Emerald Lake Reflections And Bear Lake Road Closure

Hallet Peak Reflects in the waters of Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Hallet Peak is seen reflecting in the placid waters of Emerald Lake. More often the not, the surface of Emerald Lake is raked by high winds which prevents one from capturing images such as these. Technical Details: Canon Eos 1ds III, 16-35mm F2.8 L
Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in Rocky Mountain National Park can tell you stories about the wind. Rocky Mountain National Park can be one of the windiest locales on many days of the year. Winters tend to be windier then the summer but nevertheless I’ve arrived at many locations in the Park to find photographic conditions less than ideal.

One of the locations in Rocky Mountain National Park that I have visited many times to photograph, only to come away with nothing due to the wind is Emerald Lake. Emerald Lake sits .8 miles above the ever popular Dream Lake. It is not photographed as often as Dream Lake for a few reasons. First, it’s hard to walk by the iconic Dream Lake and pass up that view. I suspect many photographers who only make occasional visits to the Park cant resist the lure of Dream Lake’s classic view of Hallet Peak. Secondly, Emerald Lake sits right at the base of Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain. Photographers need a very wide lens in the 14-20mm range on a full frame 35mm camera to be able to capture the entire scene. Lastly, even on a perfectly calm day down the trail at Dream Lake, the area around Emerald Lake will often generate enough of a breeze to foul the surface of the waters and prevent the classic peak and reflection type image.

Earlier this week I was able to get up to Emerald Lake on one of these such days when there is no wind. Due to the lack of clouds this morning I played around a bit with my compositions. While I was able to capture the classic peak and reflection image with a cloudless sky above Hallet, I used my 16-35mm lend to isolate the reflection of Hallet Peak in Emerald Lake along its rocky talus shores while minimizing the cloudless blue sky.

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time this summer in the Bear Lake area adding some additional locations to my Rocky Mountain Portfolio. While there has been little discussion about the issue, photographing the Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge areas is going to be getting significantly more difficult in the near future due to a second phase of road construction on the bottom portion of Bear Lake road. Back in 2004 the National Park Service completed a fairly large road construction project on the upper portion of Bear Lake road. The 2004 road construction project made access to the Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge trailheads difficult.

At the time, Park shuttles were the only way to access those trailheads at the time and unfortunately, they started running at 5:00 AM if I recall correctly. Sunrise in the middle of Summer occurs around 5:30 AM so even if your on the first shuttle, your not likely to even get to Bear Lake in time for first light and you can pretty much forget hiking into locations farther in the back country like Dream Lake or the Loch. The Phase II portion of road construction is slated to begin in mid October and last through the Summer of 2012. While it appears the 5.1 miles of Bear Lake Road that will be under construction will be closed during the night to traffic, it also appears that it will be closed during much of the day with the exception of some holidays. Either way its going to make photographing these areas more difficult for foreseeable future starting in the middle of October.

Flattop Mountain Morning

Flattop Mountain and Tyndall Creek, Rocky Mountain National Park
Clouds glide over the top of Flattop Mountain as photographed from a tarn along Tyndall Creek. It took many attempts to finally capture this scene. Technical Details: Canon Eos 1ds III, 16-35mm F2.8 L II

Lilly's reflect the clouds cover in Nymph Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
The pond lillies of Nymph Lake reflect the clouds from this mornings sunrise. Technical Details: Canon Eos 1ds III, 24-105mm F4 L
Photography much like other pursuits, can have good and bad days. Check that, with photography there are really good days, and days when its great to be out in the field, but maybe the actual photography did not work out as planned. Today was one of those days when everything came together just right.

As is typical, I started my day by squinting out my bedroom window at 3:00 AM trying to see what the atmospheric conditions in the sky would be. I was heading up to Rocky Mountain National Park regardless of the conditions, but checking the sky as soon as I wake up is now second nature to me. I’ll be the first to admit it may sound a bit odd, but looking out into the dark of night and seeing the orange glow of suburbia reflecting off the evenings clouds cover gets my blood pumping. I always have an extra spring in my step when I’m heading out the door to shoot, but when there are clouds and the chance for some epic lighting conditions may present itself, I get even more pumped up.

