asked which one of your children is your favorite. All of Rocky Mountain National Park is filled with spectacular peaks, playing favorites seems trivial.
Even so, Hallet Peak has a magical quality to it. Standing at 12,713 feet above sea level, it’s elevation is unremarkable compared to Colorado’s famous fourteen thousand foot peaks as well as Rocky’s own Longs Peak.
Hallet Peak, named after the early settler and rancher William L. Hallet makes up for it shorter stature with it’s physical location in the park. Hallet Peak resides in one of the most beautiful areas of not only Rocky Mountain National Park, but all of Colorado.
The blocky and tomahawk like shape of Hallet is stunning when viewed from the east side of the park. It’s even more impressive when viewed from the shores of one of the numerous alpine lakes that line Hallet’s base.
Regardless, Hallet calls to me like a siren. My camera trained on her striated granite features more times than I can count. Last week, I again found myself photographing Hallet from the flanks of the Bierstadt Moraine. And like and old friend, she delivered again.
Since it’s still the offseason in Rocky Mountain National Park, and the lakes and trails are still frozen over, one needs to get a bit creative to find subjects to photograph. One of my favorite subjects to photograph anytime of year are trees.
The potential and beauty found in the different shapes, contortions, and forms of tree’s are endless. Tree’s are a great subject all times of year. Here are a few of my tricks and tips for photographing trees successfully.
1. Eliminate Distractions: Naturally tree’s tend to grow amongst other trees and foliage. I find its very important when photographing images of trees to be very aware of what’s happening in the viewfinder. Rogue branches, leaves and deadfall can all become distractions that draw the eye away from the subject. Make sure to check the edges of your viewfinder or LCD screen carefully when composing to avoid distracting objects.
2. Make Order Out Of Chaos: This is one of the most important items when photographing trees. Naturally scenes with tree’s in them tend to be chaotic. I find it’s best to try to avoid converging lines. When setting up your tripod and framing your composition, try to keep spacing between tree trunks and allow room on the edges of the frame. Not every group of trees are going to make for an interesting composition. In fact I find nine out of ten times I scout out a group of trees, I end up moving on because there’s just no way to photograph the scene and eliminate distractions.
3. Rule Of Odds: This is a personal preference of mine. It’s certainly a rule that can and should be broken but one that I find most pleasing when photographing trees. Often I find that the best images of trees come when the tree’s are found in odd numbered groups. One, Three or Five trees placed cleanly in an image seems more pleasing to the eye the even numbered groups. Of course this is only a general and I have some very successful images of tree’s in even numbers as well.
4. Singularity: This is much more difficult to accomplish than many would think. Finding a single tree with a clean background can be quite difficult. It’s rare in nature to find a single tree that has not been encroached upon by bushes, branches, rocks and deadfall. Even if you do find a single tree it can be even more difficult to find a clean, non distraction background to use as a backdrop. Single tree’s make for powerful imagery as the exemplify independence, perseverance and tenacity.
Again these are just general rules, and rules in general are meant to be broken. This is the checklist I work off of when out in the field photographing tree’s. It helps me to quickly break down a scene and decide if I should just enjoy the view and move on, or if its time to drop the pack and setup the tripod and start shooting.
Spring began in Rocky Mountain National Park in date only last week. It was anything but spring like as a powerful late season storm brought heavy snow which was followed by very cold air from our neighbors to the north.
I should know better, but every March a few days of mild weather makes me dream of the rapidly approaching summer season. Visions of warm days, bubbling streams, glass like alpine lakes and sunshine dance fill my thoughts. This latest storm quickly put a damper on those thoughts and a quick reset back to reality.
Last year at this time the lakes in Rocky where actually beginning to thaw and open up. Well, what a difference a year makes. I figured I’d take advantage of the winter like conditions and head up to Emerald Lake.
The area around Emerald Lake is a favorite of mine as stunted and twisted tree’s can be found around the lake. Snow and wind accompanied me on the hike up to Emerald. There would be no sunrise this morning, just clouds and blowing snow. In other words, a perfect spring day for a hike in the park.
I spent the morning photographing the stunted trees around Emerald Lake in the snow. It’s always a bit surreal walking around the frozen surface of a lake. It allows viewpoints and access one cant achieve when the lake is thawed but in the back of your mind your aware your standing in the middle of a frozen body of water.
The conditions were perfect for photographing the trees. The snow and blowing snow created a beautiful Hi-key affect that allowed endless compositions of my favorite subjects. So while I may have been bemoaning the weather the conditions allowed for a great few days of photography. I just enjoyed myself and the weather. Heck I’ll be shooting reflections of Hallet Peak in Emerald Lake in no time.
March in the Rocky Mountains is a very dynamic month. In many ways, I find March to be one of the hardest months to successfully photograph. While most areas of the country are anticipating the start of spring like weather and mild days ahead, the Rockies instead ramp up winter for good measure.
