In keeping with the Aspen tree theme, here’s a recent example of an Aspen grove along the northern flank of Green Mountain in Boulder, Colorado. Were still inching along towards summer here but finally I can see signs of life and spring in our lower elevations. Most photographers enjoy making images of Aspen trees during the fall when their leaves turn a golden yellow. There is however, a short window during the spring, shortly after the trees ‘bud out’ when the Aspen trees put on just as interesting a display of color. Shortly after Aspen trees begin to display their recent spring foliage, Aspen leaves take on a translucent key lime like hue. It’s a short window between the key lime look and the darker summer green leaves. Under the right lighting conditions, the green Aspen leaves literally appear to glow.
I’ve been spying this small Aspen grove on the side of Green Mountain in Boulder for some time. Boulder, Colorado does not have many Aspen groves, but there are a few dispersed areas of Aspen trees here and there amongst the Evergreens. Because of the heat and lesser amounts of moisture, they tend to grow in smaller, less impressive groves than other areas of Colorado. I passed this grove the day before but it was sunny and the lighting conditions where much too harsh to capture the detail and make the key lime spring leaves ‘pop’. I returned a few days later after a light rain had been falling on the area. The leaves looked great under the diffused lighting and I spent some time wandering around the trees. It was an awesome feeling being outside, under a light mist with the organic smell of life, and spring in the air and grove. Periodic claps of thunder could be heard in the distance but I was loving every minute of it. This was spring renewal at its best for me. I was revitalized with thoughts of what the future holds and opportunities to come.
Populus Tremuloides. The scientific name of my favorite species of tree. Populus Tremuloides certainly does not roll of the tongue like its more commonly known identification of ‘Aspen’ tree does. Aspen’s are probably my favorite photography subjects. Not only is this deciduous tree regal in its appearance and symmetry but even the name sounds cool. The name has become popular enough to grace one of Colorado’s most famous ski towns, and even now is a popular pet name.
While Colorado is world renown for its large Aspen groves, Rocky Mountain National Park does not play host to large stands of Aspen trees. There are plenty of Aspen trees present in Rocky Mountain National Park, they just tend to congregate in smaller groves and sizes. Rocky gets less precipitation than some of the central areas of Colorado that are host to some of the larger Aspen groves. Furthermore, the large Elk population takes its toll on the trees using them as a food source during the long winter months by chewing on the Aspen bark and smaller off shoots. While this may make photographing Aspen trees in Rocky Mountain National Park less than ideal, there are ample opportunities to use the Aspen trees of Rocky as photographic subject matter.
Aspen trees have a very unique look and feel to them. Aspen trees send out off shoots from the main tree which produces additional clone like off shoots. These off shoots grow very close to the original tree and are attain similar sizes and attributes. This is why one does not typically find Aspen trees growing alone. The clone off shoots clump together around the main tree which helps to create the unique patterns and shapes of the Aspen boles that make every colony different and unique while at the same time achieving a level of symmetry that makes them so photogenic.
Photographing Aspen trees can be quite rewarding but I also find it very challenging to compose coherent images without to many distractions in the scene. There are thousands of different ways to approach photographing the subject. Do you want to shoot one bole?, the entire grove?, looking up?, looking down?, backlit?, in shade?, and so on. I personally prefer to photograph Aspen trees under diffused cloudy light. Diffused, even light allows one to capture the detail in the bark as well as to allow one to move freely through the scene without having to worry about where the sun is located as well as to avoid harsh lighting. Shooting a coherent, clean Aspen image requires thought and some trial and error. It’s important to narrow down the scene, organize clutter and remove distracting objects and try to avoid converging lines. You need to take the chaos that is Mother Nature and organize the scene in a manner that helps to create a cohesive and compelling image. Practice makes perfect, and I have yet to find conditions where one cant practice making compelling images of Aspen trees.
