Keeping up with the theme of Colorado red rocks, I was lucky enough to spend the last few days in the Manitou Springs area. Manitou Springs sits right at the base of Pike’s Peak. It’s an eclectic town with lots of galleries, shops and restaurants. Even better for me is that it’s a short drive to Garden of The God’s. Garden of the God’s is a great place to spend a morning photographing and one of the best locations to photograph Pike’s Peak along the Front Range.
Garden of the God’s is a City of Colorado Springs park. It’s a beautiful location that mixes One Seed Juniper’s, Scrub Oak, and Ponderosa Pines amongst large red sandstone rock formations. The large red sandstone rock formations make an awesome backdrop to photograph Pike’s Peak, Colorado’s easternmost fourteener.
This particular morning was a chilly twenty-two degrees with a stiff wind blowing from the north. A light dusting of snow had fallen over night but it appeared the skies would be cloudless at dawn. People who are not photographers cant understand why we constantly complain about clear blue skies. Clouds in the sky add interest and depth to an image. For the photographer, clouds and light help to convey the story of the image and the location. Luckily for me, The Pike’s Peak massif created it’s own weather this morning. Clouds formed along the ridgeline of Pike’s Peak due to the strong northerly winds. While the wind made it somewhat chilly for the photographer, it allowed me to capture an image of Pikes Peak that helps illustrate the conditions present on this particular morning
It’s been a slow couple of weeks here for photography. I’ve had some other obligations to attend and the transitional season into Winter on the Front Range has also played a part in limiting the available subject matter. I’ll admit that during this transitional season, I need a good kick in the pants to get out and about in the field and get the momentum flowing again.
I was able to get out last week and do some hiking and photography on Boulder Open Space and Mountain Park’s property. Visitors and residents to Boulder are familiar with the large red rock’s that sit just above downtown Boulder at the mouth of Boulder Canyon. This rock formation is aptly named ‘Red Rock’s’ for obvious reasons. Red Rock’s, which is not to be confused with Colorado’s famous music venue in Morrison, is a great location to photograph at Sunrise. The Sun’s first rays will paint the rocks a brilliant red reminiscent of Utah sandstone. I also find this formation fascinating because of the many tree’s that grow out of and near the rock formation. The compositions are limitless in this small area of Open Space. If your a follower of my work or my blog you are probably aware that tree’s are one of my favorite photographic subjects. This small park is great place to get out with camera in hand and get the creative juices flowing again.
There have been lots of rumblings and heavy undercurrents in the Landscape Photography Community of late over the what the true motivation and intentions behind photography of the natural world should seek to represent to the end viewer. There are basically two schools of thought that are gaining a foothold in this ongoing debate. One school of thought feels that landscape photography should be that of a documentarian like representation. The basic premise of this documentarian school of thought is that landscape photography should document nature and landscape as close to reality as is possible. The photographer should use elements within the landscape, combined with actual lighting conditions and weather events to capture and represent as accurately as possible the scene before them and the camera. This documentarian school of thought believes that the photographer should minimize the amount of post processing work performed in Photoshop and other software to keep the image as representational as possible to the original scene. The documentarian school of thought believes that as photography has matured and post processing of images in software such as Photoshop has become the accepted norm, the validity of landscape photography has been cheapened in the eyes of the viewing public. Documentarians feel that easily manipulated imagery causes viewers to question the difficulty, technical skill, and operational skill involved in creating the image they are viewing.
The second school of thought, which run’s in contrast to the style above, is that of fine art landscape photography. The fine art landscape photography movement looks at the camera and the resulting image as only part of the process, and not an end in itself. Fine art landscape photographers believe strongly in imparting their voice, or style directly into the image and the landscape. This is accomplished by creating a strong and unique style and vision. For the fine art photographers, this style and vision does not end when the shutter is released, but in fact is often only a portion of the artistic process. While most fine art photographers believe their vision and style of photography is what set’s them apart from the more traditional documentarian style photographers. Fine art photographers look to use additional tools and software to help better represent and illustrate their impression of a location even if it may change the perception or reality of what the scene actually looked like when photographed. fine art landscape photographers feel that their finished product is a true representation of their vision, voice and style. To the fine art landscape photographer, their vision, voice, and unique style and representations are what should appeal to the end viewer.