On the ride up to Rocky Mountain I keep checking the sky to make sure the clouds were still with me. Colorado’s dry air can play cruel tricks on the photographer banking on morning clouds after a night of thunderstorms and the associated cloud cover. The cloud cover can quickly dissipate right before sunrise leaving clear blue skies above. I arrived at the Bear Lake parking lot, turned off the lights on my truck and quickly jumped out to confirm those clouds were still floating above the mountain peaks. Sweetness!, lots of clouds floating over Longs Peak, Otis Peak, Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain. Even better I could see the orange glow of dawn starting to light the horizon along the eastern plains. This mornings cloud cover was in all the right places, over the peaks but clear on the high plains.

I threw on my backpack and raced up the trailhead. There was a slight breeze this morning and although I contemplated shooting Dream Lake with what was looking like an epic sunrise, I told myself I’m not going to shoot a scene I along with countless others have photographed successfully many times before. Besides, I figured I would have to share the lake shore and the image with a half dozen other photographers who would be swarming one of Rocky most iconic locations. I figured my destination this morning would be Dragon Tail falls. With a slight breeze blowing, I figured the falls were a safe bet because the breeze would have to no impact on the image.

I raced past Nymph lake which is somewhat sheltered from the wind and remained smooth as glass as I passed by, next stop Dream lake. Surprisingly, there were no photographers amassed along the east shore of Dream lake but the breeze would prevent a mirrored reflection image. Ironically, this actual made me feel a bit better as I knew I would not pass up that once in a lifetime shot at Dream Lake on this morning. I passed Tyndall falls and headed off trail to Dragon Tail falls. With my heart pumping for the sprint up the trailhead I setup my camera and waited for sunrise. I arrived with plenty of time but the excitement of the pending sunrise had me moving at a good clip along the trail. 20 minutes after I arrived, I was able to shoot Dragon Tail falls in some beautiful light with clouds over Flattop Mountain. I quickly headed up Tyndall creek and waded into a small tarn and again was able to capture Flattop Mountain with clouds skirting over head. As quickly as the light show began, it faded behind the clouds. I took my time hiking back down the trail and spent some time photographing the lilly pads at Nymph Lake. While I was slowing down at Nymph Lake taking in the beautiful morning, that familiar feeling of euphoria swept over me. Much like a golfer who always returns to the course because of that one great shot during their round, I could wipe away the dozens of times I had attempted to capture similar conditions only to have things not pan out as I had planned. So it is with photography, and mornings like today keep me pursuing my craft with as much excitement as the first time I photographed a sunrise in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Better Late Than Never, Marigold Pond Columbines

Rocky Mountain National Park Columbines
A healthy group of Columbines I found near Rocky Mountain National Park's, Marigold Pond. I photographed these wildflowers the second week of August. Thanks to our wet winter and heavy snowpack, they wildflower display endured just long enough for me to capture some images of this years banner display. Technical Details: Canon Eos 1dsIII, 24-105mm F4 IS L
Colorado’s wildflower season is world renown. Photographers from all over the world come to our state to photograph the Colorado high country in bloom. Depending on snowpack, and overall moisture the wildflower season can be somewhat hit or miss. Typically peak wildflower season occurs for a few weeks stretching from mid July until early August. The display may be short lived depending on heat, rain and wildflower photographers biggest nemesis, hail storms. The actual timing of the bloom typical depends on your elevation and location in the state. We had a banner year for snow and most if not all of Colorado’s drainage basins were setup to produce a banner year for wildflower displays as well. Unfortunately my plans this year did not include a jaunt out to some of the more well known locations in the San Juan’s or areas around Crested Butte. Family commitments meant that I would be back in New York state during the wildflower peak.

