Winter Photography In RMNP Recap

Ypsilon Mountain catches the first rays of sun on Wednesday morning of this week. Fresh snow still clings to the pines and the face of Ypsilon Mountain is covered in the white stuff. Winter photography in Rocky Mountain National Park is very challenging. Follow some of the suggestions I’ve laid out below to help improve your chances of capturing some classic winter images in the park. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 AF-S VR FL lens

Nearly all landscape photographers I know, love getting out in the winter and photographing winter scenes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Snow covered peaks, trees draped in snow and beautiful winter light draw photographers up to Rocky in the middle winter.

As I’ve written about before, photographing in Rocky Mountain National Park during the winter months is much more difficult than it looks. After a mild January, February has arrived with plenty of snow and unsettled weather. Here’s a couple quick tips and reminders to help improve your chances of capturing some great winter images in RMNP.

First, keep in mind that access to much of Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter is limited and once off the plowed roads can be much more difficult to travel through than summer months. Trail Ridge Road (Many Parks Curve), Old Fall River Road, Upper Beaver Meadows Road, and most of Wild Basin Road will all be closed in after the first big storms. With these roads closed, getting around the park and working with the conditions can be difficult. You cant just decide to head up over Trail Ridge Road because thats where the clouds are or the Kawuneeche Valley has fog. You will have to be creative and photograph along Bear Lake Road and the areas of Trail Ridge Road and US 36 that remain open.

Secondly, hiking or snowshoeing in the park to locations away from the roads is much more difficult than hiking during the summer months. Snow on the trails can make them difficult to follow and slipping and sliding along the route in the cold weather and wind will require more exertion and more importantly time to get to your destination. Microspikes or snowshoes are a must as is the proper cold weather gear. Plan on giving yourself plenty of time and dress in layers as you will perspire into your location only to be standing around in the cold and wind cooling down quickly waiting for the sun to rise.

Account for the wind. Wind in Rocky Mountain National Park is probably not only the most difficult and trying aspect to photographing in RMNP, but its also the type of weather you are most likely to encounter on a winter visit to Rocky. There are very few days in Rocky Mountain National Park in winter when one wont encounter a stiff breeze or a hurricane force gale. Keep in mind that if the weather forecast calls for 30 mph wind gusts in downtown Estes Park, plan on adding at least 20 mph to that if you are going to hike up to Dream Lake for sunrise. Standing on the ice at Dream Lake with your camera and tripod setup with 50 mph wind gusts nearly knocking you down makes it very difficult to capture images, let only keep the camera steady enough for sharp images. Also keep in mind that the the small thin pine needles found on the evergreens that dominate Rocky’s landscape will not hold fresh snow for very long once the wind quickly blows it off the trees.

Another important aspect to keep in mind during the winter months is the fact that all the lakes and streams in the park will be frozen solid. Reflections are my number one request from RMNP Photo Tour clients. Many are surprised to hear that capturing snow covered peaks reflecting in streams or open water in Rocky is nearly impossible by mid November. There may be a small opening of water here and there along a larger stream, but for the most part lakes and streams will be covered solid with ice and snow until late in the spring.

The sun angle in Rocky Mountain National Park is also another variable that needs to be accounted for in the winter. Rocky’s most popular area in the summer for photographers are not necessarily the great for photography in the middle of winter. The area along Bear Lake Road and the lakes that emanate out of the Glacier Gorge trailhead and Bear Lake trailhead are all oriented north and east. This means the northern angle of the sun during the summer months lights these areas perfectly. During the middle of winter, the sun is at its farthest point south on the horizon leaving many of these areas in shadow or backlit. Ranges such as the Mummy Range however have a southeast facing orientation and get spectacular light during the winter months. It’s also hard for me to think of a range in the park that looks better after a fresh snow than the Mummy Range.

