A good photographer looks to use their imagery to convey a sense of place and time of the location they are photographing. It’s a two way street with landscape photography. Sometimes harsh, raw conditions are glamorized. Sometimes, if were not doing a good job conveying our message and vision we may not impress upon the viewer the essence of the location and our experience at that particular point in time regardless of how beautiful the scene or the light are.
This particular morning in Rocky Mountain National Park was brutal to put it nicely. A strong Pacific storm was moving into the Colorado mountains and over the Park from the west. Of course as is the case when these storms move in, relentless high winds grate the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes Park was clocking winds of 45 mph, but the gusts on 14,255 ft Longs Peak this morning were over 80 mph. I’d hate to even imagine being on that high rock this particular morning. The sunrise was beautiful with the soft magenta light bathing the peaks as waves of blowing snow moved across the range.
From a pull out on Trail Ridge Road, I was able to position my vehicle in a manner that acted as a slight break from the wind. I setup my tripod and did all I could to keep my camera in place and steady. I tried to shoot when the wind would subside, but the maddening thing about the wind in Colorado is just when you think a break is coming, the wind blow’s even harder as if to taunt you. Many of my images from this morning show motion blur and wont be useable. Luckily for me, I have a few frames where I managed to escape the winds wrath and come away with a sharp, in focus image of this spectacular, but windy morning.
The snow has been sparse in much of Colorado’s high country this year. Not good news for Colorado’s Ski industry and the lack of snow may also hurt the wildflower season come Summertime. There is still plenty of time for the high country to make up for the lack of snow, so we should collectively keep our fingers crossed and hope the weather pattern changes.
The Front Range however, is actually above average as far as snowfall goes. We’ve avoided large dumps of snow and blizzards, but we gotten some consistently good snows up here in the Boulder area. On average, we’ve been getting about one good snowfall a week. Front Range snow’s tend not to linger for very long. Quick moving storms on the Front Range drop their snow and move east across the Plains. The Sun then does it’s trick and the snow begins to melt of rapidly. Oftentimes, you have a short window to photograph fresh powder.
Last week we had another quick moving storm. The meadow along Boulder Open Space and Mountain Park’s Bobolink trailhead has always been a great place to photograph Cottonwood trees along the riparian habitat of Bobolink. The colored grasses and lone Cottonwood in the meadow makes for a great subject with the snow coating the ground and fog moving through the trees.
My never ending obsession with capturing images of tree’s continues onward. I cant exactly tell you why I enjoy photographing the shapes, forms and textures associated with trees, but it’s a never ending quest for me. In fact, my first ever published photo in my High Schools arts publication the ‘Soupstone’ was of a very large American Elm tree that resided in my front yard. This Elm tree was a giant and was located right in the center of my front yard, just 30 yards or so from my bedroom window. The tree framed my bedroom view looking west over the Hudson Valley of New York, a place where I spent many hours of my childhood staring out my window into the world. Other than the fall, when my brother and me would be tasked to rake the Elm’s tree’s leaves for weekends at a time, I held great respect for this tree. The coarse, cork like texture of the bark, the way the trunk split into two large distinct sections, or the way Winter winds howled through the swaying leafless grey branches at sunset all left very distinct memories for me.
The photograph, I had taken that day in 1990 of this tree with my Dad’s 35mm Minolta 5000i and 35-70mm lens still follows a formula I use today when photographing trees. With Kodak Tri-X black and white film loaded in the camera, I laid down at the base of the tree, opened the zoom lens as wide as it could go to 35mm, and photographed the trunk of the Elm tree rising straight towards the sky, it’s branches moving outward’s from the two distinct sections of the tree. There was something about the synergy of all those branches moving and spiraling outward, and the massive trunk of anchoring the branches that garnered my attention. Again, I had spent many days admiring this tree, but this was one of my first steps in successfully using photography to convey the feeling and reverence I had for this tree.
The recognition of this by my High School photography teacher, the publishing of the photo helped to light an insatiable desire to continue to document and photograph tree’s. Today those tree’s are much more likely to be Ponderosa Pines, Cottonwood’s or Aspen tree’s as opposed to American Elm’s, but the desire to photograph tree’s is still just as strong now as it was that day I wandered out in my front yard with Dad’s camera.
