Leaving April

Typical spring conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park on the last day of April. After a foot plus of fresh snow fell on RMNP the last day of April, a trip up to Many Parks before sunrise afforded me this view of 14,259ft Longs Peak glimmering in the first light of the day. Rocky’s weather may be all over the map in the spring but it affords landscape photographers some spectacular conditions for photography. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F4 AF-S VR Lens.

Rocky’s weather at the back end of April and early May never leaves a dull moment. Warm days, early wildflowers and blizzards can be commonplace. In fact, all these can happen within a few hours of each other in Rocky Mountain National Park during the springtime.

The end of April and the start of May has lived up to the hype that typically comes with springtime weather in Rocky Mountain National Park. While its been cold and rainy down here in the lower elevations of Colorado’s Front Range, Rocky has been getting good amounts of fresh snow. Even with the snow and unsettled weather, the past few mornings in Rocky have yielded some great moments of light intertwined with the rain and snow.

Monday snow started falling in the park by mid morning. It continued throughout the day and by the time it stopped early on Tuesday morning over a foot of fresh snow had fallen on Rocky.

More snow was scheduled to fall later on Tuesday in RMNP and the weather forecasts looked like there may be some break in the cloud cover or a possibility of getting above the cloud layer or inversion.

Inversions being when of my favorite type of conditions to photograph in, I was not going to let the opportunity to possibly catch a break in the cloud cover pass my by after lots of fresh powder had fallen on the park.

Leaving my house early in the morning for Rocky, the snow was still falling at a pretty good clip but predicted to stop about an hour before sunrise. One of my main concerns on a morning after a heavy snow is the conditions of the roads in Rocky. While the park service does and excellent job keeping the roads of Rocky Mountain National Park in great shape, they don’t plow roads from 7:00 PM until 7:00 AM.

This means one of two scenarios are likely to occur. Either the rangers are going to close the gates and access to the park until the roads can be made safe, or you are going to arrive to find unplowed roads and the need to make first tracks to your destination.

I arrived to find the second scenario had occurred. The park and gates remained open over night but the roads in Rocky had 12-14 inches of unplowed fresh snow on them. While I drive a four wheel drive vehicle its important to note that you are on your own when you decide to head into the park in these conditions this early in the morning.

I’ve got a good amount of experience driving in these types of conditions and I know the limitations of my vehicles. That being said I’m always prepared to get stuck or turn around if conditions dictate. If you get stuck at this time of day in the deep snow you will have to wait hours before the park service is able to get the plows to your vehicle and clear the roadways. Keep in mind that if you choose to enter the park in these conditions and you do get stuck, you will be a low priority on the grand scale of park service operations.

I headed into the park plowing through the bumper deep snow on my truck. The cloud layer was low and I kept heading up Trail Ridge Road with the hope that I would be able to avoid getting stuck in the snow and break above the cloud layer before I hit the seasonal road closure at Many Parks Curve. Shortly after Deer Jct. I broke through the cloud and could see Longs Peak glimmering in the distance.

Things looked promising as long as I could continue up the road to Many Parks without getting stuck. Selfishly, I always figure that if I get stuck I hope its at least in a location that will still yield a good vantage point. Its also important to remember that while there may be 12 inches of snow at the Beaver Meadows Entrance station, there could easily be 6 inches more snow by the time one reaches Hidden Valley.

Finally I arrived at the road closure at Many Parks Curve and turned around to head back to the overlook. Longs Peak was still towering high above the clouds and inversion that covered Horseshoe Park, Upper Beaver Meadows and Moraine Park below. I go my camera setup and waited for the sun to clear the lower cloud layer blanketing the Front Range below. Shortly after sunrise the sun rose above the cloud layer and 14,259 ft Longs Peak and The Diamond glowed regally in the early morning light and clouds.

All in all it was a typical late spring morning in Rocky Mountain National Park that resulted in some spectacular conditions for photography. With some help from the sun and a little bit of white knuckle driving behind me, it was the kind of spring morning in RMNP that I won’t soon forget.