Lastly, some of the best times to head out in Rocky Mountain National Park for winter type photography is the end of the fall and the back end of spring. On the Front Range of Colorado we tend to get our strongest snowstorms in October and or March, April and May. These storms move in and out quickly after dumping lots of snow. Winds tend to not be as intense these times of year and more importantly, one can often find lakes and streams either not yet frozen, partially frozen or thawing out. Even better, later in the spring the sun is rising fairly north in the sky and the popular locations along Bear Lake Road will be lit as well as they are during the summer months.

Truth be told as we head into February, the lighting is getting better and our chances for good snow and quick moving storms are now getting better. Keep your expectations reasonable, watch the weather forecast, and plan on capturing winter images now right through May and you should be able to add some classic winter images of Rocky Mountain National Park to your portfolio.

Backlighting Longs

A backlit sunrise over Longs Peak on Saturday morning takes shape. I was headed up to Dream Lake for sunrise Saturday morning with a photography tour client when the wind and weather changed our plans. We opted to photograph the backside of Longs Peak over Glacier Gorge as clouds, snow and high wind obscurred our chances at Dream Lake. The lighting this morning was perfect for backlighting and if we had pressed on to Dream Lake, we would have missed this opportunity. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 AF-S VR FL lens

One of my favorite kinds of light to use when photographing landscapes is backlighting. In some ways backlighting goes against the basic principles of photography. We are taught early on that we should have our source of light behind or on the side of our subject. This was especially true during the days of film photography.

Latitude and dynamic range with film photography was very limited, especially with transparency or slide films like Fuji Velvia or Kodachrome 25 or 64. You could certainly backlight subjects during with film, but often you would have little to no details in the shadow areas and the results would be a hard silhouette.

Todays digital sensors have so much dynamic range, that there is still plenty of detail in the shadow areas of the frame which allows one to become even more creative with the light. If you combine backlighting with first light or the soft lighting the occurs just before dawn or right after dusk, you can open up opportunities to photograph subjects and locations at times that typically might not be considered perfect.

This was the case on Saturday as I had a client out in the field. The original plan was to photograph Dream Lake at sunrise. The winds were blowing pretty good when we left downtown Estes Park, headed for the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. I knew if the winds were blowing this hard into town that we should just figure on at least doubling the gusts by the time we reached the Bear Lake parking lot.

Sure enough it was blowing pretty hard up at Bear Lake but with some light snow flurries coming down and some nice cloud structure in the sky over RMNP, we figured we could deal with the wind up at Dream Lake and possibly be treated to a really nice sunrise over Hallett and Flattop Mountain.

Heading up the snow trail towards Dream Lake, and orange glow like an orb began to form over the high plains of eastern Colorado. With sunrise almost an hour away the clouds were over Rocky Mountain National Park were already starting to glow magenta, red, yellow and orange. Blowing and falling snow were adding to the atmospherics and things were looking good.

We took a little longer than expected to get up the trail as my client had just flown in the night before and was working and a short nights rest. Looking over Glacier Gorge towards Longs Peak and the Keyboard of the winds showed great promise as the kaleidoscope of color formed over Rocky’s tallest peak and only 14er.

We stopped to give my client a rest and shoot the predawn light that was really starting to explode. While the color was great the winds were howling now. From time to time, I could just see the tomahawk edge of Hallett Peak come in and out of the clouds which had cloaked most of the divide at this point. Amazingly, Longs Peak and Glacier Gorge were for the most part free of being cloaked in clouds and only had clouds move in and out of the landscape periodically.

With Dream Lake appearing to be a bust, and the sunrise really starting to ramp up, I opted to set this shot up with my client and take advantage of the backlighting and color east and south of Longs Peak. While we weren’t going to be able to capture sunrise at Dream Lake this morning, I knew we would have some great backlighting that would be more dramatic than we would have had up at Dream Lake.

It’s a good lesson in not only having a backup plan when out shooting, but also one in which you look to work with the conditions presented to you as opposed to the ones you hoped for. We could have pressed on to Dream Lake and ended up with windburn, but instead we chose to photograph Longs Peak at the wrong time of day. Regardless we came away with some beautiful images of Longs Peak in dramatic winter lighting, while we learned the importance of taking advantage of the conditions given that particular morning.

