Elk bugling in the distance, autumn grasses lining the banks of a gently flowing Fall River, and a beautiful lenticular cloud hanging over Horseshoe Park. There are few moments that typify Rocky Mountain National Park more than mornings in the presence of this kind of beauty.
Most mornings last week were cloudless but higher winds on Saturday allowed for a nice wave or lenticular cloud to form over the northern Front Range. Originally, the plan was to head up to Glacier Gorge to photograph sunrise. There is a particular Krummholz tree in Glacier Gorge I had in mind to photograph with the wave cloud above, but that image would have to wait for another day.
I had to quickly alter those plans after arriving at the Glacier Gorge trailhead. The winds were howling down Glacier Gorge. Tree’s were swaying back and forth and it became apparent I was going to need to find another subject to photograph.
Horseshoe Park seemed like a good ‘plan B’ location. Sunrise was rapidly approaching so I did not have a lot of time to horse around so to speak. A short walk out along Fall River yielded this view of Deer Mountain and sunrise reflecting in Fall River. Horseshoe Park, as opposed to Glacier Gorge was nearly devoid of any wind. A large herd of Elk grazed in the meadow just out of sight. The morning turned out to be different than I had envisioned, but only in a great way.
Autumn in Rocky Mountain National Park is rapidly coming to a close. The aspen trees and cottonwoods have shed their golden leaves, the grasses have turned from golden to brown, and snow now coats the high peaks of Rocky.
Even so, if one looks hard enough there are small reminders here and there of fall. Late in the week I headed into Wild Basin with the intention of photographing some of her waterfalls as snow was falling. The streams in Wild Basin are still flowing free of ice and I wanted to photograph some of the water features with fresh snow on them.
I spent what was essentially a spectacular winter like morning photographing Wild Basin under a light coating of fresh snow. Signs of fall had mostly abated, but I kept my eye for hints of any remaining color here or there.
Finally, on the hike out of Wild Basin, I caught a patch of still colorful aspen leaves on the ground. Fresh snow had fallen on the leaves, but there was enough color to catch my eye. Two red aspen leaves on top of the yellow and brown leaves allowed for just one more fall composition.
Readers of my blog know by now the mantra I photograph by. That mantra being bad weather equals good photos. Snow, rain, fog and clouds get my blood pumping and whenever possible find me out in the field photographing the landscape.
Fall is quickly transitioning over to winter in Rocky Mountain National Park. A very cold low pressure system from the north swung down into Colorado late last week and brought with it just the kind of unsettled weather that I look forward to shooting Rocky in.
Saturday morning I headed up to Rocky in a light but steady freezing drizzle. Making my way up through Pinewood Springs I could see the rime ice and hoar frost coating the Ponderosa Pines along the road. Arriving in Estes Park, town was still socked in with clouds but the freezing drizzle had stopped.
While I generally prefer to get out on the trail and into the backcountry to photograph Rocky, I opted to head on up Trail Ridge Road to see if I could get above the cloud deck. There were some small breaks in the clouds around the Beaver Meadows entrance station which gave me some hope that the cloud deck might not be as high up as I first suspected.
Trail Ridge Road was only open to Rainbow Curve, so I kept my fingers crossed as I drove Trail Ridge high above the Estes Valley. About a half a mile before Rainbow curve, the clouds disappeared and the stars where shining brightly above.
The view from Rainbow Curve looking back east over Rocky Mountain National Park and the Estes Valley was spectacular as the sun began to rise. The clouds filled the valley due to the inversion. The tops of the clouds took on the hue of the deep blue pre dawn sky and to the east and orange glow precipitated the oncoming sunrise. It was another great morning to be up in the park and one that further reinforced the bad weather equals good photos mantra.
It’s amazing how quickly the fall colors are coming to peak around the Front Range of Colorado. Even after a hot dry summer, our colors have been spectacular this year. Looking back, it seems like only a few weeks ago that the lakes and trails were thawing and melting of snow. Rainy and cooler weather has put a nice coating of snow on the tops of the peaks and the changing of the seasons is evident.
Autumn to me is one of those seasons that just doesn’t last long enough here in Colorado. It’s a bittersweet season as the opportunities to photograph the fall color while still having good access to the higher elevations begin to wane. Snows will set in soon and the tree’s will be quickly dropping their yellow, orange and red leaves to the ground.
That fleeting feeling of fall is what makes it such a special time to get out and explore, photograph and enjoy the season. Fall in Colorado, feels as if the tree’s, birds and wildlife are all enjoying one last big party before the winter slumber sets in.
I’ll be looking forward to photographing winter in all its glory, but part of my wishes I could slow the clock down just a smidge and allow the fall to take her sweet time in making changes to the landscape. Fall’s not quite over just yet, and there are still plenty of opportunities to photograph it’s splendor and beauty. Lets just hope we can squeeze in another week or two.
The fall color is moving very quickly along in Rocky Mountain National Park. I’m actually a bit surprised at how fast the color has progressed in the last week. It’s been warm, dry and unfortunately very hazy from smoke from fires in the Pacific Northwest.
