The weather around here started changing in a big way last Monday. While January ended up being the third snowiest month on record for the Boulder area, we had a good stretch of warm days and cloudless skies. Great weather for just about everything except landscape photography. But as January transitioned into February, the conditions along the Front Range became more unsettled. In other words, unsettled weather is just what I had been hoping for.
I spent the better part of last week splitting my time between Rocky Mountain National Park and the Boulder area. Both locations are favorite of mine and because I photograph in these areas so often I have a pretty good sense of where to be to optimize my chances of capturing dramatic imagery in conditions favorable for landscape photography.
Prior to the change in the weather last week we either had cloudy morning with no breaks in the sun, or clear bluebird skies with no clouds. That whipsawed pretty quickly last week with cold temperatures and a couple of weather fronts moving through the state.
The cool temperatures and upsloping winds managed to form a nice inversion on both Saturday and Sunday morning. Saturday the inversion and cloud line sat at about 7500 ft above sea level which meant the eastern slopes of Rocky Mountain National Park were in prime position to potentially yield dramatic conditions of fog and clouds at sunrise. By Sunday morning, the inversion had moved down to around 6000 ft or so meaning the area around Boulder was now the most promising area to photograph.
There was no way I was going to miss sunrise on Saturday and Sunday with some of my favorite weather conditions prevailing over Rocky Mountain National Park and the Boulder area. As is always the case when photographing in these conditions, one has to be ready to move quickly and be prepared to find differing locations to accommodate the conditions and the lighting. There is also a pretty good chance you will just end up getting skunked by the conditions. Staying at home of course will guarantee you of that outcome.
So after a few weeks of less than stellar sunrises and mild and clear weather the conditions greatly improved for creating images. As the saying goes amongst photographers, bad weather equals great photographs.
Sometimes all you can do between photography stints is sit and wait. Sit and wait for the weather to break or change or do something that will allow for differing conditions other than pure blue skies. I know complaining about a stretch of clear blue skies and warm days is not going to garner any sympathy from the peanut gallery, but somebody has to be contrarian.
The weather changed and snow finally filtered down from the skies on Monday over Boulder and the Front Range. The Flatirons and foothills surrounding town were covered in a beautiful coat of white fluffy snow. I could finally get out and play in the snow so to speak.
One of my favorite locations in town on snowy days like this is Flagstaff Mountain. You’ve got Chautauqua Park and the Flatirons right below, an on Flagstaff Mountain itself you have lots of interesting subjects that work well on snowy days.
Flagstaff Mountain has its share of wind swept and contorted tree’s along with red rocks and boulders so popular with the areas mountain climbing community. I find the area around Flagstaff Mountain to be a great place to photograph when I need a little motivation and inspiration close to home. Snow days on Flagstaff certainly don’t disappoint, and during the longer winter months it’s a location I cant get enough of.
It’s been a slow week around here for me. The torrent of winds and blowing snow that had been raking over Rocky Mountain National Park the last few weeks has subsided. It’s been replaced with crystal clear blue skies, warmer temperatures and breezy conditions. These are great conditions for any outdoor activities like snowshoeing or hiking but somewhat blasé when it comes to attempts to create dramatic photographs.
While the weather has been very nice here on the Front Range the last few days, it’s managed to ignite a bit of cabin fever. Of course warm weather and sun should have the opposite effect of cabin fever, but the warmth, sun and ever lengthening days have me yearning for summer in Rocky Mountain National Park. Summer and the big thaw will be here in a flash. Until then I’ll leave you with this image of wintery day in Moraine Park a few weeks back.
All of us who have spend considerable time in Rocky Mountain National Park have learned to love and appreciate the winds that are such a common companion on our outings. Actually, love and appreciate may be worded a little to strongly, but we at least learn to deal with the conditions at hand and pretend we love and appreciate the high winds.