Nature First


Working as both a professional photographer and photography guide in Rocky Mountain National has great rewards. I get to spend much of my time out in the natural and wilderness areas of Rocky Mountain National Park hiking, photographing and most importantly, showing other photographers and visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park, the pristine beauty of this 400 square mile protected land.

Thankfully, for people such as John Muir and Enos Mills we have this place no known as Rocky Mountain National Park accessible and preserved for my generation and future generations. The foresight of those who have preserved these natural areas has now been passed on to future generations and it is now our stewardship to continue to protect, preserve and educate others on the importance of wilderness and wild places. I’ve been photographing Rocky Mountain National Park since 1998.

In that time I have seen tremendous changes not only to Rocky Mountain National Park, but to all the National Park and natural areas I visit. In that time, Rocky has gone from about 3 million visitors a year to nearly 5 million visitors a year. Most of those visitors come to Rocky in a 7 month period, so the increase in visitation is readily apparent throughout the park.

As a photographer and guide, I struggle with my impact and my businesses impact on a place I greatly love. In recent years I have made an attempt to educate my photography tour clients on Leave No Trace principles, impact to sensitive locations and leaving things better than you find them. I make every attempt to visit locations in the park at times when impact will be minimized. For the most part, most of my clients are as aware and concerned with their impact on wild places as I am. I find it just as important to help clients understand the importance of Leave No Trace principles as it is to help them along their photographic journey.

The Leave No Trace orginization has done a great job to help educate visitors on the proper protocols to adhere to when visiting sensitive wilderness and wild areas. With that said, a group of photographers here in Colorado have decide to take it a step further and come up with additional principles for photographers to be mindful of when out in the places we not only photograph, but love.

My friends Scott Bacon and Erik Stensland enlisted the help of a handful of other photographers here in Colorado and they created both the Nature First Organization as well as the 7 principles of Nature First.

These 7 principles the Nature First group created came through long discussions and meetings. They are designed not to scold photographers or prevent from photographers from going to the places they love, but instead to remind photographers to be mindful when out in wild places as well as to help educate others who may not be aware of their impact on sensitive areas.

Moving forward with both my photography, as well as guiding photographers in RMNP, I will be adhering to both Leave No Trace guidelines as well as the 7 principles Nature First has created.

To be perfectly clear, I strongly believe these public lands were designed to be cherished and visited by all. They act as places that refresh and renew the soul. It’s important that we continue to use and access these gifts our predecessors had the foresight to protect for future generations.

At this stage, It’s become vitally important that we not love them to death or create situations where access is limited or restricted. Thats not the answer, but it will always be the easiest solution when our impact overwhelms both the land and those responsible for protecting the land. Nature First helps to not only educate fellow landscape photographers, but more importantly, keeps us from becoming the problem when visiting places we love.

Edward Abbey once wrote the following about protecting wilderness, “A man could be a lover and defender of the wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, powerlines, and right-angled surfaces. We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to set foot in it.” Abbey’s word as important today as when he wrote them over sixty years ago.

Nature First has done a great job bringing this to the forefront of the landscape and wildlife photography community. I strongly recommend you visit the Nature First website to not only educate yourself on the seven principles, but also become a member.

THE NATURE FIRST PRINCIPLES

1.Prioritize the well-being of nature over photography.

2.Educate yourself about the places you photograph.

3.Reflect on the possible impact of your actions.

4.Use discretion if sharing locations.

5.Know and follow rules and regulations.

6.Always follow Leave No Trace principles and strive to leave places better than you found them.

7.Actively promote and educate others about these principles

Out On The Ice

As we head into the end of January and move towards February in Rocky Mountain National Park, the weather has remained mild and uneventful. For photographers, this can cause frustration. While I know the weather will soon change in Rocky, I’ve been keeping busy working on less glamourous projects in the park. Ice is always a great subject to photograph in the middle of winter. I captured this vignette of grasses frozen in the ice in the meadow of Moraine Park earlier this week. Photographers have pleny of compositions to work with like this if they open their mind to all the potential in more intimate scenes. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens

It’s hard to believe but we are almost done with the first month of 2020 already. In what typically seems like one of the slower months of the year as I try to get back into my routines and move forward on new projects after the holidays, January has flown by.