The good news is that it looks like rain and cooler temperatures will be moving in early this week and that should not only make for some nice diffused lighting to photograph the fall color, but also clear out the smoke and haze that has been making photography challenging for the last few months.
As for the fall color, it’s looking very nice in Rocky Mountain National Park, but as I stated earlier, it seems to be peaking very quickly. Areas around Bear Lake are now past peak. Bierstadt Moraine is about 80% changed an looking nice. Even the Cottonwoods and Aspen tree’s in the Moraine Park and Horseshoe Park area are nearing peak. While there is still some green around and I expect there to be remnants of fall color in the park for the next two weeks or so, My advice would be to hit up Rocky now if your looking for color in the park.
I took sometime the last 2 days to photograph around Boulder Brook. The aspens around Boulder Brook are also at peak right now and the stream, vibrant green moss, and leaves on the forest floor are all combining to make for some beautiful fall photography.
The Boulder Brook area is one of my favorite locations in all of Rocky Mountain National Park, and if your looking for fall color mixed in with a beautiful mountain stream, this is the spot. The entire Boulder Brook area has a very unique and lush feel to it. The stream flows between the aspen groves and boulders and there are endless compositions for photographers and artists.
Again, my advice is to get on up to Rocky now. The fall colors are pretty much at peak in most of the park, and the cloudy, overcast and rainy weather should make for very nice conditions the next few days.
Quick update here on the fall colors in Rocky Mountain National Park. At this point in time, the fall color appears to be peaking about a week early or so. The Bear Lake area is at peak, and if you want to photograph the colors around Bear Lake, now would be the time to do so.
Bierstadt Moraine still has a week or so to go and many of the lower areas of the park around Beaver Meadows and Moraine Park are still a good two weeks from peaking. All in all there are plenty of opportunities for fall color photography right now with the higher locations nearing peak.
Every autumn there are various reports by photographers online depicting an area or grove of trees somewhere that is ‘peaking early’. This of course puts every other photographer in a total panic that they are going to miss the peak fall color while at the same time ruining there plans and itinerary they most likely planned a year in advance.
While this happens every year, and certain trees and locations do from time to time peak earlier the typical years, on average the peak fall color in Colorado is quite predictable. I’d prefer not to be the person crying wolf, but from what I have seen so far, it does appear that our hot and dry weather is causing the leaves in many areas to turn earlier than usual.
I made a quick scouting trip up Gregory Canyon just west of Boulder a few days back and found quite a bit of fall color. There is still plenty to come, but I would say things appear to be at least a week ahead of our typical schedule. This mirrors what I’ve observed in Rocky Mountain National Park over the last few weeks.
Again, I’m in no way trying to be that guy causing a panic. I would just say it would be a good idea to stay open to the possibility that many areas may peak earlier than is typical in most years. My advice, get out in the field, explore and keep your options open. The possibilities for photography this time of year are endless.
Fall is really starting to hit it’s stride in Rocky now. Aspen tree’s are turning gold all around the park, and we had our first heavy frost in Moraine Park on Saturday. Finally, that distinctive sound of Elk bugling through the meadows and valleys is a sure sign autumn has arrived in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Photography in the park can be overwhelming this time of year. Overwhelming in a good way of course. There is a ton of potential this time of year. Do you hike to a high alpine lake which is still unfrozen for sunrise?. Should I train my camera and lens on that grove of golden aspens?. Or should I hang around Horseshoe Park and Moraine Park looking for herds of Elk and photograph the rut?.
Some photographers excel in trying to capture all of the above subjects at the same time. Personally, I find it best to concentrate on one subject at a time. That’s not to say I wont attempt to photograph multiple subjects in Rocky on the same outings, I just find my style works best when I filter some of the background noise and set a destination.
I find it’s a good idea to have a starting point and goal when heading out in the field. That being said, I also like to have a ‘Plan B’ ready in case I have to alter plans due to lighting, location of clouds or weather. It’s also important for me to take advantage of unforeseen images or opportunities when in the field.
Saturday morning was clear and cool. I had planned to hike to Bluebird Lake in Wild Basin for sunrise but changed my plans on the way up to Rocky when it was apparent I had a zero percent change of getting any clouds at sunrise. I had passed through some low lying fog on the way up to Rocky so I figured I’d take a quick look at Moraine Park to see if any fog was hovering in the valley over the Big Thompson.
Cresting over the rise from Upper Beaver Meadows I was pleased to find some low lying fog hanging out Moraine Park along the river. Cars parked at the Cub Lake trailhead had a nice coat of frost on their windshields. A short hike out to a nice bend in the Big Thompson River and the elements started coming together. Skies were clear but the fog along the river would provide a nice element to the scene. Furthermore, it would cover up the many fences installed around Moraine Park to protect the foliage from the every hungry elk herds.