I spent some time in the field photographing Rocky Mountain National Park the second week of August. Fortunately for me, and much to my surprise the wildflowers at higher elevations still looked great. In fact, many wildflowers had yet to start blooming. Indian Paintbrush, Mountain Bluebells and Columbines could still be found in prime conditions along the rocky slopes and stream sides. I found this nice bouquet of Columbines in the rocky slopes near Marigold Pond. Marigold Pond sits between Two Rivers Lake near the base of Notchtop mountain. Columbine’s are Colorado’s state flower and they are one of my favorite wildflowers to shoot. They are a very dainty wildflower and will bob and sway in even the slightest of breezes, which at 10,000 ft above sea level is pretty much a given. Taking my time in between periodic breezes which would cause the flowers to move, I was able to capture nice images of these iconic flowers, at about two weeks later than I expected too.

Successful Morning At Lake Haiyaha

Lake Haiyaha sunrise image at Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
First light just begins to illuminate Hallet peak from Lake Haiyaha in Rocky Mountain National Park. All the elements came together for me this morning and enabled me to capture some beautiful morning light. Technical Details: Canon Eos 1ds III, 17-40mm F4 L
Lake Haiyaha in Rocky Mountain National Park was named by Native Americans and means ‘lake of many rocks’. Any hiker or photographer who has traversed the 2 miles or so from the Bear Lake trailhead will quickly understand the rational behind the naming of the lake which sits at the base of Hallet Peak. Boulders and rocks abound along the shores and outlet of Lake Haiyaha. Depending on the time of year, the amount of rainfall, and to what degree the snow melt is occurring, access and photography around the lake is in a constant change of flux. Lake Haiyaha’s rocky shores make for great leading lines and foregrounds in a photograph. Even better, Lake Haiyaha tends to be much less visited and photographed then the other lakes near and around the Bear Lake trailhead such as Nymph and Dream.

I visit Lake Haiyaha often and have photographed along its rocky shores many times. The lighting at this location becomes more favorable as summer wanes and the sun begins to move back towards the south from its northern most point at the summer solstice. Lake Haiyaha sits at the base of southeastern flank of Hallet peak. Because of it’s southeastern orientation, photography of Hallet peak is more favorable when the sun begins retreating towards the south later in the summer and fall months.

I woke up this morning at 3:00 AM to see what the conditions looked like outside. More often than not, summer mornings in Colorado break with bluebird skies and not a cloud to be found for hundreds of miles. My heart skipped a beat when I peaked out my window and viewed the nearly full moon breaking through pretty thick mix of cloud cover. I quickly got my gear together and jumped in my truck and headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park. Having clouds in the sky is only half the battle in trying to capture a dramatic landscape image in the park. For it all to come together successfully a few things need to happen.

First of all you need the clouds to remain in the sky. Easy enough concept right?. Many times, the clouds will dissipate right before sunrise as the atmospheric conditions change. If the clouds don’t dissipate, they then need to be positioned above what ever landmark it is you want to shoot. I cant tell you how many times I’ve had great clouds in the sky, but nowhere near the subject I am shooting. It’s like my photography subject is emitting reverse polarity on the clouds and causing them to scoot away from where I need them to be in my frame, this can be a very frustrating proposition. Lastly you need what I call a ‘sucker hole’. A ‘sucker hole’ is a small break in the cloud cover or along the horizon where the sun will be rising or setting. It’s aptly named a ‘sucker hole’ for good reason. Many a photographer has been ‘suckered’ into waiting for the light with the hope that the sun will peak through the break in the cloud cover and illuminate your subject with brilliant light and cloud cover. More often than not, the light never comes, and the ‘sucker hole’ lives up to its name.