Frankly it been a fairly uneventful month for photography both in the Boulder area as well as in Rocky Mountain National Park. The reason for the lack of excitement so far in January?, mild, boring weather for us photographers.

I can remember some dry Januarys, but his January has been nearly devoid of any weather other than wind and the temperatures have been very mild and pleasant. Great for hiking and outdoor activities but not great for dramatic skies, fresh snow on the pine trees or mountain peaks cloaked snow and clouds.

As is usually the case, I suspect at some point here in the near future, the weather will change and I’ll be lamenting all the snow and cold as I eagerly await the spring and summer months in Rocky Mountain National Park.

I’ve been out a fair amount working on different projects and keeping myself busy trying to stay creative. This time of year is typically my slowest in regards to taking photography tour clients out in the field, so I have more time than usual to work on personal projects. Of course having time to photograph personal projects is great, but it can also be a little frustrating when the weather and elements are not cooperating.

Keeping an open mind, there is always tons of subjects to photograph in Rocky Mountain National Park even in the middle of an otherwise uneventful winter. I’ve been splitting my time between photographing buildings, cabins and other ‘hand of man’ subjects and landscape and wildlife when the opportunity presents itself.

One great subject when the weather is bland in RMNP is ice. In the middle of winter, most photographers head up to Dream Lake to photograph the after the famous winds of Rocky quickly blow fresh snow from the surface. While any of the high lakes in Rocky are great for ice, there are lots of areas in Rocky in winter that require less effort to get to and will present some unique opportunities.

I photographed the image above in Moraine Park just before sunrise. A large frozen expanse of water in a flat area of Moraine Park has frozen over from the freeze and thaw cycle that this mild winter has afforded. Unlike the ice up at Dream Lake, this flat plain in Moraine Park has lots of grass frozen within the ice. This made for some interesting perspectives and compositions that one usually would not expect to find at the high mountain lakes which are devoid of frozen grasses.

With these images of ice, one pretty much has limitless compositions available to them. Between the grasses, the fractures in the ice, bubbles, frozen snow, etc., be prepared to spend a good amount of time photographing the details.

I often use my 100mm Micro/Macro lens to photograph the details in the ice, but my 24-70mm F4s lens on my Z7 focuses down almost to a 1:3 ratio. I find this just about perfect for ice compositions. I also like to shoot the ice when its still in shade and the skies above are blue. Those blue skies will refract in the surface of the ice and give it a blue hue. One can adjust their white balance to taste, but I find using a normal daylight white balance in the 4900-5300 K range will really allow the contrast between the white ice, and blue skies to show in the composition.

One other quick tip. Try to keep your sensor plane flush with the flat surface of the ice. When I take clients out to photograph the ice I find they often want to shoot the ice with their camera and sensor not flush to the surface of the ice. While this is a natural inclination for many photographers, you will find that getting all of the ice in focus will be very challenging and that the out of focus area where the sensor plane is not aligned will be distracting to the overall composition. I think my years of photographing with a large format 4×5 camera helped me to understand the importance of both alignment and depth of field, but for many its important to stress simple compositions that are flush with the sensor and lens. Less is more most of the time with ice.

So while I expect the weather to change as we march towards spring and I look forward to photographing Rocky after some fresh snow, keep your mind open and look to photograph some of the more subtle subjects such as ice and or man made objects until the conditions become more favorable for grand landscapes.

Sunrise On Lake Estes

With snow squalls blowing over Rocky and the wind howling, I headed east of downtown to Lake Estes to photograph sunrise this morning. With open water, geese and some beautiful light at sunrise, Lake Estes was just the elixir I needed after what seems like lots of bland sunrises and weather so far this January. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens

In what seems like has been few and far between, we finally had a really nice sunrise this morning in Estes Park. The weather so far this January has been mostly mild and tame. While up on the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park there has been some snow this month, its mostly been wind or clear blue skies. For January, the weather has been awesome. Mild, sunny and we’ve been absent the arctic cold snaps that typically make an appearance or two this month.