Routine Rocky

Having a daily routine and embracing the entire process behind being a photographer allows me to get out into the field often. Photographing this beautiful bank of fog weaving its way through Glacier Gorge just below Longs Peak at sunrise is something that should not be taken for granted. Doing this nearly every single day scenes like this could become routine. I try to make it a point to not take for granted how awesome it is to be mobile and independent enough to be in these locations with camera in hand. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 AF S lens.

I’ve been back on the east coast for the past week helping my 78 year old mother who had a fall early last week and injured herself. While its been great getting to spend a lot of time with mom, watching her lose her mobility and independence is difficult. So for the past week I’ve been helping getting my mom settled and have not been able to spend most mornings up in Rocky photographing from some spectacular vantage point.

You realize quickly how much of ones daily routine is taken for granted. Much of this routine that makes up one’s day seems to happen as involuntarily as a heartbeat. You go about your routines until something disrupts them.

The question then becomes how do you adjust when your routine is disrupted?. Obviously this is a good question to ponder when thinking about one’s daily routines, but it also is something I’ve thought about quite a bit as a landscape photographer.

I’m a creature of habit. I LOVE my routines. They help me achieve my goals, keeps me stable and has allowed me to create and expand my photography portfolio by embracing and enjoying the entire process of landscape photography. I enjoy every part that goes into working as a landscape photographer, much of which many might fight mundane.

I enjoy waking up at 12:30 AM in the summer to start my day so I can be tarn side as the sun rises over the mountain peak. Working out before leaving for the park is something I look forward to each night before going to bed. Many of these routines make my wife think I’m crazy but embracing the process and creating routines have allowed me to consistently create new work by allowing me to consistently make time to be out in the field behind the camera.

Watching my mom struggle this week has really helped to reinforce who much I enjoy my routines but even more importantly value independence. I’m always attempting to be more mindful, but it’s even more important to value every opportunity one has. When it comes to photographing Rocky Mountain National Park, I’m lucky enough to get many opportunities. What I’m still learning each day is just how important it is to value and embrace and be thankful for each one of them. It may be routine for me to photograph Rocky, but its certainly not a given.

Howling

The winds were howling yesterday morning over Rocky Mountain National Park. Not uncommon anytime in RMNP, photographers interested in capturing images of the park will need to make adjustments and get used to photographing under windy conditions. While my keeper rate was low, just a few like this with dramatic clouds and light streaming over Otis Peak,Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain made it worthwhile. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F4 AF-S VR

Spend more than a few days in Rocky Mountain National Park and you will certainly meet our good friend the wind. Wind comes with the territory here in Colorado and the higher you venture in the park the more intense it is.

Wind is common in early spring as fronts move through the state. For the most part wind makes photography in RMNP very challenging. A tripod, high shutter speed and lots of might help to allow for a few sharp frames in between the gusts that can be hurricane force on some mornings. As much of a nuisance that wind can be in Rocky Mountain National Park it can also be accompanied by some dramatic clouds and light.

Yesterday (Sunday) was one of those kinds of mornings where there were lots of nice clouds hanging over Rocky, mostly on account of the wind stirring up the atmosphere. I’m always a bit reluctant on these windy days to go out and shoot. The lighting may be great but nothing is worse than finding all or nearly all of your images suffer from motion blur on account of the wind. That being said photographing in the wind in Rocky comes with the territory and if you want to spend time photographing RMNP you will have to deal with it one way or another.

My strategy on windy days is to find areas that have some shelter from the wind. Often this means stick to the lower elevations of the park as the winds tend to be more moderate and there are often groves of trees or rocks one can use to shield the wind.

With the wind howling in the park and gusts near 30 MPH I settled on Upper Beaver Meadows to setup. Lots of trees to duck behind and Otis, Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain had some amazing wind driven clouds streaking over them.

With about a 15% success rate as far as sharp images go I did manage enough sharp frames to make the morning worthwhile. Overall the wind was a pain but the lighting and clouds on the divide were more than worth the temporary nuisance that accompanied the wind on this beautiful morning.