It’s nearly a given that winds will be present in Rocky Mountain National Park during the winter season. So as I see it, you basically have two things you can do to mitigate the potential of high winds when photographing Rocky in the winter. Your first option is to stay home. Add wood to the fireplace, grab a cup of coffee and review your images from the warm an pleasant summer months and countdown the days until summer returns to the peaks and meadows.
Your other option is to suck it up, head out and make a go of it. Photographing Rocky in the high winds can be uncomfortable. Furthermore, keeping your equipment still enough in the high winds can mean that even if the lighting and weather conditions are favorable, the chance of you actually capturing a sharp image may be difficult.
Over the years I’ve had my share of both options. Whenever I chose the first option and stay at home I feel I’m missing out. Wind is as much a part of Rocky as are it’s herds of Elk and Bighorn sheep. Opting not to photograph in conditions that typify Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter season is generally not a viable one for me to undertake.
While photographing alongside the wind in Rocky Mountain National Park may result in disappointing outings, the dynamic conditions the winds present every now and again will provide dynamic, albeit gritty conditions.
I was lucky enough to come away with some keepers late last week while photographing in a very windy Rocky Mountain National Park. Conditions change quickly when its windy in the park, so it can be difficult trying to decide which locations will offer the best chance at coming away with a few keepers.
The continental divide was blanketed and obscured. Snow and clouds were being blown off the divide and quickly moving towards the east which remained clear. The high winds were blowing blankets of snow and clouds eastward so finding a vantage point facing east and towards the rising sun appeared most likely to yield results.
So I headed up Trail Ridge Road towards Many Parks curve to check scope out the view over Upper Beaver Meadows and Moraine Park. My vehicle rocking and bouncing as blasts of winds rolled over hill and dale. With every gust of wind, my expectations lowered. Photographing in this squall was going to be nearly impossible I thought to myself.
I soon arrived at Many Parks curve. An orange glow to the east was forming on the horizon and it appeared the sun would at least make an appearance this morning. I unpacked my camera gear, setup my tripod and composed an image. I had to keep a hand on my tripod to keep it from blowing off the side of the mountain but I could see the potential if I could just manage to get a few shots off in between the blasts of wind as the sun rose and hopefully illuminated the clouds racing through the sky.
Within minutes the sky started to fill with brilliant color. For brief moments the wind would abate allowing me to get a few shots off before another gust would roll off the mountainside and I’d have to brace myself and my gear. The colors of a warm sunrise combined with sheets of snow blowing across the valley made for surreal and dreamy conditions. Finally the sun itself rose over the horizon and for a few short moments I was able to capture this spectacular scene unfolding over Rocky.
While the wind made conditions difficult, it was also the wind that allowed for such a dramatic sunrise to unfold behind the diffused light caused by the blowing snow. It may not have been the kind of day that I’d want to be outside for and extended period of time, but being outside in the elements for sunrise was certainly well worth it.
Visitors to this blog know that I try to hammer home the point that one has to visit a location many times, in different season and varying weather conditions to convey a sense of place which will show through in your photography.
If you photographed long enough you’ve likely had moments of serendipity where you’ve shown up at a location and more or less by chance and luck had once in a lifetime type conditions unfold in front of you and your camera. While you may be thinking to yourself that these kind of conditions happen all of the time, the reality is luck and timing worked in your favor.
There’s a fine line between obsessing and spending to much time on a given location, and giving up to easily or thinking you have a given location in the bag so to speak. I can recount many instances when I’ve thought to myself that I’ve captured a location in a manner that can not be improved upon, only to make second and third attempts and find there is no such thing as a ‘final statement’ image.
There are just to many possibilities when photographing a given location to think one can make ‘final statement’ images. The light changes, the sky changes, the weather changes as does the flora. The possibilities are limitless.
So with that in mind, I spent the first few days of the new year photographing a particular Ponderosa pine that sits on a hillside in Moraine Park. 2014 has been cold and unsettled so Rocky Mountain National Park has had its share of snow, cold and clouds to start the new year.