I’ve been watching the weather intently these past few weeks looking for something interesting to happen. A nice dumping of snow, a dramatic sunrise, any of that would work. For whatever reason things just have not come to fruition.

Like a baseball player mired in a slump, you always know if you just keep heading out eventually your luck will change. So while I’ve been getting skunked at sunrise of late, I’ve used the time to work on other projects in the park that are more conducive to flat, diffused lighting. In particular I’ve been documenting the remaining man made structures still remaining in Rocky. While I’ve recently added a gallery depicting some of this work, this is a project I continue to enjoy when conditions are not optimal for landscape photography. You can find this new gallery and project at this link. Man, Nature and Rocky Mountain National Park

The prospects for sunrise this morning looked pretty good in RMNP. As I headed into the park long before sunrise, things did not look as good as I though they might. The mountains were shrouded in snow and the wind was howling. Snow was falling, but not enough to cover anything. If we had a sunrise it certainly looked like the clouds and squalls floating over Rocky Mountain National Park would likely obscure any light and color. Besides, even if I wanted to photograph the mountains, they were covered in clouds.

I headed down to Lake Estes east of Rocky and downtown Estes Park to see what would happen. It looked pretty dicey, but about 15 minutes before sunrise the skies to the east of Estes Park exploded in color. Lake Estes is only about half frozen right now so the open water helped to exacerbate the beautiful sunrise.

So while I was looking forward to photographing inside of Rocky Mountain National Park, the consolation prize along the shores of Lake Estes wasn’t bad either. More importantly, here’s to hoping the weather pattern is about to change and start to make things a lot more interesting.

Interview On The Landscape Photography Show Podcast

A few weeks back I was interviewed by David Johnston for the podcast he produces, ‘The Landscape Photography Show’. I’ve been a big gan of David’s photography as well as a listener to his podcasts for years dating back to his original set of interviews prior to this latest incarnation of his show.

We had a great discussion about a wide range of topics related to landscape photography, life, business and some other interesting topics as well. It’s always fun to be interviewed, and podcasts are a personal favorite of mine. Spending countless hours traveling and in vehicles, podcasts help to fill a lot of time for me when I cant be out in the field photographing or working with clients.

If you would like to hear the podcast and interview, follow the link at the bottom of the page. If you follow my work or are interested in heading out into Rocky Mountain National Park with me on a photography tour or workshop, you can get a little better feel of who I am and how photography, or more specifically landscape photography has played an important part in my life.

Regardless, I highly recommend you subscribe to David’s Landscape Photography Show and check out the long line of interviews he’s conducted with some of the heavy hitters in the landscape photography genre. It’s a great show and a fun listen.

The Landscape Photography Show Podcast With Thomas Mangan

Link To Interview On iTunes

Great Start To 2020

2019 went out with more of a whimper than a bang for me, mostly due to mild and boring weather for photography in Rocky Mountain National Park. 2020 has started on a great note as I spent a few days on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park recharging. I snowshoed out to Little Buckaroo Barn for sunrise after snow had fallen the previous two days over the Kawuneeche Valley. With specatacular conditions at sunrise, 2020 got off to a great start in Rocky. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens

With 2019 in the rearview mirror and the holidays now behind us, it’s nice not only to reflect on the previous year, but also think about all of the potential for 2020. In one sense, turning the page on 2019 brings a feeling of a fresh start, while on the other, getting back into your normal day to day routine after the holidays brings comfort to somebody like myself who enjoys and looks forward to their routine.

During Christmas and the New Years holiday I try to stay busy photographing as often as I can. That can be a tall order with social commitments, photography tour clients visiting Rocky Mountain National Park during the holidays, and weather and conditions which were for the most part blasé.

Working through the holiday parties, social and business commitments at the end of the year means I would have liked to have finished out 2019 on a strong note. It’s a lot easier said then done with all the distractions and average conditions for photography.