This morning at Lake Haiyaha, it all came together quite nicely. While the cloud cover thinned as sunrise approached, there was still enough clouds in the sky above Hallet peak that as long as the sunrise was not blocked by additional clouds cover over the eastern plains, things were looking good. Furthermore, it was quite windy at Dream Lake when I passed the trail junction on the hike in but this sheltered area of Haiyaha kept the wind at bay and the reflection intact. I used my 17-40mm lens at 17mm to capture as much of the sky an foreground as I could. I could have easily used a 14mm lens this morning and gone wider but did not have one in my backpack. As the sun began to rise and illuminate the cloud cover overhead in a pink, red and magenta hue, the rocks along the shore of Haiyaha reflected the glow in the sky making for an intense palette of colors on the rocks and peaks. Fighting off the swarms of mosquitoes who also found the windless sheltered area to their liking, and trying to keep them off the front of my lens, I was able to make a handful of images in the quickly changing lighting conditions. It all came together quite well for me this morning. Its morning like these that keep me jumping out of bed when the alarm goes off at 3:00 AM. There never a sure thing in photography, but when conditions look favorable it’s better not to hit the snooze button.

Somewhat Wild In Southampton, New York

Wildflower Garden in Southampton, New York
Cultivated flowers bloom amongst wildflowers in a feild near the original Southampton townsite. Getting a break from the normally constant sea breezes in the area allowed me to get off the beach and take advantage of this beautiful field of flowers. Technical Details: Canon 5D Mark II, 17-40mm F4 L
Unfortunately not everyday at the Beach is going to break sunny and clear. Many mornings on the eastern end of Long Island and the Hamptons are going to break cloudy and overcast because of the strong influence the Atlantic Ocean has on the weather in the area. Even on mornings such as these you can often find plenty of subjects to photograph. While the beach itself can yield some interesting results with a little imagination and the use of long timed exposures to blur the water and the clouds, there are many other subjects that photograph well in the soft light.

This particular morning in Southampton was exactly one of those mornings. One of the difficulties in photographing along the coast and near large bodies of water is wind. It’s rare not to have a strong breeze along the shore in the morning. Often, this will not affect photography of subjects such as the beach and or the ocean, but it can make it very challenging to photograph items that move and sway in the wind without capturing motion blur. Even though this particular morning was cloudy and overcast, there was little to no wind. I decided to head off the beach to a location I had spied the day prior.

The town of Southampton, New York maintains some open space property that has been donated from a large estate just off the beach near the original 1640 town site. They have cultivated a mix of wildflowers and garden flowers in this location and there is quite an impressive display of color to see here. The cultivated gardens which are partially maintained and irrigated have had their flowers propagate outwards amongst the open space field. This has created a great location to photograph the flowers, some cultivated and some wild amongst the grasses of the open space. With the soft diffused light, I was able to capture this impressive display of flowers without a stiff breeze causing the flowers to sway during the long exposures required. All in all it worked out to be a good morning to look for subjects not beach related, and instead work with subjects that require little to no wind to capture successfully.

Back Home In Rocky Mountain National Park

The Gable towers over Odessa Lake
The Gable catches the early morning sun as it towers over Odessa Lake in this impressive view from Joe Mills Mountain. Technicial Details: Canon Eos 1ds III, 24mm TS-E f3.5 L II
It sure is good to be back on my home turf again. While I had a blast photographing back in New York, it felt great to get up to Rocky Mountain National Park again amongst the pristine Colorado alpine scenery and dry mountain air. I had the opportunity one morning to head up to Rocky to photograph for the morning. I was hoping for some clouds to provide some nice diffused light to capture some images of wildflowers. Instead I awoke to nearly clear blue skies. I had decided the day before that I would hike into the Lake Helene area of Rocky Mountain National Park from the Bear Lake trailhead. This is a good area to find wildflowers amongst the rocky slopes including the ubiquitous Columbine which is of course Colorado’s state flower.

