Winter, albeit a little late seems to be settling into the Front Range and Rocky Mountain National Park. Arctic air that has been staying north in Canada most of the winter, finally found a way to filter down to the Front Range. Most of the arctic air mass settled east of Colorado, but some of it still managed to back into the eastern half of Colorado this weekend and drop the temperatures. The cold air, combined with some light snow made for some pretty dramatic atmospheric conditions in Rocky.
Many times it seems like you are either dealing with clear blue skies at sunrise in Rocky, or beautiful lenticular wave clouds combined with constant 60 mph winds. This particular morning in Rocky Mountain was neither. It was a manageable 16 degrees with almost no wind. Even better, there were lots of clouds swirling over the peaks. So many clouds, that many of the prominent peaks such as Longs Peak, Mt. Meeker and Hallet Peak were engulfed by the clouds. The Twin Sister’s however, were still in view.
Below Estes Park, Ft. Collings, Loveland and Boulder were experiencing snow and single digit temperatures. The upslope storm created enough of an inversion this morning that it was not snowing in Estes Park and it was in fact warmer in Estes Park, then the Front Range towns at lower elevations. Cold foggy air filtered up through the Estes Valley as sunrise rose up out of the fog and snow below creating a short but colorful sunrise over the Twin Sisters formation.
It’s Colorado, so of course images of snow capped majestic peaks come to mind. I’ll be the first to admit that although a large portion of Colorado actually is found on the High Plains, it’s harder to start your photographic adventures heading east, than west. That’s just how my morning started after the Boulder area received 20 plus inches of snow from a rare February blizzard. My intention was to head over to one of the Open Space trailheads south of Boulder, snowshoe into a particular location and photograph the Flatirons formation covered in fresh snow.
My morning itinerary quickly went awry. At 6:00 AM it’s very much still night time driving conditions and visibility is limited and it’s still very much dark. As I was turning off Highway 93 and into the Flatirons Vista trailhead, the unplowed lot and 4 ft wall of snow in front of the trailhead entrance quickly altered my plan. With no place to park and sunrise approaching rapidly, I’d have to come up with a plan ‘B’ quickly. I turned around and headed north back towards Boulder.
I didn’t have a back up plan this morning. I figured the trailhead entrance would be plowed and other than getting a good workout snowshoeing in the deep snow, I’d be photographing the Flatirons. The easy option would have been to head over to Chautauqua Park and photograph sunrise from the meadow. I’ve done that plenty of times before and I’m sure there were lot’s of other photographers who would have that location covered just fine. As I drove north past one of the reservoirs outside of Boulder, I caught the first hint of an orange sunrise reflecting off the partially frozen surface of the water. The light bulb went off and now it was a race to find some water.
I figured Sawhill Pond’s on the east side of Boulder might present some opportunities for open water while at the same time allowing me to get into position before sunrise. I arrived at Sawhill Pond’s to find that fog was now forming over the Pond’s. Thing’s were looking more promising by the minute. Sawhill Pond is located in a low spot between Lookout Ridge to the north and Valmont Butte to the south. This was the only area within miles that had any fog forming. The fresh snow, hoar frost and fog made for a very dynamic conditions at sunrise. I only had a few minutes to get into position but my plan ‘B’ paid off. Hopefully after the next big snow the trailhead parking lot get’s plowed, but I’ll make sure I have a better back up plan the next time in case it’s not.
Colorado’s sunrises are legendary for their beauty. Open vista’s and open skies can lead to some very dramatic sunrises for sure. The Winter months tend to be most productive when it comes to dramatic sunrises. This is mostly due to the down sloping winds that help form the clouds above the peaks of the Front Range and east side of Rocky Mountain National Park. As a photographer this is both a blessing and a curse. We get dramatic sunrise with colorful skies and snow peaks. We also get to be human flagpoles attempting to stand in the wind with our camera gear in order to capture the shot. I’m certainly not complaining and with the colorful skies we’ve been having you certainly find my volunteering for human flagpole duties in the future.
A good photographer looks to use their imagery to convey a sense of place and time of the location they are photographing. It’s a two way street with landscape photography. Sometimes harsh, raw conditions are glamorized. Sometimes, if were not doing a good job conveying our message and vision we may not impress upon the viewer the essence of the location and our experience at that particular point in time regardless of how beautiful the scene or the light are.
This particular morning in Rocky Mountain National Park was brutal to put it nicely. A strong Pacific storm was moving into the Colorado mountains and over the Park from the west. Of course as is the case when these storms move in, relentless high winds grate the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes Park was clocking winds of 45 mph, but the gusts on 14,255 ft Longs Peak this morning were over 80 mph. I’d hate to even imagine being on that high rock this particular morning. The sunrise was beautiful with the soft magenta light bathing the peaks as waves of blowing snow moved across the range.