I did manage to spend quite a few days out in the field at the end of 2019, either guiding photography clients, are finding locations and subjects to photograph that did not require beautiful sunrises or sunsets. With that said, 2019 transitioned into 2020 with more of a whimper than a bang for me.

Looking to reset and start 2020 off on the right foot, I headed over to Grand Lake and the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park for some inspiration. During the summer months when Trail Ridge Road is open, spending time on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my favorite things to do. Once the snows start falling in October, and Trail Ridge Road is closed for the season, traveling to the west side of Rocky is a little more involved.

Each year during the winter and spring months I’ll spend a few days at a time over in Grand Lake so that I can photograph the west side of RMNP when its draped in a cloak of fresh snow. Winter on the west side of Rocky is quiet and the hustle and bustle of summer in downtown Grand Lake is only a distant memory.

Grand Lake is about as peaceful, quiet and tranquil as it can get in the middle of winter. Boaters and hikers are replaced with visitors on snowmobiles, but overall the town of Grand Lake and the west side of Rocky see very little traffic compared to the summer months.

It’s not uncommon for me to be the only person in the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park at sunrise, something that does not happen on the east side of the park. The quiet and solitude is great but photographing on the west side of Rocky is difficult during the winter months.

The Kawuneeche Valley and Grand Lake are very cold places in January. Expect single digits to below single digits temperatures at sunrise. Getting a sunny day on the west side of the divide can also be a little more difficult. Snow and fog are common and even if its a clear sunny day on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park, theres a good chance you will find yourself in the snow, fog and clouds on the west side of RMNP.

I also cant emphasize enough how much snow is on the ground on the west side of the park by January. Head even a few feet into the woods or off the roads and you will likely be sinking into the snow up to your waist or chest. Snowshoes help, but instead of sinking into your waist, expect only to sink in to your knees. This makes getting to many of the locations on the west side of the park challenging to say the least.

With Saturday looking like the day the clouds and snow would break I decided to snowshoe out to Little Buckaroo Barn in the middle of the Kawuneeche Valley. It was 9 degrees when I started the short snowshoe in but I quickly was wading through snow up to waist even with snowshoes. Regardless, high clouds in the sky and the hint of pink to the east of the continental divide had me pushing through the deep snow towards Little Buckaroo Barn.

I’ve photographed Little Buckaroo Barn countless times during the summer and fall but capturing an image here during the middle of winter after a fresh snow has always been high on my to-do list.

After finally getting through the deep untouched snow around the barn, I setup my camera and watched as the colors in the sky over Little Buckaroo Barn and the Kawuneeche Valley exploded.

Pastels and pinks are a favorite, but combine that with fresh snow reflecting those colors and I knew I was in the right place at the right time. Feeling like 2019 went out with more of a whimper than a bang, the start of 2020 on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park quickly erased the past few weeks of disappointing conditions and had me looking forward to all the potential 2020 has.

Saint Catherine’s Chapel On The Rock

Over the past year or so, I’ve been making a concerted effort to photograph more images in Rocky Mountain National Park that may include man made features. One of the most beautiful locations which include a man made object, is Saint Catherine’s Chapel On The Rock. Saint Catherine’s is located on the St. Malo Retreat center complex, but has Rocky Mountain National Park as a backdrop. 13,916 ft Mount Meeker towers behind Saint Catherine’s and this time of year the lighting on Mount Meeker’s southeast face is nothing short of electric. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens

It’s been a quiet couple of weeks here in Rocky Mountain National Park. After what seemed like a very active weather pattern from October through November, December has been very quiet. While there have been a few small systems that have moved through RMNP this month, most of the weather other than some light accumulation of snow have been wind events on the east side of the park.

Looking at the long term forecast for the rest of December it appears the pattern will continue to give us more of the same. Of course long term forecasts aren’t all the accurate so we can still keep our fingers crossed for some more fresh snow to blanket Rocky.