While I have good images of Lake Helene and Two Rivers Lake, I still have some different compositions I would like to work on. Leaving the Bear Lake trailhead at 4:30 AM, I arrived at Lake Helene to clear blue skies and a pretty stiff breeze. There would not be an epic sunrise over Notchtop mountain this morning, nor would one be able to capture a reflection in the choppy alpine lake. I left Lake Helene to the two photographers already setup along the shore. On the hike in as dawn was approaching, I could see some clouds off to the north. I was hoping these clouds would slide on south towards one of the two lakes I had planned on shooting. After ditching Lake Helen I hurriedly headed over to a rocky outcropping that looks down on Odessa Lake from the flanks of Joe Mills Mountain. It was a perfect view of Odessa Lake and the Gable, and those clouds I had spotted off to the north were in perfect position for sunrise. I’ve wanted to capture an image from this location for some time, but I’ve always been lured to one of the nearby lakes instead. Even though I ditched my original destination, the stars aligned this morning and I managed to capture an image that is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. I have to say, it feels great to be back home.

Observations at Dune Beach

Dunes and grasses along Dune Beach
Clouds and blue sky pass over the dune grass and dunes at Dune Beach, Southampton, New York. Thankfully, a misadjusted backpack prevented the photographer from walking right past this scene. Technical Details: Canon 5D Mark II, 17-40mm F4L
Here’s another beach scene from Southampton, New York, without the actual beach included. The dunes along Dune Beach are quite impressive for the area, and I have to assume how Dune Beach garnered it’s name. I had another successful shoot this morning and on my way off the Beach I almost walked right past this scene. I had envisioned photographing a scene like this many times during my visits out to the east end. In the past I’ve not quite been able to get all the visual elements to fall into place to create the image I was looking for.

After a successful morning photographing I find myself falling into a zone. I would compare it to a similar feeling that one gets after a runners high. I relax, my mind opens up a bit and I’m able to study the elements within the scene with a little less bias and preconceived ideas. I often create some of my most unique and rewarding imagery on the back end of a shoot when I’m experiencing this sort of ‘photographers high’. During this time however, I can often wander right past interesting imagery as I’m busy contemplating, thinking to myself. This almost happened to me this morning as I was heading off the beach. I felt great, had captured some beautiful images and my mind was pondering other things as I walked through the sand. I decided to stop for a moment to readjust my backpack only to look up and see this scene unfolding before me. It was a good thing my backpack distracted me enough so that I had a moment to reevaluate the scene.

After The Rain, Halsey Neck Dune Fences

Dune Fence at Halsey Neck Beach
Vibrant dune grass grows amongst the dune fences at Halsey Neck Beach in Southampton, New York. Heavy rain and thunderstorms from the night before helped to bring out the subtle colors and textures of this scene. Technicial Details: Canon Eos 1ds III, 17-40mm F4L
One of the things I like about shooting along the beaches on the east end of Long Island is the subtlety of the scenery found in this part of New York State. While the beaches in the Hamptons are world famous for their jet setting crowd and millionaires, they are not photographed often as part of the natural landscape. I have some suspicions as to why this may be. First of all, although the beaches in the Hampton’s are public, access is made difficult due to parking restrictions and expensive day use fee’s. Furthermore, the beaches are void of stunning visual cue’s that the beaches found along the west coast of the United States have become famous for. There are no boulders, and sea stacks and large cliffs to use as props and areas of interest within the photograph. The beaches found on the east end of Long Island are known for their soft sand, subtle dunes and spaciousness. This makes strolls along the beach pleasant, but can make it difficult to capture the essence of the location in the image.

When scouting locations and making images, I use this very essence to find and make images that speak to my feelings and impressions of how I view the beach and this location. Every time I arrive at one of these beaches, I find the scene completely different than the following day, month or year. The beach is a landscape in constant flux. The wind, rain, nor’easters, and tides shape the beach daily. I often return to locations I have photographed the prior year only to find the dunes have moved, or have been removed by a powerful storm.

The night before I photographed this scene, heavy thunderstorms rolled over the beaches through the night. Heavy wind and rain fell late into the night. When I arrived at Halsey Neck beach, the skies were clear but the air was heavy with humidity from the night before. I was immediately drawn to the fences used to protect and reinforce the barrier dune formations. The dune grass was moist and a vibrant green from the moisture the night before. The sand was smooth and flat, matted down from the heavy rain as well. The dune fences, which usually are a bleached grey from the Sun and wind, were dark, coated with water and sea spray which helped to reinforce the texture of the wood used to makeup these fences. The wind, which is usually blowing along the beach was calm. I quickly hurried to capture the scene before the Sunrise would cast harsh shadows on the scene and remove the subtle texture I was looking to capture.