2011 is almost over. It’s been an exciting and eventful year for me for sure. Lot’s of great days spent in the field creating new images, new locations visited and a list that continues to grow longer of new locations I would like to photograph. While I always like to reflect on the past year, I typically find myself eagerly awaiting a new year with new challenges and adventures. I don’t typically make new year’s resolutions. Some would argue that resolutions area really just excuses to delay actual goals. Regardless, making resolutions to begin a new year is not something I typically do. I do however use this time of year to reset the compass so to speak. It’s a good time for me to embark on a new path and to set a ‘to do list’ of items that apply to my photographic aspirations for the year. Below I’ve listed some of the things I would like to accomplish and focus my photography on in 2012.
1. Continue to refine my personal style: This is by far my most important goal for 2012. Every year this is one of my most important goals on my list and I cant stress enough how important to me this goal continues to be. Each day the internet is full of exceptional imagery of iconic locations from heavily travelled and photographed viewpoints. While I enjoy this imagery, I want my work to have a more personal feel that represents my vision in a unique, maturing, and artistic manner. There is a lot of great landscape photography out there and differentiating my work from the masses is very important to me.
2.Stay local, photograph local: I love to travel. The thought of being on the road for months, sleeping out of the back of my truck and traversing the country traveling to remote locals and National Park’s is something I dream about a few times each day. While someday this may be my goal for the year, I’ve found it to be much more rewarding and productive to photograph locations close to home. Rocky Mountain National Park and Boulder County Open Space property will continue to top the list of locations I plan to spend most of my field time in 2012. I find it very rewarding photographing local locations and staying local allows a greater appreciation and understanding of these areas close to home.
3.Less gear lust, more adventure and photography: This goes without saying. In 2011 I was fortunate enough to be able to update a good portion of my landscape photography kit. It’s not that I did not already have an adequate lineup, In fact I had more than what I needed to produce high quality imagery. Even so, I was able to update some of my older Canon lenses to more recent releases. These updated lenses wont improve my photographic vision one iota, but they do produce slightly better results than there older counterparts. The truth is there are many great photographers capturing images with basic camera’s and kits. It’s important to remember that a good carpenter never blames his tools for poor workmanship. Furthermore having to much gear or constantly lusting over gear gets it the way of the end product, creating imagery and art.
Well here’s to having a great 2012. There lots out there to do and photograph and I plan on taking the bull by the horns this year. It’s been a fun first year of blogging and I’ll keep updating as often as I can. Happy New Year to all, and a toast to success in 2012.
Sunrise was looking less than promising when I headed out last week in an attempt to create some new imagery. I had an idea of where I was going to head to photograph the Boulder Flatirons but the twinkling stars above and lack of any clouds in the sky had me thinking this trip would likely end up being a pleasant morning hike with my dog Jackson. I figured at the very least, I could scout out some new locations on Open Space property south of Boulder. It’s too easy on a morning like this to talk yourself out of taking a chance on an image. Excuses such as expensive gas prices, a nice warm fireplace back home, a backlog of images to process, web site pages to update and the dreaded trip to the mall to shop for Christmas gifts all were toying with my psyche this morning.
The thought of wasting a good morning to head to the mall was enough to get me out the door in a hurry. I figured if I could get outside and commune with nature, I could tolerate the hoards of people at the mall later in the day. As I neared Boulder, the prospects started looking a little brighter for the morning shoot. A lone cloud hovered over the southern portion of the Flatirons. The cloud was fairly small but appeared to be growing in size as I continued to watch is in the sky.
Photographer’s are obsessed with interesting skies, the more dramatic the better. Clouds help to add texture, color and depth to an image that otherwise may appear flat, dull and two dimensional. The combination of this lone cloud that appeared to be growing was enough to get my juices flowing with the remote prospect of an interesting image. Off I headed from the Flatirons Vista trailhead, navigating myself and my dog through the large herd of cattle grazing on Open Space property. My dog’s not all that interested in photography, but being a Border Collie, he’s certainly interested in the cows.
The cloud I had been watching had now separated and multiplied. Additional high clouds had formed over Boulder and my prospects were improving by the minute. I must have still had the thought of the mall and Christmas on my mind when I settled on this composition of this lone Ponderosa south of Boulder. Another morning with slim prospects turned out to be a great morning for photography. I’ve had quite a few morning’s like this one over the last year. It’s great to reflect back on the successes as well as failures that all end up being great adventures in spite of the final photographic outcome. And with that, regardless of what holiday you celebrate this year, here’s to wishing all of you a Happy Holliday and Merry Christmas.