Even with it being quiet on the weather front, there have been some very nice sunrise and sunsets as there often is this time of year. While we may not end up with much in the way of snow on the east side of RMNP, those wind events often produce lenticular cloud formations. These of course make for beautiful sunrise and sunset colors once the sun illuminates the bottom of the lenticular cloud.

As we head into the holidays and the new year here in Colorado, I’ve been trying to get out and photograph as much as possible with the conditions look interesting. One of the subjects I’ve been working on with regards to my portfolio of Rocky Mountain National Park is images that include the hand of man in them.

While many landscape photographers go to great lengths not to include man made objects, buildings, trails, etc., I’ve been slowly adding to my extensive collection of Rocky Mountain National Park images by making attempts to actively photograph buildings, trails, and other interesting views that may include man made objects.

With Christmas almost upon it seems as good a time as ever to photograph Saint Catherine’s Chapel on The Rock. This beautiful church which sits along Highway 7 between Allenspark and Estes Park is a spectacular location. Not only is the church a beautiful stone church, but its perched on top of a rock with Rocky Mountain National Park as a backdrop.

While the church is not technically inside Rocky Mountain National Park, Saint Catherine’s On The Rock is oriented in such a position that it’s also a location with one of the best views of Mount Meeker. Many people mistake Mount Meeker for Longs Peak from this location, but the stunning backdrop to Saint Catherine’s is the southeast face of 13,916 ft Mount Meeker. While Mount Meeker is just short of 14er status, its still a very impressive mountain and one that ranks as the 68th tallest peak in the state of Colorado.

The lighting this time of year on the southeast face of Mount Meeker is nothing short of electric. There’s pretty much nothing to obstruct the sunrise on the side of Mount Meeker this time of year so that as soon as the sun begins to rise over the high plains of Colorado below, Meeker starts to glow. Place Saint Catherine’s Chapel on the Rock in front of Mount Meeker and you have all the ingredients for some beautiful light as well as a composition.

So I’ll continue to work on making images of Saint Catherine’s, with the goal being to photograph the area after our next snowstorm covers the landscape in fresh powder, this is a location that landscape photographers visiting Rocky Mountain National Park should not overlook.

The Buck Stops Here

Sunrise was a bust yesterday morning in Rocky. Often when this occurs I move onto a ‘Plan B’ which more times than not is wildlife photography. With fresh snow on the ground, I was able to spend a few minutes photographing this beautiful Mule Deer Buck on the side of aptly named Deer Mountain. It can be tricy to photograph both wildlife and landscapes well, but I find it a good idea to persue both opportunities in Rocky Mountain National Park to increase one’s chances of capturing images. Technical Details: Nikon D850, Nikkor 200-500mm F5.6 AF-S VR Lens

While my primary focus photographically speaking is landscape photography, those who know me and have photographed with me also know I’m apt to photograph just about any subject in good light. Next to landscape photography, wildlife photography ranks second in subjects I enjoy photographing.

Sometimes landscape photography and wildlife photography work hand in hand and one can benefit from the other. There are times when I’m out in a meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park setup for a sunrise image, when a large bull moose wanders out of the woods, undisturbed by my presence. In cases like these, I’m usually able to parlay my fortune into photographing both a landscape image, while I also being able to photograph wildlife that’s in the general vicinity.

Personally, I find those kinds of situation to be more of the exception than the rule. More often than not I find that to make compelling images, one has to commit the time to one or the other subject or you end up with mediocre images or no images at all. That being said, I believe its beneficial when photographing in a location like Rocky Mountain National Park to be prepared to photograph both landscapes, while having the ability to photograph wildlife which you may encounter trailside or roadside.

With the exception of portions of the fall elk rut, I typically prioritize photographing landscapes over photographing wildlife. As is often the case with both forms of photography, mother nature does not always want to cooperate and it’s easy to head home empty handed in those situations.

The upside of photographing both landscapes and wildlife photography in locations such as Rocky Mountain National Park is that there is also a good chance you will be able to capture some beautiful images of one of the two subjects.