At the risk of boring everyone to death, I will avoid digressing more on how we have yet to see springtime here on the Front Range of Colorado. I will only say that in the last week I have been able to photograph lots of wintry type scenes on and around Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder. It’s fairly safe to assume that by mid May, most of my photography has shifted from winter like scenes, to views of Golden Banner blooming in Chautauqua meadow amongst the green grasses. Enough of the belly aching, regardless of the fact I am looking forward to warm sunny days, I’m quite pleased with the end results. I’ll let the image speak for our weather this week.
As photographers, we often find ourselves pining after the latest and greatest pieces of gear. The digital photography revolution, with its constantly evolving technology has only fed into these desires. Gear that only a few years prior may have been the latest and greatest, may now be considered dated and old. Many people now embrace digital photography whom in the past film photography had little or no appeal. The popularity of digital photography today has surpassed the popularity of photography at any time during the film era.
When I first started seriously pursuing photography back in 1994, digital photography had not entered the mindset of photographers. Film was still king and Kodachrome was still a very popular film. Fuji Velvia had surpassed Kodachrome as the go to film for most photographers, but you could readily purchase Kodachrome 35mm slide film in 25 ISO, 64 ISO and 200 ISO. Times were much different then and the limitation of your gear mostly revolved around your skills, technique and the film you chose to shoot with. At the time, a 35mm camera was basically a light tight box, used to expose film. Sure there were high end professional film bodies available then such as the Nikon F4 or the Canon Eos 1n, but a photographer with a Nikon FM2 could produce just as technically proficient of an image on Kodachrome or Velvia as could the photographer with the Canon Eos 1n.
No longer can a digital camera be viewed as a simply a light tight box in which we expose a piece of film to light. Digital cameras come in all flavors and sizes these day and the sensor and resolution of the actual digital camera can play a large role in how and image is viewed or printed. That being said the photographers vision and passion for their subject is still the most important aspect to photography. It’s easy to believe that buying a new piece of gear will make you a better photographer. While I find that new gear may add some additional motivation to head out into the field for a test run, that feeling will quickly disperse leaving me only with my vision and passion for photography to get me back out in the field. Since it dawned on my back in 1994, that photography was something I would pursue for life, I have owned many different types of gear. I have shot with Minolta equipment, Nikon equipment and for the last 17 years have shot most with a 4×5 large format system and Canon equipment. While having some of this gear and equipment has helped me to capture some of my imagery, it was the realization that formulating a vision is much more powerful than any new piece of gear
Lets get one more post in the books here for April. This is another photograph from Rocky Mountain National Park on a typical snowy Colorado spring day. Photographers often talk of visualizing photographs prior to making them. I would say I use this approach often and find that it can work very well at times. There is however, a trap in setting out with the intent of capturing a particular photograph during any given outing.
It’s easy motivation to idealize and visualize what one is going to photograph on a particular expedition. The thought of capturing magnificent light at an elusive location may be what gets a photographer out of bed in the morning when the alarm clock goes off at 2:00 AM, more importantly it may be what keeps the lights turned on back at the house. It can also be what hamstrings a photographer and causes them to head out with blinders attached. When I arrived in Rocky Mountain National Park this particular morning I too was guilty of having a pre determined notion of what I wanted to photograph.
I knew that it would be overcast and snowing in the Park this morning. These are some of my favorite weather conditions for my type of photography. Weather conditions such as they were this particular morning are great for photographing trees and more intimate landscape subjects. I headed over to the Hollowell Park trailhead knowing there were some nice Ponderosa pine groves in the area. I was intent on photographing Ponderosa pine trees covered in fresh snow as I had done many times before. I have photographed Ponderosa’s many times in conditions such as these. A funny thing happened as I set out from the trailhead.
As I walked along the stream, and further up the trailhead, the willows along the bank of the stream caught my eye. I have hiked past these willows many times before and never felt the motivation to photograph them. This morning was different. With the snow falling moderately and the Willows along the bank of the stream subtlety glowing red and orange, I had to get my camera out and capture the scene unfolding before me. I quickly setup my equipment, forgot about photographing the Ponderosa’s and began to photograph the willows. The soft light and snowfall combined with the red’s and oranges of the willows along the creek helped to create an almost impressionist like image. The bottom line, visualizing what you want to photograph is good, but make sure you keep your senses tuned and your eyes and mind open.