April’s Rollarcoaster Continues

I’ve got my truck in at the shop for a few days so I wont be able to get out while our latest snowstorm moves in over Rocky. I did manage to get out yesterday morning at sunrise before dropping my truck off at the shop to capture a beautiful sunrise over RMNP. I was focused on photographing the Mummy Range as this looked like it would have the best color. Mummy Mountain had some beautiful color over it as the sun rose to the east. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 AF S lens

New new image from this morning from Rocky. ‘Big Bertha’ aka my truck is in the shop getting a new fuel pump so I’m stuck here in the office for a few days watching sunrise through the Estes Park web cams. I figured its better to take care of that whining fuel pump now then up stuck somewhere or losing ‘Bertha’ for a few days during prime summer photography and photo tour season in Rocky Mountain National Park.

With another April blizzard up us what better time to drop off the truck for a few days and to attend some administrative work while the rain, snow and wind make photography difficult.

I did manage to get out yesterday morning before dropping the truck off at the shop. Sunrise looked promising the night before so I made sure to schedule the drop off on Tuesday. I figured with all the nasty weather moving through state it may be a few days before things get interesting again in Rocky for us photographers.

In typical Colorado spring fashion it was about 80 degrees here in the Denver area yesterday. Today it’s raining and snowing and temps are in the high 30’s. For the most part if we have warmer than average temperatures here on the east side of Colorado’s Front Range it means Rocky Mountain National Park is going to be windy due to westerly or down-sloping winds. This also usually means that higher level lenticular clouds may form just east of the mountain peaks.

That was the case yesterday morning in RMNP. Lots of great clouds in the sky to the east and a nice small break on the eastern horizon to illuminate the skies and mountain peaks for a short amount of time at sunrise.

I focused myself on the Mummy Range as that looked like it would have the most color based on the clouds I could observe before sunrise. Also due to the fact that it was very windy in Estes Park, I figured heading high up Bear Lake Road would just result in lots blurry images for a wind blown camera.

The Mummy Range turned out to have some very nice color though just to the east and south of Rocky the skies really popped. While my main composition was of Ypsilon, and Fairchild I did take advantage of the beautiful color over Mummy Mountain. Because of the orientation of Mummy Mountain its one of the more difficult peaks to photograph in Rocky as it often does not have direct lighting and is in the shadow of other peaks. The orange and red skies over it yesterday worked well to highlight this awesome piece of granite.

Hopefully by the end of the week I have both my truck back and we are able to capture some post snow images. Winds will remain high in RMNP through the middle of the week so its likely much of the snow will be blown off the pines as is often the case. Regardless, I’m looking forward to getting ‘Big Bertha’ back as well as getting back out into the field after this latest storm moves eastward.

Good Morning Mummy

Capping off a week of beautiful conditions and sunrises in Rocky Mountain National Park this morning. Lots of nice clouds hung over the Mummy Range and when the light finally draped Chapin,Ypsilon,Chaquita and Fairchild the landscape really came alive. Late spring conditions this week were welcome but it looks like more snow is on the way for RMNP next week. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 AF S lens

It’s been a great week for sunrises up in Rocky Mountain National Park. Lots of nice combinations of clouds and light around most morning in the park. With the temperatures warming, water is flowing in the lower elevations and even though we are still awhile off from summer you can feel the tide turning against winter.

This morning’s sunrise was a little more subtle that some earlier in the week. Clouds on the eastern horizon blocked the sunrise just long enough so that we did not have what would have been a very colorful sunrise. Lots of clouds hung over the Mummy Range this morning as so I decided I would hang around the Hidden Valley area to see if we would get some decent light.

The light finally lit the peaks about 25 minutes after sunrise. It was subtle but warm and the cloud cover that hung over Chaping, Ypsilon, Chaquita and Fairchild was spectacular. The willows that lined the Beaver Pond area added a great splash of color with the warm lighting.

This coming week looks very interesting. Our mild spring like days in Rocky Mountain National Park look like they will be turning back towards winter as snow is predicted for much of the back end of the week. We may not have quite as many great sunrises in RMNP next week but the chance of snow covered landscapes and mountains already has me thinking of where I’m going to be next week if the light breaks my way.