Many days in the field I am able to capture stunning landscapes, draped in dramatic lighting. More than likely on these mornings I’ve only caught a glimpse of animals here and there and probably haven’t had an opportunity to photograph any of them. On the flip-side, many times I’ve gone out with the intention to photograph landscapes, only to have the conditions not work in my favor. It’s at this point that I start looking for other photographic opportunities in RMNP.

This was exactly the scenario that unfolded on yesterday mornings outing. Rocky was covered in fresh snow and there were lots of clouds hovering over the Front Range as I left my house and headed towards Estes Park. Forecasts called for some clearing and it looked like we would have a good probability of a dramatic sunrise.

Sunrise came and went and clouds over the eastern plains of Colorado, blocked out any dramatic color in the sky, along with any sun for the first 45 minutes of the morning. On mornings like these, I’m going to stick around and look for other subjects such as wildlife to photograph. In mid December the low angle sun provides beautiful lighting nearly all day long and of course having a fresh coat of snow on the ground in winter is always welcome.

As can often be the case, a herd of Mule Deer were grazing near the roadside at the base of aptly names Deer Mountain. With the Mule Deer rut winding down, there were three good looking bucks just east of the grazing herd of ‘Muley’s’. One buck in particular took his time grazing and spent most of his time basking in the warm morning sun on a 4 degree Fahrenheit morning.

I always welcome these opportunities and they make for a good ‘Plan B’ if your primary subject is not cooperating. I find it to be a good idea when driving or hiking the roads of Rocky Mountain National Park to keep a camera with a long lens at the ready for opportunities like this. Have the camera setup for action, and have a lens that can give you some reach. Your vehicle makes a great blind and oftentimes, if you a prepared you can get a few minutes with your subject and capture some nice images as I was able to do yesterday.

Some Foothills Magic

The winter solstice is only a week away and this time of year I enjoy exploring areas close to home. I spent Thursday morning in the foothills just west of Boulder near Walker Ranch enjoying what was certainly our best sunrise of the week. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 14-30mm F4 S lens

Were a week away from the Winter Solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere. You can feel the change in the lighting and sun angle this time of year. Not only are our days very short this time of year with just over 10 hours of daylight, but even when the sun is out and shining, it doesn’t have quite the warmth it does most of the year in our high altitude of Colorado.

Snow from our large snowstorm just before Thanksgiving is still covering much of the open ground. That would be a rarity as we get into February and the sun rises higher in the sky and causes snow to quickly melt in all but the shaded areas quickly.

The winter winds have returned and even if its not snowing in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Continental Divide is often blanketed in clouds as storms from the Pacific dump snow on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park as well as Colorado’ ski areas.

I like to use this time of year to recharge. I’ll still spend a good amount of time in RMNP, photographing, especially when conditions warrant it based on freshly fallen snow or the promise of an amazing sunrise. This time of year however, I really enjoy spending time in the lower foothills and plains in and around Boulder

The weather and the winds down here are usually a little more cooperative and the sunrises over the high plains and foothills this time of year are often stunning. It’s a nice change of pace and it allows for different compositions and locations for photography. It also involves a little less travel and driving which can often be welcome in the middle of winter.

Thursday morning I took the opportunity to head up to Walker Ranch in the foothills just west of Boulder to photograph what was an amazing sunrise. I could tell it was going to be a good one as we had the classic setup of clouds over the foothills and mountains with a small gap in the cloud cover over the high plains. As long as the clouds aren’t moving off to the east to fill in that gap, your pretty much guaranteed and explosion of color in the sky when this occurs.

There was no disappointment with Thursday’s sunrise and other than it being breezy west of Boulder, the color in the skies over South Boulder Peak were amazing. Truth be told, the sunrise east of Boulder was even more intense and peoples social media feeds all around the Denver metro area were filled with images capturing the amazing sunrise.

With us heading right into winter now, I’ll be searching out and exploring not only locations in Rocky Mountain National Park for new compositions and photographs, but I’ll be spending plenty of time in and around Boulder on their numerous open space properties and mountain parks.