I swear spring is coming. One of these weeks, the high country of Colorado will thaw out and all those beautiful alpine lakes will be free of snow and ice. It’s just not going to be this week. Regardless of the typical spring weather we’ve been experiencing on the Front Range, its great to get out of the office, and into the field to shoot scenes like this. Some of my best winter like scenes are actually photographed during the springtime. Springtime in Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park tend to be snowy and wet. Perfect conditions to photograph more intimate scenes of nature that may not photograph so well under harsher sunlit conditions.
The past few days have seen a typical unsettled weather pattern moving affecting the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Storms moving through the Colorado from the Pacific have been dropping a few inches of heavy wet snow every few days. Heavy wet spring snow coats the conifers lining the slopes of Rocky Mountain National Park, and fog drifts in and off the peaks periodically. The weather causes diffused lighting conditions. I spent the last week photographing the Moraine Park area as these storms would pass through Rocky and came away with many unique images. I love how the lighting conditions render the scene with a cooler blue hue and the pine trees in Moraine are weighed heavily with fresh spring snow. It was a good week for photography and I would certainly welcome another week of unsettled weather. I promise, before you know it I’ll be posting images of pristine Alpine lakes reflecting majestic peaks, its just not going to be today.
Even with the mild winter we’ve had this year, the transition into spring from winter never seems to occur at a pace we would like. It can often feel like were taking one step forward with a warm spring day and then two steps back when you wake up to find snow on your car in the morning .
The lower elevations around Boulder are starting to show signs of life as the grasses are starting to green and some of the early bloomers are sprouting buds. People who follow my photography know that one of my favorite subjects are trees. I find the form and shape of trees fascinating. They make for great subjects for photography but learning to compose and arrange successful photographs and images of trees can be very difficult to achieve. When photographing trees, one of the first things one must do to capture a successful image is to learn to arrange the chaos into a cohesive image. It’s just as important in photography to learn what to exclude from and image as it is to understand what elements should be kept in the scene. This could not be more true when photographing trees.
Often when I make a successful image of trees, the scene grabs my eye as I walk by a location. These photograph is no exception. I was hiking on the Bobolink trailhead which is part of Boulder, Colorado’s beautiful Open Space and Mountain Parks system. I was interested in the budding bushes that were growing along the creek in a classic Colorado riparian habitat.
These bushes on their own were not compelling me to setup my camera and make images. It was an overcast day, which are the conditions I favor when shooting more intimate photographs of trees and landscapes. Photography is about capturing light, and the soft diffused light of an overcast day helps to evenly light a scene and prevent harsh shadows from obscuring details. Soft diffused light helps to create a more painterly scene and allows for all the subtle detail, shapes and colors to shine. As I walked by this scene, the combination of the budding flowers and this beautiful Cottonwood tree caught my eye. It was quite a challenge to arrange the chaos present in this scene into a cohesive image. After many lens changes, multiple tripod setups and compositions I was finally able to arrange a pleasing composition. I eventually settled on using a telephoto lens to help compress the scene and isolate the bending branches of the cottonwood trees amongst the budding bushes.
One of the common weather jokes in Colorado refers to the constantly unpredictable weather conditions. People here in Colorado often joke that there are two seasons, winter and August. Though in reality Colorado does have four seasons, spring and fall can teeter between summer like weather and winter like conditions. Spring on the Front Range of Colorado can be very unsettled and snow is a common theme. By April were all ready for summer like conditions and a cold drink by the pool. Mother Nature usually has other ideas and April is Colorado’s third snowiest month. This spring has been dry on the Front Range so some late season snow is appreciated. For photographers the snow will help bring spring wildflowers which will soon appear.
