Lighting makes or breaks an image. Working with the light and using it to your advantage is a part of what makes some photographers vision and imagery resonate more than others. Lighting is crucial to successful landscape photography.
Lighting for landscape photography can come in all shapes in form. Dramatic sunrise/sunset lighting is what comes to mind when most people think about dramatic lighting on the landscape. Even so, diffused light, reflected light, and light from sources other than the sun can be used to create beautiful imagery.
We’ve continue to have a very mild fall here in the Rocky Mountains. Daytime highs have often been in the sixties, and there has been very little snowfall. We need moisture more than most can imagine or we will be paying the piper next summer. One benefit the warmer weather has carried with it this fall, is stunning sunrises.
The warmer weather, and associated winds that come with warmer weather in the Rockies have allowed for beautiful lenticular or wave clouds to form along the Front Range and over Rocky Mountain National Park many mornings and evenings. Because of this we’ve been having no shortages of spectacular sunrises up in Rocky.
Combine our spectacular sunrises and cloud formations with the fact that most of the rivers located in the lower elevations have not yet completely frozen over, and there is still plenty to photograph even during Rocky’s brown season. Even so, lets keep our fingers crossed for some heavy snows and a return to a typical fall/winter season in Rocky soon.
Chasm Falls is a popular and heavily visited waterfall along Old Fall River Road during the summer months. Thousands of vehicles pass right by Chasm Falls during the busy summer months in Rocky Mountain National Park. Chasm is beautiful anytime of year, but hiking up to Chasm Falls once Old Fall River Road closes for the season is a real treat.
An off-season hike up Old Fall River Road to Chasm Falls will result in a completely opposite experience of visiting Chasm when Old Fall River Road is open during peak season. Most of the time you wont encounter another soul along your journey up to the falls. Hiking up above Endovalley in the stillness of a winter morning is an awesome experience.
For photographers, its also a great time of year to photograph Chasm Falls. There’s a short window of time before Chasm Falls freezes for the winter and is covered by snow. If your lucky enough to time it right, you can photograph Chasm Falls after snow has fallen, but prior to the falls freezing over.
The perfect conditions all fell into to place last week for me. Light snow was falling over Rocky Mountain National Park, and Chasm had yet to freeze. I had an intense but brief sunrise in Moraine Park and as the snowed picked up its pace, I decided to make the early morning trek up to Chasm Falls.
The hike up to Chasm paid off. I was able to capture the falls still running at a good clip. Evergreens and boulders were coated in fresh snow. Other than the sound of Fall River cascading through the chamber that makes up Chasm Falls, it was a serene and quiet morning. Nothing more than a perfect morning to photograph Chasm Falls
One of the worst feelings one can experience when out photographing the landscape is that feeling of having ‘just missed the shot’. It happens to all of us, and watching a once in a lifetime sunrise or sunset unfold in front you while your out of position for the shot can be disheartening and torturous.
The image of what could have been can leave you feeling regretful. That shot that could have been becomes burned into your memory and you’ll run through the fateful course of events over and over. Why did I set my alarm clock so late?, why did I hesitate on hiking to a particular viewpoint?, maybe I should have hustled a little more on the trail to makeup some time etc.
Living with regrets is not a particularly productive way to go through life or landscape photography. We cant go back in time, and we cant re-create once in a lifetime opportunities. The best thing we can do is try to be more prepared for ‘the shot’ the next time. The second, and most important thing we can do is appreciate our time in the field and in nature even if were in the process of botching the shot.
It was thirteen years ago today that my father, Thomas passed away at the age of sixty. Dad had turned sixty only two weeks prior, and his passing made for one of the most difficult days for my family and I. Thirteen years later, it’s still difficult to believe sometimes that my father is no longer here.
Time has healed much of the hurt and pain that losing my father has caused but at times such as today, some of it returns. On days like today, I find it’s best to remember all the great times and life lessons I learned from my father. It’s because of my father that I am able to spend mornings, like today in places like Rocky Mountain National Park.
Unfortunately, I was never able to spend anytime with my dad in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was with my dad however, that I first visited the state of Colorado. I had spent the summer of 1996 living in San Francisco with my cousin having just graduated from college. I was looking to land a job and fulfill my dream at the time of living in the city by the bay.
In actuality, I spent more time exploring and photographing around the bay area then I did looking for a job. Needless to say, I quickly depleted my funds and needed to return to New York to again work the job I had held through college. I had driven my Jeep Wrangler cross country by myself on the way out, but my dad agreed to fly out to San Francisco and keep me company on the ride back. I gladly accepted his offer because I did not have enough money at the time to pay for the gas to get back across the country.
My drive back east across the country is one of my most memorable times spent with my dad. Driving hours at a time across California, Nevada, and Utah in the summer heat and without any air conditioning in my Jeep made for some testy moments between father and son. Even so, we pushed on and entered the state of Colorado from the west.
Colorado was like and oasis in comparison to the brutally hot and dry climate of the Great Basin we had just travelled through. The evergreens and the cool high mountain passes were a welcome change from the rocks and heat. We spent three days in Colorado exploring and enjoying the mountains. Those three days in Colorado with my father sealed the deal for me. I was going back to New York, saving up so money and moving out to Boulder as soon as I could.
So even on somber days like today, I can look back and be thankful for the many things my father bestowed in me. My love of travel, photography, and Colorado are all rooted deeply with my dad and his desire to make sure we had every opportunity to do what we loved to do. I was never able to formally thank my father for the opportunities he gave me, but on mornings like today, I try my best. Thank you Dad.
A fresh layer of snow has fallen over Rocky Mountain National Park and the Estes Valley last week. Autumn is on it’s very last leg in Rocky, but we can look forward to snow capped mountains and peaks. The lines between fall and winter in Rocky are often blurred, with the seasons overlapping.
Photography this time of year is about capturing those subtle and not so subtle transitions occurring in Rocky Mountain National Park. Open water and lakes will begin to freeze over, and the grasses will move from golden to brown. This is probably the least ‘sexy’ time for photography in Rocky.
That being said, there are still plenty of hidden gems to photograph in the park. With the return of warmer weather this week, there should still be enough open water around to photograph reflections of the now snowy peaks, especially in the lower elevations. Rocky also has some of it’s most dramatic sunrises this time of year, so it’s a good time of year to scout new locations to take advantage of the light show in the sky.
I photographed the image above with the intention of using the lone tree and Deer Mountain as silhouettes against a very impressive dawn sky in Horseshoe Park. The off season here in Rocky, is a great time to experiment and find new locations and vantage points to work such as the one above. While some of the shooting in Rocky Mountain National Park may not be as glamorous as some of the summer and autumn opportunities, the ability to experiment be creative and capture unique imagery is endless
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.