Moraine’s Thaw

A colorful sunrise this morning over the high peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park as seen from Moraine Park today. Seeing the Big Thompson free from ice and flowing is an awesome sight. It wont be much longer until the higher lakes in RMNP start to thaw signaling the pending arrival of summer. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 AF-S

It was a beautiful spring morning in Rocky Mountain National Park today. The temperature was mild and our bitter nemesis the wind even laid down just before sunrise allowing the silence to reveal the chirps of birds and the howls of coyotes welcoming in the new day.

My options were limited this morning as clouds covered most of the peaks in the park just before sunrise. On mornings like these where a ‘mountain blanket’ cloud is covering most of the divide, the sunrise can be great on the continental divide but you may not see any of the snow covered peaks. I call it a ‘mountain blanket’ cloud because unlike a mountain wave cloud that forms high above the peaks, this kind of cloud essentially covers the peaks like a blanket.

Longs Peak was covered, Hallett Peak was covered, Ypsilon Mountain was mostly covered. While Stones Peak had clouds around it, it was mostly free of clouds prior to sunrise. Because of this I decided to setup at one of the iconic, oft photographed locations in Moraine Park along the Big Thompson River. This is both a beautiful spot and one in which the water is now free from ice and flowing free.

Each year when the thaw out after winter starts to set in and water becomes free of ice I get excited. Not only because of the warmer weather on its way to Rocky Mountain National Park but because moving and open water creates a dynamic scene and allows for reflections to capture the warm morning light.

More importantly its exciting to watch the thaw march upward as its starts in the lower elevations of RMNP and makes it’s way higher with each passing day. It wont be long know before some of the higher lakes start to break free from ice and start to open. Exciting times ahead for photographers and summer season approaching quickly now.

Embrace All Kinds Of Light

Embracing all kinds of light means its important for landscape photographers to navigate through all the different kinds of light that may fall on a landscape. Dramatic lighting on iconic scenes is awesome but learning how to photograph under more subtle lighting condtions can be just as rewarding. Sublte ligithing conditions can allow one to capture a sense of place better or to photograph locations that dont work well under more dramatic lightingn conditions. I’ve been waiting for a gray day to photograph this scene in Rocky Mountain National Park for quite awhile. Snow on the trees and willows combined with overcast lighting allowed me to bring out the blues on the pines and the reds of the willows in a more discrete fashion.Technical Details: Nikon D850, Nikkor 200-500mm F5.6 AF-S VR E lens

The trend in landscape photography has been every more dramatic, epic, and otherworldly lighting conditions. Combine this was some iconic spot and one has the formula for a Facebook post, Tweet or Instagram post to garner lots of likes or maybe even go viral. The euphoria and endorphin rush with capturing a scene under dramatic lighting combined with lots of likes and comments on social media feeds right into one’s ego and can set a photographer on a temporary feel good high.

As with both light and capturing that light with a camera and creating a photograph, these conditions and moments in time are ethereal. Both the photographer and their mostly anonymous social media fan club that liked, shared and retweeted the image, will move on to another image or shiny object.

Make no mistake about it, as a landscape photographer the condition that allows me to convey my message and portray my subjects personality and mood is the lighting. Like most other landscape photographers I strive to photograph my subjects in the most dramatic lighting conditions possible. I study the conditions, topography and subject envisioning the best conditions that will render what I perceive as a reflection of the sense of place of a given location based on what the potential lighting conditions may be. I’ll stare at a landscape and envision what it would look like wrapped in fog or lit with sun and clouds in a manner that flow with jagged peaks or deep canyons.

Even though I strive to photograph locations in dramatic lighting conditions, some of my favorite light on the landscape is still plain old diffused lighting found on cloudy, rainy and snowy days. For me, while this particular lighting is more subtle and quiet, it often allows me to photograph subjects and conditions that would not reflect the sense of place under more dramatic lighting conditions.