I took advantage of a late season April snow storm to head up Flagstaff Mountain just outside of Boulder. Flagstaff Mountain is one of my go to locations. For me it’s a short drive to the mountain and access to some classic Colorado scenery. I love the diversity of the area. Flagstaff Mountain is dotted with Yuccas, Ponderosa Pines, Bluestem grasses and Granite boulders. These make for great photography subjects when covered in snow and fog. No matter how many times I photograph on Flagstaff Mountain in weather conditions such as these, I never cease to find new compositions and limitless opportunities to create unique and original imagery.
Sometimes in life we take things for granted, especially simple things. I chose to live in Colorado because of its many beautiful locations. One of my favorite local areas to shoot is Rocky Mountain National Park. While I love to travel near and far to explore and photograph new areas, I find I am most productive when photographing places that are local. Local haunts allow me to return time after time to a location. Many of these locations I have visited on hundreds of occasions under all types of lighting and conditions. I can study the light, understand the weather patterns, all of which help to maximize my chances of capturing successful imagery.
This morning was a little different. When I went to bed the night before, our politicians were bickering and grandstanding attempting to settle our 2011 budget crisis. If the budget was not settled within a few hours of my going to bed early in order to wake early for sunrise, there would be a government shutdown. One of the casualties of the shutdown was going to be the National Park and the National Park Service. Of the countless times I have visited Rocky Mountain National Park, it had never occurred to me that it would be possible to have access restricted and the Park closed. I regularly visit and photograph Rocky Mountain National Park impressed that those who have come before me, had the foresight to protect this beautiful area as well as to keep it open to the public.
When my alarm went off at 2:30 AM the first thing I did was check to see if I would be able to access Rocky Mountain National Park. I had gone to bed feeling disgusted and disappointed over the fact that Washington politicians could not do their job and complete a budget. Not only was it possible that I would not be able access Rocky Mountain, but it was possible that thousands of employees would be out of work and furloughed. Luckily a budget was agreed upon and the National Park Service did not have to close or restrict access to the National Parks.
Because I was unsure of what I would be doing this morning, I took a wait and see approach to my photography. Normally I like to plan where and what I will be photographing. On my drive up to Rocky Mountain I could see that clouds were present to the east, but not to the west or over the Continental Divide. I needed to find a location where I could setup and hopefully catch those clouds off to the east light up as the Sun rose. I knew that Sprague Lake has a nice unencumbered view to the east. I also figured that Sprague Lake might be starting to thaw out and that I may be able to find some open patches of water to catch a reflection of the clouds if the sunrise worked out as I had hoped. I arrived at Sprague Lake to find almost all of it still covered in snow and ice. There was however, a small area on the west end of the lake with a thin layer of ice, not covered by snow. The eastern horizon was showing promise and the clouds were showing hints of pink and magenta. I quickly setup the camera and was not disappointed. To think I almost missed out on this beautiful sunrise.
The most prominent peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, is also its tallest. Longs Peak not only dominates many of the views for the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park, but dominates much of the view from the entire northern Front Range. AT 14,255 ft high Longs Peak is Rocky’s largest peak and one of Colorado’s 54 so called 14’ers.
There are lots of great photographs to be had of Longs Peak but one of my favorite views is from the areas around the Tahosa Valley along Highway 7. While the views of Longs Peak and Mt. Meeker are spectacular from the floor of the Tahosa Valley, a hike up the Twin Sisters trailhead helps elevate the view providing an even cleaner perspective of Longs Peak and Mt. Meeker.
This morning, the trailhead was still packed down with snow. Snowshoes were not necessary but my indispensible Yaktrax helped keep a firm footing while hiking. There were lots of clouds floating around the area this morning but the larger groups of clouds stayed north of Longs Peak. I managed to get some nice pastel light on the peaks just prior to Sunrise. I really like to photograph subtle light such as seen in this photo. I certainly have photographed Longs in much more dramatic light than I captured on this morning but even so I find the color palette pleasing.