Colorado’s wildflower season is world renown. Photographers from all over the world come to our state to photograph the Colorado high country in bloom. Depending on snowpack, and overall moisture the wildflower season can be somewhat hit or miss. Typically peak wildflower season occurs for a few weeks stretching from mid July until early August. The display may be short lived depending on heat, rain and wildflower photographers biggest nemesis, hail storms. The actual timing of the bloom typical depends on your elevation and location in the state. We had a banner year for snow and most if not all of Colorado’s drainage basins were setup to produce a banner year for wildflower displays as well. Unfortunately my plans this year did not include a jaunt out to some of the more well known locations in the San Juan’s or areas around Crested Butte. Family commitments meant that I would be back in New York state during the wildflower peak.
I spent some time in the field photographing Rocky Mountain National Park the second week of August. Fortunately for me, and much to my surprise the wildflowers at higher elevations still looked great. In fact, many wildflowers had yet to start blooming. Indian Paintbrush, Mountain Bluebells and Columbines could still be found in prime conditions along the rocky slopes and stream sides. I found this nice bouquet of Columbines in the rocky slopes near Marigold Pond. Marigold Pond sits between Two Rivers Lake near the base of Notchtop mountain. Columbine’s are Colorado’s state flower and they are one of my favorite wildflowers to shoot. They are a very dainty wildflower and will bob and sway in even the slightest of breezes, which at 10,000 ft above sea level is pretty much a given. Taking my time in between periodic breezes which would cause the flowers to move, I was able to capture nice images of these iconic flowers, at about two weeks later than I expected too.
Lake Haiyaha in Rocky Mountain National Park was named by Native Americans and means ‘lake of many rocks’. Any hiker or photographer who has traversed the 2 miles or so from the Bear Lake trailhead will quickly understand the rational behind the naming of the lake which sits at the base of Hallet Peak. Boulders and rocks abound along the shores and outlet of Lake Haiyaha. Depending on the time of year, the amount of rainfall, and to what degree the snow melt is occurring, access and photography around the lake is in a constant change of flux. Lake Haiyaha’s rocky shores make for great leading lines and foregrounds in a photograph. Even better, Lake Haiyaha tends to be much less visited and photographed then the other lakes near and around the Bear Lake trailhead such as Nymph and Dream.
I visit Lake Haiyaha often and have photographed along its rocky shores many times. The lighting at this location becomes more favorable as summer wanes and the sun begins to move back towards the south from its northern most point at the summer solstice. Lake Haiyaha sits at the base of southeastern flank of Hallet peak. Because of it’s southeastern orientation, photography of Hallet peak is more favorable when the sun begins retreating towards the south later in the summer and fall months.
I woke up this morning at 3:00 AM to see what the conditions looked like outside. More often than not, summer mornings in Colorado break with bluebird skies and not a cloud to be found for hundreds of miles. My heart skipped a beat when I peaked out my window and viewed the nearly full moon breaking through pretty thick mix of cloud cover. I quickly got my gear together and jumped in my truck and headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park. Having clouds in the sky is only half the battle in trying to capture a dramatic landscape image in the park. For it all to come together successfully a few things need to happen.
First of all you need the clouds to remain in the sky. Easy enough concept right?. Many times, the clouds will dissipate right before sunrise as the atmospheric conditions change. If the clouds don’t dissipate, they then need to be positioned above what ever landmark it is you want to shoot. I cant tell you how many times I’ve had great clouds in the sky, but nowhere near the subject I am shooting. It’s like my photography subject is emitting reverse polarity on the clouds and causing them to scoot away from where I need them to be in my frame, this can be a very frustrating proposition. Lastly you need what I call a ‘sucker hole’. A ‘sucker hole’ is a small break in the cloud cover or along the horizon where the sun will be rising or setting. It’s aptly named a ‘sucker hole’ for good reason. Many a photographer has been ‘suckered’ into waiting for the light with the hope that the sun will peak through the break in the cloud cover and illuminate your subject with brilliant light and cloud cover. More often than not, the light never comes, and the ‘sucker hole’ lives up to its name.