Earlier this week I found myself immersed one morning in cloudy overcast lighting conditions on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park. I headed out in Rocky this particular April morning with the hopes that we would get some breaks in the cloud cover at sunrise. Snow had been falling the night before and being as difficult as it is to capture landscape images in Rocky after snow (on account of high winds and bluebird days preceding storms), I’m always going to take my chances hoping the light breaks my way. While I’ve had more than my shares of sunrises and sunsets where this has not worked, many of my most dramatic images have happened on mornings when chances were slim anything dramatic would happen.

Well as so often happens the dramatic lighting did not come this morning. It looked good at times with breaks in the cloud cover but just as sunrise approached snow moved back in over Rocky Mountain National Park’s east side and the lighting on the landscape remained gray and diffused.

I could have packed it up and left the park. Instead I started scanning the list in my head of locations I wanted to photograph under these conditions. That list is as long or longer than the locations I want to photograph in RMNP under prime lighting conditions and sun. Instead of sulking and heading home I was excited and energized by the prospect of being able to shoot locations and subjects that I’d normal pass on.

With this in mind I headed out into Hollowell Park. Hollowell Park is a beautiful location accessed from Bear Lake Road. Great hiking trails emanate out of this small park but I would think for most landscape photographers shooting Rocky, its not high on the ‘to-do’ list as the view of the mountain peaks are not quite as sexy as they are further up Bear Lake Road.

But there is plenty to photograph in Hollowell Park, especially under gray, diffused light. Fresh snow on the landscape and snow covered pines, willows and aspens could keep me and my camera busy and clicking all morning. Even better was I had the entire area to myself that morning kept company only by a pair of ravens, the occasional mountain bluebird and a pack of coyotes.

It get’s tiring hearing many well known photographers rail against the copycat nature that seems perverse in the craft these days. Comp-stomping has become and epidemic and social media only serves to fuel this behavior. That being said, we’ve all been there at one point or another and I can still get just as excited for a dramatic sunrise at Dream Lake as I could twenty plus years ago when I first started photographing Rocky Mountain National Park.

Nowadays I get just as excited for cloudy, gray days to photograph. In fact, with 300 plus sunny days a year here on the Front Range of Colorado, getting these kinds of conditions can be difficult at times. The bottom line is that its important to embrace all kinds of light.

Enjoy and photograph dramatic lighting, but also learn to embrace and enjoy the more subtle lighting when it arrives. It will make you concentrate of both your subject, your composition and your surroundings more. I think you will also find this kind of lighting will allow you to create images that are both more original, and speak to your creative side as much or more than dramatically light iconic subjects.

April’s Entrance

Much like March, April is a topsy turvy month in Rocky Mountain National Park. Expect a little bit of everything in April as just about any kind of weather can show up, most of it likely to bring good dumps of snow. The first sunrise of April in Rocky Mountain National Park was beautiful. This old dead snag was a perfect subject to frame the color skies over the east side of the park. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm AF-S lens

So long March and welcome April. As seems typical these days the months keep passing by more quickly each year. In it’s usual fashion, March did its thing. The month started out with sub-zero weather and lots of snow. March warmed up but lots of fresh snow fell during the month which bodes well for summer and fall.

April, like March often has a polarity that seems to switch and change at a whim. Warm spring days, grasses starting to green and Pasque flowers blooming under the Ponderosa forests at lower elevations of Rocky Mountain National Park can quickly be disrupted by large and powerful spring snowstorms. April means be ready for pretty much anything and everything.

The first day of April in Rocky Mountain National Park dawned in true April fashion. A mild morning quickly saw the winds pick up and snow squalls cover over the high peaks of RMNP and the continental divide. The skies east of the divide however, exploded with color as the sun rose to welcome the new month.

With the continental divide covered and most of the streams and waterways still frozen or mostly frozen, I headed to this long dead tree to frame the colorful skies. Rocky did not play and April Fools joke on me and lets hope this is a harbinger or things to come in RMNP the rest of the month of April.

The Madness Of March

With the first round of the NCAA Basketball kicking off today, what a better way to start it off than a great sunrise on the Bierstadt Moraine. Things looked good this morning when I woke up early and held right through sunrise allowing for me to capture these beautiful pinks at sunrise. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F4 VR AF-S lens

One of the most exciting parts of being a landscape photographer is the anticipation of what a new day holds in store. Checking out all the weather forecasts and models trying to take a stab at whether sunrise is going to be a stunner works out only part of the time.