Sunrise at Dune Beach

sunrise at dune beach, southampton, new york
Hard to beat a sunrise as good as this. Southampton, New York's Dune Beach is a favorite location of mine. The quality of light at the beaches along the south shore of Long Island can be amazing. Clouds, humidity, sea spray all combine to make the colors very vibrant. Technical Details: Canon 5D Mark II, 17-40mm F4L
I apologize for the lack of any new post last week. I was back in New York visiting family, and while it was not a photographic exposition per se, I was able to get out and shoot some images. My wife Holly is originally from upstate New York and I am originally from downstate. Naturally, visits of this nature typically result in a whirlwind tour of New York visiting our various relatives and friends. This time we had our eight month old Keira in tow with us for the first time. This made the travelling a little more intense than usual but also much more rewarding for our family as Keira was able to meet lots of new relatives. I often joke that I need a vacation from my vacation on these kinds of visits.

While I was unable to spend any significant time upstate photographing the many waterfalls and gorges in the Finger Lake region, I was able to sneak away to photograph some beach scenes from the Hamptons and scenes along the Hudson river. Even when on whirlwind trips such as these, I’m making mental notes on locations I need to return to shoot when I have more time to dedicate to photography alone. I have a very large mental note, that I need to return to the Finger Lakes region during fall to take full advantage of the gorges and falls when the foliage is peaking. It’s high on my current to-do list. I also need to spend some quality time in the Hudson Valley. This is one of my favorite areas of the country to photograph. For the last few years I have been unable to spend a significant amount of time wandering and photographing all it has to offer.

Ironically, even though both myself and my wife are originally from New York, it has become more difficult to dedicate enough time to photograph these areas for any significant amount of time. The lesson learned here, is to always take advantage of the time you have right now. Future plans are great, and you may think you will be returning time and time again only to find life moves you in another direction. While, I am pretty sure I will be spending more time in this region, I can only kick myself for all the times I was in the area and chose to spend my time in another fashion doing other things.

I’ll be updating the blog quite a bit here in the next few weeks as I have a pretty good backlog of photographs and images from my recent trip. It’s great to be back in Colorado as well, and I’ll be heading up to Rocky Mountain National Park soon, so look for some Colorado images to be mixed in with some of my recent New York images.

Fern Creek, The Little Matterhorn and Notchtop Mountain

Fern Creek flowing from Odessa Lake
Fern Creek flows freely from the outlet of Odessa Lake, while the Little Matterhorn and Notchtop Mountain catch the first rays of sunshine. Technicial Details: Canon 5D Mark II, 17-40mm F4 L
After my severely botched attempt last week to shoot Fern Creek and The Little Matterhorn, I returned to Rocky Mountain National Park again the following morning to make a second attempt. The legs were a bit sore, but this time I made sure I followed the correct trail past Fern Lake and up to the Odessa Lake area. I’ve photographed this area many times before but I have yet to come away with an image that really captures the essence of this area. All of Rocky Mountain National Park is beautiful for varying reasons. The Odessa Lake area is certainly one of the more dramatic and stunning areas of the park. Odessa Lake rests below Lake Helene and above Fern Lake in a stunning alpine valley. The hike takes you up past Fern Lake, then you follow Fern creek to the outlet of Odessa Lake. Not surprisingly, most of Fern Creek is still buried under snow. More surprisingly was sharing the shoreline with four other photographers. Odessa Lake takes some work to get to, so one typically only finds the campers who were lucky enough to secure a back country pass for the campground. I did not get a repeat performance of the dramatic sunrise I managed to miss the day before, but nonetheless it was another spectacular morning in Rocky Mountain, and I’ll be sure to return again to capture that illusive image.