Heading back to the trailhead, I could hear Bull Elk bugling all around Moraine Park. This time of year I keep my Canon 7D and 100-400 IS lens with me in the front seat of my vehicle. I don’t consider myself a wildlife photographer per se, but opportunities to photograph the Elk rut can be plentiful on mornings like this so it’s a good idea to be prepared if the opportunity presents itself.
On my way out of Moraine Park I was lucky enough to come upon this beautiful Bull Elk and his harem. For a good twenty minutes or so I was able to photograph this Bull Elk bugling, herding and chasing other males from his harem. Finally they headed back into the cover and shade of the Ponderosa’s, and I headed home satisfied.
I just finished up with a couple of very productive days in Rocky Mountain National Park. The seasons are definitely starting to collide and change and Rocky is very much moving from summer into autumn.
This is without question my favorite time to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park. For the most part, you still have all the lakes open and free of ice, but the aspen tree’s and underbrush are starting to change and the Elk are starting to rut presenting photographers with plenty of varied subjects to photograph.
Photographing fall colors this week was not in my plans. While it’s not abnormal to see and aspen tree or two changing colors around Labor Day, I have to admit I was quite surprised to find as much color change as I did occurring on many of the hillsides.
I think for the most part, the typical third and fourth week of September will provide photographers with plenty of great opportunities to photograph fall color in Rocky Mountain National Park, but there are certainly going to be some good opportunities to capture fall color in the next week or so. Our dry summer appears be causing some of the stressed trees to turn golden earlier than usual.
My plan was to photograph Mills Lake and Lake Helene if conditions looked right. The clouds I was hoping for at Mills Lake never materialized, but everything fell into place at Lake Helene yesterday.
I’ll start transitioning over to some fall color photography here a bit sooner than I expected. In a nutshell, the Bierstadt Moraine has little to no change. The area around Bear Lake itself is spotty with some decent patches of color. Above Bear Lake it’s also spotty with some patches of decent color. So while there will be plenty of golden color to photograph in the next few weeks, one can certainly find some color in the park already.
Most photographers visit Rocky Mountain National Park hoping to come away with some spectacular shot of a sweeping mountain vista, or an iconic alpine lake with a perfect mirror reflection. While I feel you on that desire, sometimes weather, wind, or a line of other photographers with the same ideas may prevent one from capturing those idyllic scenes of Rocky.
Don’t fret however, when things aren’t working in your favor when it comes to photographing some of the more iconic spots like Dream Lake, or the Rock Cut there are plenty of other locations one can train their camera on.
Rocky Mountain National Park is filled with literally hundreds of waterfalls, cascades and bubbling brooks. These water features are ideal locations to photograph on windy days, cloudy or rainy mornings, or when you just want to get away from photographing the more iconic and crowded locations in Rocky. Here are a couple of quick tips for photographing waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park.
1. Typically you want to photograph water in either cloudy diffused light or prior to any direct sun hitting the waterfall or water feature. Diffused light allows for even lighting over the entire scene and prevents contrasty, harsh lighting that will blowout highlights or remove detail for darker areas. Your camera can only capture so many stops of light and dark, bright sun or direct lighting just makes this range more extreme. If you photograph water in Rocky Mountain National Park on a clear blue sky day prior to feature being illuminated by direct sun, expect to play with and tweak your white balance settings when processing your raw files.
2. Use a circular polarizer filter when photographing water features. Circular polarizing filters help to minimize both glare and reflections emanating from the scene. Use of a circular polarizer helps to keep the detail in both the rocks and foliage as well as to help tame bright spots present in the water. The circular polarizer will also help make colors pop by removing flare and reflection from the surfaces being photographed. Keep in mind circular polarizers require an additional two stops of exposure compensation. This can sometimes be a hindrance but it may also be a benefit as it will allow for longer exposures which create the dreamy motion effect on the water feature being photographed.
3. Experiment with both shutter speeds and ISO when photographing water. Your shutter speed will greatly affect how the motion of the water is captured. Every photographer has there own tolerances for how dreamy and silky than want the motion of the water to be represented in their final image. In general you want to capture the motion of the water while retaining some detail in the overall flow of water. Very long exposures not only create the dreamy look, but may create ‘hot spots’ of very white water that can cause a distraction to the overall image. Adjusting your camera’s ISO will help increase or decrease the shutter speed required and the correlating amount of motion capture in the water.
4.Work the scene and composition using both wide and telephoto compositions. Waterfalls and water features are great because there are literally hundreds of possibilities. Encompassing the waterfalls in the overall scene with a wide angle lens may result in an beautiful image, but using a telephoto lens to isolate and capture smaller areas of the waterfall will result in unique and original compositions as well.
5. Visit the water features and waterfalls at different points in the season. You would be surprised how different any given waterfall may look depending on the overall flow of water. Obviously the spring runoff will generate very large amounts of water flow through the feature. More pleasing compositions may actually open up as the flow of water subsides later in the season. Also, capturing waterfalls under a fresh snow, or first deep freeze will allow one to capture more unique images.
So the next time your photographing Rocky Mountain National Park and the weather or the wind is not cooperating at the more iconic locations, just get out your topo map and find some water to photograph.