From a pull out on Trail Ridge Road, I was able to position my vehicle in a manner that acted as a slight break from the wind. I setup my tripod and did all I could to keep my camera in place and steady. I tried to shoot when the wind would subside, but the maddening thing about the wind in Colorado is just when you think a break is coming, the wind blow’s even harder as if to taunt you. Many of my images from this morning show motion blur and wont be useable. Luckily for me, I have a few frames where I managed to escape the winds wrath and come away with a sharp, in focus image of this spectacular, but windy morning.
The snow has been sparse in much of Colorado’s high country this year. Not good news for Colorado’s Ski industry and the lack of snow may also hurt the wildflower season come Summertime. There is still plenty of time for the high country to make up for the lack of snow, so we should collectively keep our fingers crossed and hope the weather pattern changes.
The Front Range however, is actually above average as far as snowfall goes. We’ve avoided large dumps of snow and blizzards, but we gotten some consistently good snows up here in the Boulder area. On average, we’ve been getting about one good snowfall a week. Front Range snow’s tend not to linger for very long. Quick moving storms on the Front Range drop their snow and move east across the Plains. The Sun then does it’s trick and the snow begins to melt of rapidly. Oftentimes, you have a short window to photograph fresh powder.
Last week we had another quick moving storm. The meadow along Boulder Open Space and Mountain Park’s Bobolink trailhead has always been a great place to photograph Cottonwood trees along the riparian habitat of Bobolink. The colored grasses and lone Cottonwood in the meadow makes for a great subject with the snow coating the ground and fog moving through the trees.
My never ending obsession with capturing images of tree’s continues onward. I cant exactly tell you why I enjoy photographing the shapes, forms and textures associated with trees, but it’s a never ending quest for me. In fact, my first ever published photo in my High Schools arts publication the ‘Soupstone’ was of a very large American Elm tree that resided in my front yard. This Elm tree was a giant and was located right in the center of my front yard, just 30 yards or so from my bedroom window. The tree framed my bedroom view looking west over the Hudson Valley of New York, a place where I spent many hours of my childhood staring out my window into the world. Other than the fall, when my brother and me would be tasked to rake the Elm’s tree’s leaves for weekends at a time, I held great respect for this tree. The coarse, cork like texture of the bark, the way the trunk split into two large distinct sections, or the way Winter winds howled through the swaying leafless grey branches at sunset all left very distinct memories for me.
The photograph, I had taken that day in 1990 of this tree with my Dad’s 35mm Minolta 5000i and 35-70mm lens still follows a formula I use today when photographing trees. With Kodak Tri-X black and white film loaded in the camera, I laid down at the base of the tree, opened the zoom lens as wide as it could go to 35mm, and photographed the trunk of the Elm tree rising straight towards the sky, it’s branches moving outward’s from the two distinct sections of the tree. There was something about the synergy of all those branches moving and spiraling outward, and the massive trunk of anchoring the branches that garnered my attention. Again, I had spent many days admiring this tree, but this was one of my first steps in successfully using photography to convey the feeling and reverence I had for this tree.
The recognition of this by my High School photography teacher, the publishing of the photo helped to light an insatiable desire to continue to document and photograph tree’s. Today those tree’s are much more likely to be Ponderosa Pines, Cottonwood’s or Aspen tree’s as opposed to American Elm’s, but the desire to photograph tree’s is still just as strong now as it was that day I wandered out in my front yard with Dad’s camera.
2011 is almost over. It’s been an exciting and eventful year for me for sure. Lot’s of great days spent in the field creating new images, new locations visited and a list that continues to grow longer of new locations I would like to photograph. While I always like to reflect on the past year, I typically find myself eagerly awaiting a new year with new challenges and adventures. I don’t typically make new year’s resolutions. Some would argue that resolutions area really just excuses to delay actual goals. Regardless, making resolutions to begin a new year is not something I typically do. I do however use this time of year to reset the compass so to speak. It’s a good time for me to embark on a new path and to set a ‘to do list’ of items that apply to my photographic aspirations for the year. Below I’ve listed some of the things I would like to accomplish and focus my photography on in 2012.
1. Continue to refine my personal style: This is by far my most important goal for 2012. Every year this is one of my most important goals on my list and I cant stress enough how important to me this goal continues to be. Each day the internet is full of exceptional imagery of iconic locations from heavily travelled and photographed viewpoints. While I enjoy this imagery, I want my work to have a more personal feel that represents my vision in a unique, maturing, and artistic manner. There is a lot of great landscape photography out there and differentiating my work from the masses is very important to me.
2.Stay local, photograph local: I love to travel. The thought of being on the road for months, sleeping out of the back of my truck and traversing the country traveling to remote locals and National Park’s is something I dream about a few times each day. While someday this may be my goal for the year, I’ve found it to be much more rewarding and productive to photograph locations close to home. Rocky Mountain National Park and Boulder County Open Space property will continue to top the list of locations I plan to spend most of my field time in 2012. I find it very rewarding photographing local locations and staying local allows a greater appreciation and understanding of these areas close to home.