With March being one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s wettest months, typically means nice dumps of snow and moisture. We of course desperately need the moisture but the combination of snow and winds that accompany each passing system can make it difficult to be out in the field photographing.
I look at the month of March as a tease. A few mild, warm and sunny days sprinkled in for good measure with a ragging blizzards and cold blustery northerly winds tossed in as reminder that winter still has a few good rounds left in her. In other words, March wants you to know it’s not quite time to unpack the Hawaiian shirts and flip flops just yet.
The weather this March in Rocky Mountain National Park has been mostly following along course. We’ve not seen a blizzard with heavy snow as of yet, and the park is desperately below the typical snowpack measurements, but March remains raw and ever changing.
With the lakes still frozen over and the streams just beginning to reveal moving water beneath the ice and thaw, I headed out looking for subjects that remain interesting regardless of the season. With a new storm system quickly descending on the park, I hiked up to a favorite location in Glacier Gorge.
The skies were cloudy and snow was moving in over the high peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park. I was hoping that the small break in the cloud cover on the eastern horizon would hold through sunrise and cause a kaleidoscope of colors as the cloud cover became illuminated by the sunrise.
A kaleidoscope of color was not to be this March morning in Glacier Gorge. There was however, just enough muted color in the sky over Glacier Gorge for a short time to make for a dynamic image of this krummholz tree.
This morning typifies this time of year in Rocky. Muted colors, cloud cover and snow partially covering the landscape as more begins to fall on the high peaks. A pair of Stellar Jays squawking at me as the sun rises over the Front Range of Colorado. It may be one of the more difficult and least inspiring times to photograph, but there are few other places I would rather be.
Dramatic sunrises and sunsets are hard to beat when it comes to photography. It’s hard to top the anticipation and excitement that comes from the experience of being in the right place at the right time and capturing the colors and intensity of an epic sunrise or sunset. I have to admit however, I enjoy being out in less ideal weather conditions just as much as I do the ideal ones.
Saturday was just such one of those days in Rocky Mountain National Park. The weather forecast called for blizzard like conditions during the day with high winds and heavy snow. Sounded like a perfect March day in Rocky to me.
Photographing in snow I really enjoy, high winds with blowing snow, not so much. These kinds of conditions open up so many different viewpoints and locations that would likely go ignored during more ideal conditions. It appeared there would be a short window in the morning where there would be moderate snow before the front moved east and the winds really started picking up.
I arrived at the Beaver Meadows entrance to Rocky about an hour before sunrise. It was snowing hard but the park was quiet and serene. My vehicle cut first tracks through the snow along the yet unplowed roads in the park. The plan was simple this morning. Cruise the roads along Moraine and Horseshoe Park attempting to capture Rocky without the drama of a spectacular sunrise, but instead the serenity of a March snowstorm.
It didn’t take long before I was being pounded by heavy wet flakes of snow, capturing images of evergreens and aspens in some of my favorite conditions. It’s days like these that I’m thankful that I shoot with a weather sealed body. It’s a chore in itself to keep your equipment clean and your lens elements dry but even if my body was not weather sealed, I still be out attempting to photograph in these wet conditions.
After about two hours of photographing in Moraine and Horseshoe Park, the winds really started to pick up and the snow was blowing hard. The conditions quickly got to the point where photography was becoming increasingly difficult. It was time to call it a day and start drying out my now soaked camera and lenses.
As far as I’m concerned it was another perfect morning in Rocky Mountain National Park and I’m just as pleased with my images from this morning as I am from mornings when I’m photographing more dramatic lighting in more ideal conditions. Got to love March in Rocky!.
Located west of Eldorado Canyon State Park lies Walker Ranch. Situated on Boulder County open space property, Walker Ranch is the site of a former homestead from the turn of the century. Portions of the property skirt the banks of South Boulder creek which makes for great hiking and fishing.
The area around Walker Ranch is going through a transition of sorts. In 2000, the Walker Ranch fire burned through much of the property and it’s forest. In 2013, the Flagstaff fire again burned inside portions of the Walker Ranch area. Many of the tree’s inside of Walker Ranch have been affected by these two most recent fires.
Even with the recent burns in the area, Walker Ranch is still a spectacular location for photography. Our long dry spell seems to have temporarily abated in the last couple of weeks. Snow has become a common occurrence once again in and around Boulder.
During a recent snowstorm, I took the opportunity to head up to Walker Ranch to see what subjects I could find. It was snowing hard, and the wind had really begun to pickup as I headed out in search of images. I found this group of Ponderosa pines weathering the storm.
Though it was snowing hard, it was quiet and peaceful as I photographed. Not another soul was to be found. The parking lots were empty and people remained in the comforts of the inside returning this popular location back to a place of wildness and solitude.
I was only able to photograph for a short time. The winds and blowing snow soon made it to difficult to keep the front of my lens snow free. I packed up and headed back to the car. Though I’m a photographer, experiences like these are never about recording images to a memory card. For me, it’s the experience of committing special days like this to my memory.