It’s been a busy Christmas and holiday season for me. I hate to admit it but I have not been able to get out in the field and photograph as much as I would like. Not sure what New Year’s resolutions I am going to attempt to fulfill in 2012, but every year one of them is to get out and photograph more. I’m planning on jumping on that resolution early here as I’m starting to get cabin fever. I find it’s good to wind down a bit, because otherwise I find my creativity and motivation suffers. The key is you just have to make sure you don’t slow so much that you lose your flow and rhythm when you get back out into the field.
So what have I been doing?. Besides fulfilling Christmas print orders I’ve been busy adding and editing images on my web site. I’ve been able to add and update my Rocky Mountain National Park Gallery as well as updating the Boulder Open Space and Mountain Park’s Gallery with lots of new images. Furthermore, I’ve been working on a backlog of Drum Scans from my 4×5 transparencies that I’ve been sitting on for the last year. While I love the look of film and Fuji Velvia, I don’t miss cleaning, spotting and editing the Drum Scans. It takes a good amount of effort to get the scans cleaned up and ready for the web and print orders. Here’s a 4×5 transparency of Longs Peak from the way back machine to hold everybody over.
For the most part, the iconic image of Boulder’s Flatiron formation is photographed from the meadow in Chautauqua Park. While photographing the Flatirons from Chautauqua Park provides a great viewpoint, for my money some of the best view of the Flatiron formation have always been from the southern part of Boulder.
Drive Highway 93(Broadway) south out of town or north from Golden and in my opinion you are treated to some of the most spectacular view’s of the Front Range and in particular Boulder’s Flatiron formation. The rolling hills south of town, dotted with Ponderosa’s give the photographer unlimited locations and compositions to work with. These large expansive vista’s lend themselves well to the spectacular Winter sunrises that occur along the Front Range.
Wind’s rolling off the eastern slopes often create beautiful lenticular clouds that hover over the Front Range. Combine this with the likelihood that there will be a break in the clouds cover over the eastern Plains, and viola you get spectacular sunrises over the Flatirons. What I personally find intriguing about the Boulder Open Space properties on the south side of town is that you can photograph the entire Flatiron formation. This varies from the classical view of the Flatirons from Chautauqua Park where you are only able to photograph a small portion of the formation.
Keeping up with the theme of Colorado red rocks, I was lucky enough to spend the last few days in the Manitou Springs area. Manitou Springs sits right at the base of Pike’s Peak. It’s an eclectic town with lots of galleries, shops and restaurants. Even better for me is that it’s a short drive to Garden of The God’s. Garden of the God’s is a great place to spend a morning photographing and one of the best locations to photograph Pike’s Peak along the Front Range.
Garden of the God’s is a City of Colorado Springs park. It’s a beautiful location that mixes One Seed Juniper’s, Scrub Oak, and Ponderosa Pines amongst large red sandstone rock formations. The large red sandstone rock formations make an awesome backdrop to photograph Pike’s Peak, Colorado’s easternmost fourteener.
This particular morning was a chilly twenty-two degrees with a stiff wind blowing from the north. A light dusting of snow had fallen over night but it appeared the skies would be cloudless at dawn. People who are not photographers cant understand why we constantly complain about clear blue skies. Clouds in the sky add interest and depth to an image. For the photographer, clouds and light help to convey the story of the image and the location. Luckily for me, The Pike’s Peak massif created it’s own weather this morning. Clouds formed along the ridgeline of Pike’s Peak due to the strong northerly winds. While the wind made it somewhat chilly for the photographer, it allowed me to capture an image of Pikes Peak that helps illustrate the conditions present on this particular morning
It’s been a slow couple of weeks here for photography. I’ve had some other obligations to attend and the transitional season into Winter on the Front Range has also played a part in limiting the available subject matter. I’ll admit that during this transitional season, I need a good kick in the pants to get out and about in the field and get the momentum flowing again.