3.Less gear lust, more adventure and photography: This goes without saying. In 2011 I was fortunate enough to be able to update a good portion of my landscape photography kit. It’s not that I did not already have an adequate lineup, In fact I had more than what I needed to produce high quality imagery. Even so, I was able to update some of my older Canon lenses to more recent releases. These updated lenses wont improve my photographic vision one iota, but they do produce slightly better results than there older counterparts. The truth is there are many great photographers capturing images with basic camera’s and kits. It’s important to remember that a good carpenter never blames his tools for poor workmanship. Furthermore having to much gear or constantly lusting over gear gets it the way of the end product, creating imagery and art.
Well here’s to having a great 2012. There lots out there to do and photograph and I plan on taking the bull by the horns this year. It’s been a fun first year of blogging and I’ll keep updating as often as I can. Happy New Year to all, and a toast to success in 2012.
Sunrise was looking less than promising when I headed out last week in an attempt to create some new imagery. I had an idea of where I was going to head to photograph the Boulder Flatirons but the twinkling stars above and lack of any clouds in the sky had me thinking this trip would likely end up being a pleasant morning hike with my dog Jackson. I figured at the very least, I could scout out some new locations on Open Space property south of Boulder. It’s too easy on a morning like this to talk yourself out of taking a chance on an image. Excuses such as expensive gas prices, a nice warm fireplace back home, a backlog of images to process, web site pages to update and the dreaded trip to the mall to shop for Christmas gifts all were toying with my psyche this morning.
The thought of wasting a good morning to head to the mall was enough to get me out the door in a hurry. I figured if I could get outside and commune with nature, I could tolerate the hoards of people at the mall later in the day. As I neared Boulder, the prospects started looking a little brighter for the morning shoot. A lone cloud hovered over the southern portion of the Flatirons. The cloud was fairly small but appeared to be growing in size as I continued to watch is in the sky.
Photographer’s are obsessed with interesting skies, the more dramatic the better. Clouds help to add texture, color and depth to an image that otherwise may appear flat, dull and two dimensional. The combination of this lone cloud that appeared to be growing was enough to get my juices flowing with the remote prospect of an interesting image. Off I headed from the Flatirons Vista trailhead, navigating myself and my dog through the large herd of cattle grazing on Open Space property. My dog’s not all that interested in photography, but being a Border Collie, he’s certainly interested in the cows.
The cloud I had been watching had now separated and multiplied. Additional high clouds had formed over Boulder and my prospects were improving by the minute. I must have still had the thought of the mall and Christmas on my mind when I settled on this composition of this lone Ponderosa south of Boulder. Another morning with slim prospects turned out to be a great morning for photography. I’ve had quite a few morning’s like this one over the last year. It’s great to reflect back on the successes as well as failures that all end up being great adventures in spite of the final photographic outcome. And with that, regardless of what holiday you celebrate this year, here’s to wishing all of you a Happy Holliday and Merry Christmas.
It’s been a busy Christmas and holiday season for me. I hate to admit it but I have not been able to get out in the field and photograph as much as I would like. Not sure what New Year’s resolutions I am going to attempt to fulfill in 2012, but every year one of them is to get out and photograph more. I’m planning on jumping on that resolution early here as I’m starting to get cabin fever. I find it’s good to wind down a bit, because otherwise I find my creativity and motivation suffers. The key is you just have to make sure you don’t slow so much that you lose your flow and rhythm when you get back out into the field.
So what have I been doing?. Besides fulfilling Christmas print orders I’ve been busy adding and editing images on my web site. I’ve been able to add and update my Rocky Mountain National Park Gallery as well as updating the Boulder Open Space and Mountain Park’s Gallery with lots of new images. Furthermore, I’ve been working on a backlog of Drum Scans from my 4×5 transparencies that I’ve been sitting on for the last year. While I love the look of film and Fuji Velvia, I don’t miss cleaning, spotting and editing the Drum Scans. It takes a good amount of effort to get the scans cleaned up and ready for the web and print orders. Here’s a 4×5 transparency of Longs Peak from the way back machine to hold everybody over.
For the most part, the iconic image of Boulder’s Flatiron formation is photographed from the meadow in Chautauqua Park. While photographing the Flatirons from Chautauqua Park provides a great viewpoint, for my money some of the best view of the Flatiron formation have always been from the southern part of Boulder.
Drive Highway 93(Broadway) south out of town or north from Golden and in my opinion you are treated to some of the most spectacular view’s of the Front Range and in particular Boulder’s Flatiron formation. The rolling hills south of town, dotted with Ponderosa’s give the photographer unlimited locations and compositions to work with. These large expansive vista’s lend themselves well to the spectacular Winter sunrises that occur along the Front Range.
Wind’s rolling off the eastern slopes often create beautiful lenticular clouds that hover over the Front Range. Combine this with the likelihood that there will be a break in the clouds cover over the eastern Plains, and viola you get spectacular sunrises over the Flatirons. What I personally find intriguing about the Boulder Open Space properties on the south side of town is that you can photograph the entire Flatiron formation. This varies from the classical view of the Flatirons from Chautauqua Park where you are only able to photograph a small portion of the formation.