This morning at Lake Haiyaha, it all came together quite nicely. While the cloud cover thinned as sunrise approached, there was still enough clouds in the sky above Hallet peak that as long as the sunrise was not blocked by additional clouds cover over the eastern plains, things were looking good. Furthermore, it was quite windy at Dream Lake when I passed the trail junction on the hike in but this sheltered area of Haiyaha kept the wind at bay and the reflection intact. I used my 17-40mm lens at 17mm to capture as much of the sky an foreground as I could. I could have easily used a 14mm lens this morning and gone wider but did not have one in my backpack. As the sun began to rise and illuminate the cloud cover overhead in a pink, red and magenta hue, the rocks along the shore of Haiyaha reflected the glow in the sky making for an intense palette of colors on the rocks and peaks. Fighting off the swarms of mosquitoes who also found the windless sheltered area to their liking, and trying to keep them off the front of my lens, I was able to make a handful of images in the quickly changing lighting conditions. It all came together quite well for me this morning. Its morning like these that keep me jumping out of bed when the alarm goes off at 3:00 AM. There never a sure thing in photography, but when conditions look favorable it’s better not to hit the snooze button.
Unfortunately not everyday at the Beach is going to break sunny and clear. Many mornings on the eastern end of Long Island and the Hamptons are going to break cloudy and overcast because of the strong influence the Atlantic Ocean has on the weather in the area. Even on mornings such as these you can often find plenty of subjects to photograph. While the beach itself can yield some interesting results with a little imagination and the use of long timed exposures to blur the water and the clouds, there are many other subjects that photograph well in the soft light.
This particular morning in Southampton was exactly one of those mornings. One of the difficulties in photographing along the coast and near large bodies of water is wind. It’s rare not to have a strong breeze along the shore in the morning. Often, this will not affect photography of subjects such as the beach and or the ocean, but it can make it very challenging to photograph items that move and sway in the wind without capturing motion blur. Even though this particular morning was cloudy and overcast, there was little to no wind. I decided to head off the beach to a location I had spied the day prior.
The town of Southampton, New York maintains some open space property that has been donated from a large estate just off the beach near the original 1640 town site. They have cultivated a mix of wildflowers and garden flowers in this location and there is quite an impressive display of color to see here. The cultivated gardens which are partially maintained and irrigated have had their flowers propagate outwards amongst the open space field. This has created a great location to photograph the flowers, some cultivated and some wild amongst the grasses of the open space. With the soft diffused light, I was able to capture this impressive display of flowers without a stiff breeze causing the flowers to sway during the long exposures required. All in all it worked out to be a good morning to look for subjects not beach related, and instead work with subjects that require little to no wind to capture successfully.
It sure is good to be back on my home turf again. While I had a blast photographing back in New York, it felt great to get up to Rocky Mountain National Park again amongst the pristine Colorado alpine scenery and dry mountain air. I had the opportunity one morning to head up to Rocky to photograph for the morning. I was hoping for some clouds to provide some nice diffused light to capture some images of wildflowers. Instead I awoke to nearly clear blue skies. I had decided the day before that I would hike into the Lake Helene area of Rocky Mountain National Park from the Bear Lake trailhead. This is a good area to find wildflowers amongst the rocky slopes including the ubiquitous Columbine which is of course Colorado’s state flower.
While I have good images of Lake Helene and Two Rivers Lake, I still have some different compositions I would like to work on. Leaving the Bear Lake trailhead at 4:30 AM, I arrived at Lake Helene to clear blue skies and a pretty stiff breeze. There would not be an epic sunrise over Notchtop mountain this morning, nor would one be able to capture a reflection in the choppy alpine lake. I left Lake Helene to the two photographers already setup along the shore. On the hike in as dawn was approaching, I could see some clouds off to the north. I was hoping these clouds would slide on south towards one of the two lakes I had planned on shooting. After ditching Lake Helen I hurriedly headed over to a rocky outcropping that looks down on Odessa Lake from the flanks of Joe Mills Mountain. It was a perfect view of Odessa Lake and the Gable, and those clouds I had spotted off to the north were in perfect position for sunrise. I’ve wanted to capture an image from this location for some time, but I’ve always been lured to one of the nearby lakes instead. Even though I ditched my original destination, the stars aligned this morning and I managed to capture an image that is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. I have to say, it feels great to be back home.
Here’s another beach scene from Southampton, New York, without the actual beach included. The dunes along Dune Beach are quite impressive for the area, and I have to assume how Dune Beach garnered it’s name. I had another successful shoot this morning and on my way off the Beach I almost walked right past this scene. I had envisioned photographing a scene like this many times during my visits out to the east end. In the past I’ve not quite been able to get all the visual elements to fall into place to create the image I was looking for.