More often than not, expectations are going to fall short. Clouds dissipate right at sunrise or clouds form just before sunrise blocking out first light. So many times the margin between capturing a portfolio worthy image and nothing is minute. Regardless, I always have a little more pep in my step when the possibility of capturing something worthwhile seems more likely.

Yesterday forecasts and models look like this morning may have a decent chance for some nice color at sunrise. High clouds streaming in from the south and west should have been hanging out over Rocky near sunrise.

I was out early this morning as I always am checking out the conditions. High clouds hung over the continental divide this morning and it was cloudless over the eastern plains of Colorado. In a nutshell this is one of my favorite setups for dramatic color over the mountains if all holds.

After walking my dog Jackson, it was into the truck and up to Rocky Mountain National Park. Arriving in the park and checking out the setup things still looked pretty good. Some of the cloud cover had thinned from when I left but there was a good amount of high clouds floating around and nothing to the east to obscure first light.

We are now into spring and the sun is marching northwards each day. Some of the best photographic locations in Rocky and Bear Lake Road in particular are best when the sun moves northward in the sky towards the summer solstice.

I settled on a hike up the Bierstadt Moraine for sunrise. Hallett Peak’s blocky tomahawk shaped peak has always been one of my favorite peaks to photograph and the lights getting good on Hallett, Otis and Flattop now.

High up on the Bierstadt Moraine I settles on this composition. I prefer the upper portion of the Bierstadt Moraine to the lower part as more of Hallett Peak is visible above the top of ridgeline the moraine forms.

Watching and waiting for sunrise on a beautiful March morning in RMNP, the pastels and pinks started popping 15 minutes before sunrise with a little more color as the sun illuminated the mountains. Everything worked out like I had hoped it would. Many times this is not the case but this March morning the madness was perfect.

March Being March

Sunrise over the Mummy Range last week as our most recent storm moved out of the state of Colorado. A powerful low pressure system dropped well over a foot of snow on Rocky Mountain National Park. As is typical of snowfalls in Rocky, the high winds quickly removed most of the snow from the pines but still left a beautiful late winter scene to photograph. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, 24-70mm F4 S lens

If you have been watching the national news of late, you’ve probably seen videos of all the snow, avalanches and other weather we’ve been having here in Colorado. While the news stations tend to embellish situations a bit, this winter has been a very active one both for the entire state of Colorado as well as Rocky Mountain National Park.

Just last week Rocky Mountain National Park and the Front Range of Colorado were hit by a very strong late winter storm that dumped lots more snow on the peaks while also being aided with extremely strong winds as well as the lowest recorded measurement of SLP in Colorado at 970.4 MB’s.

Rocky did not get the hurricane like winds that many experienced in the Denver metro area but they did get the snow with very strong winds with well over a foot of new snow falling on an above already above average snowpack.

This latest storm pushed the Colorado River basin snowpack on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park up over 140% while the South Platte drainage on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park currently stands at 136% of normal.

What does this all mean for current and future conditions for photography in Rocky?. For one thing it means I certainly expect there to be lots of snow still hanging around early into the summer season. Higher elevations of Rocky are going to see lakes taking longer to thaw and trails still partially covered with snow into at least mid June and possibly even early July. Streams and waterfalls will be flowing hard as the snowmelt begins to take hold later this spring.

I would expect lots of green as temperatures warm as well as wildflowers. In fact, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we have a great wildflower season in Rocky starting in the lower elevations in June and moving to the higher elevations of the park in July and early August as I hope we reap the benefits of all the snow that has fallen in Rocky Mountain National Park and the mountains of Colorado this season.

As for the current conditions in Rocky expect to see lots of snow, mostly frozen bodies of water including streams and lakes and trails still packed with snow requiring traction, skis or snowshoes. It’s still March so expect lots more snow to fall in the next thirty days but one can also expect the snow to melt quickly as both the sun and temperatures continue to increase quickly as we move towards summer.

So to summarize what one should expect the next few weeks in Rocky, lots more of the same.