I was able to get out last week and do some hiking and photography on Boulder Open Space and Mountain Park’s property. Visitors and residents to Boulder are familiar with the large red rock’s that sit just above downtown Boulder at the mouth of Boulder Canyon. This rock formation is aptly named ‘Red Rock’s’ for obvious reasons. Red Rock’s, which is not to be confused with Colorado’s famous music venue in Morrison, is a great location to photograph at Sunrise. The Sun’s first rays will paint the rocks a brilliant red reminiscent of Utah sandstone. I also find this formation fascinating because of the many tree’s that grow out of and near the rock formation. The compositions are limitless in this small area of Open Space. If your a follower of my work or my blog you are probably aware that tree’s are one of my favorite photographic subjects. This small park is great place to get out with camera in hand and get the creative juices flowing again.
There have been lots of rumblings and heavy undercurrents in the Landscape Photography Community of late over the what the true motivation and intentions behind photography of the natural world should seek to represent to the end viewer. There are basically two schools of thought that are gaining a foothold in this ongoing debate. One school of thought feels that landscape photography should be that of a documentarian like representation. The basic premise of this documentarian school of thought is that landscape photography should document nature and landscape as close to reality as is possible. The photographer should use elements within the landscape, combined with actual lighting conditions and weather events to capture and represent as accurately as possible the scene before them and the camera. This documentarian school of thought believes that the photographer should minimize the amount of post processing work performed in Photoshop and other software to keep the image as representational as possible to the original scene. The documentarian school of thought believes that as photography has matured and post processing of images in software such as Photoshop has become the accepted norm, the validity of landscape photography has been cheapened in the eyes of the viewing public. Documentarians feel that easily manipulated imagery causes viewers to question the difficulty, technical skill, and operational skill involved in creating the image they are viewing.
The second school of thought, which run’s in contrast to the style above, is that of fine art landscape photography. The fine art landscape photography movement looks at the camera and the resulting image as only part of the process, and not an end in itself. Fine art landscape photographers believe strongly in imparting their voice, or style directly into the image and the landscape. This is accomplished by creating a strong and unique style and vision. For the fine art photographers, this style and vision does not end when the shutter is released, but in fact is often only a portion of the artistic process. While most fine art photographers believe their vision and style of photography is what set’s them apart from the more traditional documentarian style photographers. Fine art photographers look to use additional tools and software to help better represent and illustrate their impression of a location even if it may change the perception or reality of what the scene actually looked like when photographed. fine art landscape photographers feel that their finished product is a true representation of their vision, voice and style. To the fine art landscape photographer, their vision, voice, and unique style and representations are what should appeal to the end viewer.
This is of course an extremely over simplified synopsis of the ongoing debate. It’s a debate that I continually have with myself when in the field or at my desk processing and culling images. Both the documentarian school and the fine art landscape photography school hold valid points behind their justifications and styles of photography. My development as a Landscape Photographer has traversed both schools of thought. This is particularly true for me over different periods of time in my development as a photographer . Obviously, I can’t speak for all photographers, but I think most Landscape Photographers start out more concerned about capturing the reality of scene before them. Often times when photographers start out they are looking to document vacations, trips, or other activities they are participating in. In doing this, they look to create images that closely represent that scene and locale before them, or in more simpler terms, document their activities.
I believe overtime, many Landscape Photographers find becoming technically proficient with the camera and creating solid imagery of the landscape before them is not and end in itself. As I spent more time in the field with my camera, moved to Colorado from New York in 1998 and became acquainted with the new environment that surrounded me, I looked to express my vision in a more unique way. I became enthralled with subjects that had previously held little photographic interest to me. While iconic imagery of places such as Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park still get’s my juices flowing, I found it disappointing to capture an image of an iconic location only to find another photographer’s carbon copy type image posted online or hanging in a gift shop.
What separated my image of Dream Lake from the other guys image?. Even if I have a stellar image of Dream Lake, what’s going to stop the thousands of photographers on pilgrimage each year to places such as Dream Lake and Maroon Lake from capturing a similar image?. Is standing on the shore of Maroon Lake in September with 250 of my closest photographer friends really helping me to express my unique vision and communion with the natural world that has become increasingly difficult to find solitude in?. Again, I’m in no way disparaging photographing those icons. I still from time to time will do so when the lighting and conditions are unique. Regardless, this kind of imagery does not convey my vision and voice like I feel other portions of my portfolio better represent. It’s been a process and evolution for me as a photographer. I would certainly consider myself a Fine Art Landscape Photographer. While my vision and style continues to evolve, I find it more gratifying to photograph subjects that hold interest to me and in a manner that represents how I see them and they fit into my vision.