After a successful morning photographing I find myself falling into a zone. I would compare it to a similar feeling that one gets after a runners high. I relax, my mind opens up a bit and I’m able to study the elements within the scene with a little less bias and preconceived ideas. I often create some of my most unique and rewarding imagery on the back end of a shoot when I’m experiencing this sort of ‘photographers high’. During this time however, I can often wander right past interesting imagery as I’m busy contemplating, thinking to myself. This almost happened to me this morning as I was heading off the beach. I felt great, had captured some beautiful images and my mind was pondering other things as I walked through the sand. I decided to stop for a moment to readjust my backpack only to look up and see this scene unfolding before me. It was a good thing my backpack distracted me enough so that I had a moment to reevaluate the scene.
One of the things I like about shooting along the beaches on the east end of Long Island is the subtlety of the scenery found in this part of New York State. While the beaches in the Hamptons are world famous for their jet setting crowd and millionaires, they are not photographed often as part of the natural landscape. I have some suspicions as to why this may be. First of all, although the beaches in the Hampton’s are public, access is made difficult due to parking restrictions and expensive day use fee’s. Furthermore, the beaches are void of stunning visual cue’s that the beaches found along the west coast of the United States have become famous for. There are no boulders, and sea stacks and large cliffs to use as props and areas of interest within the photograph. The beaches found on the east end of Long Island are known for their soft sand, subtle dunes and spaciousness. This makes strolls along the beach pleasant, but can make it difficult to capture the essence of the location in the image.
When scouting locations and making images, I use this very essence to find and make images that speak to my feelings and impressions of how I view the beach and this location. Every time I arrive at one of these beaches, I find the scene completely different than the following day, month or year. The beach is a landscape in constant flux. The wind, rain, nor’easters, and tides shape the beach daily. I often return to locations I have photographed the prior year only to find the dunes have moved, or have been removed by a powerful storm.
The night before I photographed this scene, heavy thunderstorms rolled over the beaches through the night. Heavy wind and rain fell late into the night. When I arrived at Halsey Neck beach, the skies were clear but the air was heavy with humidity from the night before. I was immediately drawn to the fences used to protect and reinforce the barrier dune formations. The dune grass was moist and a vibrant green from the moisture the night before. The sand was smooth and flat, matted down from the heavy rain as well. The dune fences, which usually are a bleached grey from the Sun and wind, were dark, coated with water and sea spray which helped to reinforce the texture of the wood used to makeup these fences. The wind, which is usually blowing along the beach was calm. I quickly hurried to capture the scene before the Sunrise would cast harsh shadows on the scene and remove the subtle texture I was looking to capture.
I apologize for the lack of any new post last week. I was back in New York visiting family, and while it was not a photographic exposition per se, I was able to get out and shoot some images. My wife Holly is originally from upstate New York and I am originally from downstate. Naturally, visits of this nature typically result in a whirlwind tour of New York visiting our various relatives and friends. This time we had our eight month old Keira in tow with us for the first time. This made the travelling a little more intense than usual but also much more rewarding for our family as Keira was able to meet lots of new relatives. I often joke that I need a vacation from my vacation on these kinds of visits.
While I was unable to spend any significant time upstate photographing the many waterfalls and gorges in the Finger Lake region, I was able to sneak away to photograph some beach scenes from the Hamptons and scenes along the Hudson river. Even when on whirlwind trips such as these, I’m making mental notes on locations I need to return to shoot when I have more time to dedicate to photography alone. I have a very large mental note, that I need to return to the Finger Lakes region during fall to take full advantage of the gorges and falls when the foliage is peaking. It’s high on my current to-do list. I also need to spend some quality time in the Hudson Valley. This is one of my favorite areas of the country to photograph. For the last few years I have been unable to spend a significant amount of time wandering and photographing all it has to offer.
Ironically, even though both myself and my wife are originally from New York, it has become more difficult to dedicate enough time to photograph these areas for any significant amount of time. The lesson learned here, is to always take advantage of the time you have right now. Future plans are great, and you may think you will be returning time and time again only to find life moves you in another direction. While, I am pretty sure I will be spending more time in this region, I can only kick myself for all the times I was in the area and chose to spend my time in another fashion doing other things.
I’ll be updating the blog quite a bit here in the next few weeks as I have a pretty good backlog of photographs and images from my recent trip. It’s great to be back in Colorado as well, and I’ll be heading up to Rocky Mountain National Park soon, so look for some Colorado images to be mixed in with some of my recent New York images.