The ‘Polar Vortex’ as it is know known is our lexicon, allowed me to photograph this one particular location from both different angles while also allowing me to convey very different representations and moods of both the same location and tree. It’s a good example of why its important to keep visiting the same locations and coming away with differing results. In other words, visiting the same location many times with your camera is one of the most effective ways to communicate a sense of place to your audience.
2013 is nearly wrapped up. It’s been a very productive year for me and while I mostly concentrated on adding new material to my Rocky Mountain National Park galleries, I was able to add images I’m pleased with to my other galleries as well including visits to Grand Teton National Park, as well as New York both in the summer and fall.
This time of year I enjoy looking at other photographers blogs. It’s become commonplace to post a ‘best of 2013’ review for your year end blog. We all love countdowns and top 10 lists because they are able to condense lots of information into a tiny, easily digestible package.
However, I wont be posting a ‘best of 2013’ this year. While each year I contemplate doing it, I end up talking myself out of it. During the course of the year, I try to post my best images to my blog as often as I can. I try to accompany them with information relative to the locations and experiences and work that went into making the image. I figure for most I’d only be duplicating work found in the archives from this past year.
So in wishing everybody a happy New Year, I just like to thank all my frequent visitors as well as clients who helped make 2013 a success. I’ll end 2013 much the way I started it, with an image of the Boulder Flatirons coated in fresh snow, my last portfolio image of 2013. Here’s to 2014!.
Yes, we’re finally over the hump. The hump of darkness that is. While something about that last statement doesn’t really sound right, I’ll still take the time to celebrate. Of course what I’m actually celebrating is the winter solstice. We’ve finally passed that point on the calendar were it’s all downhill from here. The days are no longer getting shorter, but from now until June 20th, daylight will increase and the sun will begin it’s slow march north in the sky.
I took time out on the winter solstice to photograph sunrise in Rocky. The Mummy Range makes for a perfect subject during these short days. The peaks of the Mummy range are oriented in a southeasterly direction which allows first light to cover the peaks with an array of intense color. After a short hike up Trail Ridge Road from Many Parks Curve I arrived at my location and setup my camera.
Winds blew waves of snow over the summit of Ypsilon Mountain and the clouds thickened over the peaks periodically shrouding the summits in white. There was only a small break on the eastern horizon to let the rising suns rays through the clouds and that small break in the clouds was getting smaller as sunrise approached.
A magenta hue started to cover the sky and move down onto the snow capped peaks of the Mummy Range. The clouds and snow squalls swirling over the peaks obstructed much of the early light, but even so, enough of the sun worked it’s way through to illuminate the flanks of the mountainsides with beautiful warm light. Much like the shortened day light hours of winter, the light show was short lived but very much appreciated.
This time of year can be a difficult one for photography in and around Rocky Mountain National Park. Storm systems move over the east side of the park bringing with them high winds and little snow.
Furthermore, the most popular areas and peaks on the east side of Rocky around Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge have a northeast facing orientation. With the sun rising well to the south, the peaks around Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge only have portions of their granite monoliths in favorable lighting with many of them remaining in deep shadows. This makes most of the iconic locals in Rocky Mountain National Park less than favorable for prime light during the shortest days of the year.
Even so there are plenty of subjects and compositions to experiment with. The winds that seem omnipresent this time of year in Rocky create interesting lighting and effects around the high peaks. Blowing snow is a constant and typically there are clouds socked in and around the continental divide. This combination can make for an interesting subject, especially if the photographer does not mind being blown about by the wind while trying to make images.
The winds rake the ridgelines and clouds and blowing snow follow the winds lead. Sunrise may be somewhat muted by the clouds and blowing snow but paying attention to the ridgelines and clouds, compositions and potential is endless. The blowing snow creates a low contrast, impressionistic feel to the icy mountainsides.
While December may not be the best time to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park, possibilities abound if you don’t mind being tossed around by the wind and trying to time your shots between gusts. Try to think of the unique possibilities this time of year presents and ignore the fact that your parked car is shaking back and forth like a top when your getting ready to head out from the Bear Lake parking lot and enjoy the season.