After my severely botched attempt last week to shoot Fern Creek and The Little Matterhorn, I returned to Rocky Mountain National Park again the following morning to make a second attempt. The legs were a bit sore, but this time I made sure I followed the correct trail past Fern Lake and up to the Odessa Lake area. I’ve photographed this area many times before but I have yet to come away with an image that really captures the essence of this area. All of Rocky Mountain National Park is beautiful for varying reasons. The Odessa Lake area is certainly one of the more dramatic and stunning areas of the park. Odessa Lake rests below Lake Helene and above Fern Lake in a stunning alpine valley. The hike takes you up past Fern Lake, then you follow Fern creek to the outlet of Odessa Lake. Not surprisingly, most of Fern Creek is still buried under snow. More surprisingly was sharing the shoreline with four other photographers. Odessa Lake takes some work to get to, so one typically only finds the campers who were lucky enough to secure a back country pass for the campground. I did not get a repeat performance of the dramatic sunrise I managed to miss the day before, but nonetheless it was another spectacular morning in Rocky Mountain, and I’ll be sure to return again to capture that illusive image.
Normally I would consider myself a pretty good pathfinder. Getting lost is in the woods is not typically something I do. I would say under most circumstances I pride myself on being able to navigate either through the woods or to somebody’s home address. I had big plans this morning to photograph the Little Matterhorn and Notchtop Mountain from just below Odessa Lake. Typically when I photograph this area I drop down from the Bear Lake trailhead which makes for a beautiful 4.2 mile hike to Odessa Lake. Because of all the snow we’ve had this past spring in Colorado, I was figured there might be some large, slick icy patches in the area around Lake Helene. Because of this, I figured I’d take the longer but lower elevation route to the Odessa area from the Fern Lake trailhead.
Everything started out as planned. We arrived at the trailhead 10 minutes early for our 4:20 AM departure. I had two good friends along for the hike and we set off headed for our destination. The Fern Lake trailhead follows the Big Thompson River for a portion of the way. We made great time the first 1.8 miles to The Pool. The Big Thompson was raging and The Pool was quite a sight under the full moon. We traveled across the large wooden bridge and over The Pool with a quick pace, intent on getting to our location by sunrise. I could see pillow like clouds hanging over the peaks and a clear horizon to the east. This morning was setting up just perfectly. It was at this point where the train came off the tracks so to speak. While we were all busy admiring The Pool and the flow of water coming down off the Big Thompson, we forgot to pay attention to the trail sign. Just after crossing the river, hikers need to bear to the right to head up towards Fern Lake and Odessa Lake.
Instead we blissfully and unknowingly kept hiking up the Mill Creek trail under the nearly full moon. This is not where we wanted to be and it was not until I reached Mill Creek basin that I realized I had really screwed up. I frantically looked for a location to shoot the impending sunrise to no avail. It was clear at this point that we had just hiked 4 plus miles on the wrong trail. I had a feeling when we passed Cub Lake that something was off, but I was so confident that I knew where we were going that I did not even bring my trail map with me. I learned a few valuable lessons this morning. Never assume you know where you are going, and don’t leave the trail map at home. I was however, able to salvage a shot this morning while hiking back to the car. The wildflowers in Rocky Mountain National Park look great at lower elevations as do the small streams. I’m calling this small unnamed creek and falls ‘We’re Lost Falls’ in honor of our bumbling adventure this morning.
I try to avoid returning to the same locations on consecutive days if possible. That’s not to say I do return to the same location over and over again in an attempt to capture a scene under varying lighting conditions. You only have so many sunrises and sunsets, so I try to keep the line moving. I had previous commitments on Saturday and Sunday that prevented me from heading up into the high country or to Rocky Mountain National Park in search of images so I stayed local in Boulder.
We continue to have a very wet summer here on the Front Range of Colorado, and the monsoon has really kicked in full force. Most afternoons we are getting very strong thunderstorms and rain. This has made for some great sunrises the past few weeks. Clouds from the previous nights thunderstorms have been hanging around at dawn accompanied by good size breaks in the clouds on the eastern horizon out over the high plains. This particular sunrise of the Flatirons from Chautauqua park was particularly nice. Further north, over Rocky Mountain National Park the sunrise looked to be even more intense. Hopefully some other photographers captured that display, I was glad to be able to sneak in this image.