It probably goes without saying but if you live in Colorado people just assume you love the snow and cold. While that’s mostly true, there are some days that leave me dreaming of Summer and warmer weather. Winter photography can make even the most mundane landscapes look magical so it’s always worth the effort involved getting out in the field on a wintry morning.
There are some mornings however, when even those of us who enjoy the winter season have to push ourselves out of our warm bed in the morning. Last Friday morning was just one of those days for me. Arctic air had settled in over Colorado earlier in the week. Sub zero cold temperatures had settled in over Colorado and the Front Range along with a daily dose of light snow.
The whether conditions were culminating to a point where it became apparent, that one of these frosty mornings would be conducive to a cold but productive morning of photography.
I crawled out of the warm comforts of bed on Friday morning to find the thermometer reading a balmy -9 degrees Fahrenheit. I checked and scanned the horizon looking for snow and or clear skies. If it was crystal clear or snowing, I could use that as an excuse to crawl back into bed. I’d have no such luck, clouds drifted overhead and the horizon looked clear meaning a beautiful sunrise on the freshly snow covered peaks was looking likely.
No crawling back into bed for me, it was time to hustle, bundle up like a mummy and head out to that cold piece of metal otherwise known as my truck. I figured Chautauqua Park in Boulder would be as good a place as any for sunrise, and even more so since it would only be a short hike out into the meadow on this cold morning.
Arriving at Chautauqua Park, I hiked out into the meadow and began setting up my camera in the stillness of the morning. Even though it was cold, I love being in Chautauqua Meadow overlooking Boulder before sunrise. It’s amazing how even a bustling town like Boulder can be so quiet and peaceful in the stillness before dawn.
On a cold morning like this, waiting for sunrise can seem like an eternity. I was setup no more than 20 minutes before dawn, but the warmth of my truck had quickly dissipated into the chill of morning. Finally the clouds above the Flatirons started glowing with the color of the approaching sunrise.
My Achilles heel in cold weather has always been my fingers. No matter how hard I try, or what gloves I try my fingers always end up becoming painfully frozen within a matter of minutes. Obviously I need to work my camera and feather my neutral density filter by hand over my lens as I’m photographing. It becomes quite a task at this point to keep my fingers out of the lens and the shot, and keep my hands warm enough to even hold the filter and fire the cable release.
So in between cursing at the cold and attempting to periodically warm my hands, I was able to photograph the a beautiful albeit frigid sunrise over the Flatirons. When it was over, I barely enough feeling left in my fingers to pack my bag and fold up my tripod. A short sprint back to my truck ensued and I sat in my vehicle frozen like a block of ice for a good 10 minutes before I felt coordinated and thawed out enough to drive back home.
My love hate relationship with the cold always quickly comes to an end when I’m back at home in front of my computer with a hot cup of coffee editing my images. I quickly forget the cold when finding images I’m pleased with. So until the next morning I’m out in the field with no feeling in my fingers, I’ll welcome more opportunities for cold and snow.
If you stop by here on occasion to read my blog or view my galleries you likely know that I’m a big fan of tree’s. Tree’s are one of, if not my favorite subjects to photograph. The variety, shapes, colors, and textures of trees make for limitless opportunities. For me tree’s epitomize a location as much as any mountain or sea would ever.
For me, tree’s not only take on a sense of place, but tree’s have their own stories, and struggles. The have a uniqueness, personality and will that shows through in their shape and form. When I’m photographing tree’s this is what I am hoping to convey in my images.
In my opinion, photographing beautiful mountain peaks is different that photographing trees. There are few mountain peaks that have not been photographed countless times before. While there are certainly iconic images of individual tree’s such as the Grand Teton National Park’s ‘Old Patriarch’, I have found some of the most beautiful trees in some of the least dramatic settings.
What I love best about tree’s is that ultimately no matter the time, season or place, tree’s continue to inspire me to get out my camera and create images. Tree’s are like Polaris was to mariners and explorers for me. No matter my location, familiar or not, my old friend the tree helps me navigate, learn and create images of the landscape.