This is of course an extremely over simplified synopsis of the ongoing debate. It’s a debate that I continually have with myself when in the field or at my desk processing and culling images. Both the documentarian school and the fine art landscape photography school hold valid points behind their justifications and styles of photography. My development as a Landscape Photographer has traversed both schools of thought. This is particularly true for me over different periods of time in my development as a photographer . Obviously, I can’t speak for all photographers, but I think most Landscape Photographers start out more concerned about capturing the reality of scene before them. Often times when photographers start out they are looking to document vacations, trips, or other activities they are participating in. In doing this, they look to create images that closely represent that scene and locale before them, or in more simpler terms, document their activities.
I believe overtime, many Landscape Photographers find becoming technically proficient with the camera and creating solid imagery of the landscape before them is not and end in itself. As I spent more time in the field with my camera, moved to Colorado from New York in 1998 and became acquainted with the new environment that surrounded me, I looked to express my vision in a more unique way. I became enthralled with subjects that had previously held little photographic interest to me. While iconic imagery of places such as Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park still get’s my juices flowing, I found it disappointing to capture an image of an iconic location only to find another photographer’s carbon copy type image posted online or hanging in a gift shop.
What separated my image of Dream Lake from the other guys image?. Even if I have a stellar image of Dream Lake, what’s going to stop the thousands of photographers on pilgrimage each year to places such as Dream Lake and Maroon Lake from capturing a similar image?. Is standing on the shore of Maroon Lake in September with 250 of my closest photographer friends really helping me to express my unique vision and communion with the natural world that has become increasingly difficult to find solitude in?. Again, I’m in no way disparaging photographing those icons. I still from time to time will do so when the lighting and conditions are unique. Regardless, this kind of imagery does not convey my vision and voice like I feel other portions of my portfolio better represent. It’s been a process and evolution for me as a photographer. I would certainly consider myself a Fine Art Landscape Photographer. While my vision and style continues to evolve, I find it more gratifying to photograph subjects that hold interest to me and in a manner that represents how I see them and they fit into my vision.
Pretty sunrises certainly go hand and hand with nature and landscape photography. If I had to take a guess and ask people who are not nature photographers to describe what kind of image they associate most with landscape photography, most will probably imagine a big red and orange orb rising above the landscape. The Endless Summer movie poster comes to mind when I think of this kind of imagery. No doubt about it, it’s cliché, it’s been done before and it will be done again and again.
While it’s not typical of the imagery I usually look to create, even I could not resist photographing this sunrise in Rocky Mountain National Park last week. I headed up to Rocky ‘winging’ it so to speak. I prefer to have a location in mind when I head up to the Park to photograph. While I may often alter my plans depending on weather, wind or other elements, I find for myself it’s a good idea to have a starting point in mind. I do this because it helps to keep me focused and allow me to concentrate more on creating images instead of wandering around aimlessly. Many photographers I know, do the opposite, but this approach works best for me.
This morning, I was driving around the east side of Rocky Mountain without any particular location in mind which typically ends poorly. I was expecting light snow when I arrived at Rocky but found only clear blue skies. The small weather system that was supposed to bring snow to the Park in the morning, had not yet materialized. I drove Trail Ridge Road up to Many Park’s curve which is where the road is now closed for the season. Looking southeast past Deer Mountain, I could see that clouds were beginning to form on the horizon. I setup my camera, framed a silhouette of Deer Mountain and watched a beautiful sunrise take form out on Colorado’s eastern plains. Cliché, yes but It’s turned out to be one of my better images of Deer Mountain. So I guess its cliché for a reason.
It always amazes me how fleeting fall can be, especially here in Colorado. It only takes an early storm to bring Fall to a quick crescendo, while at the same time ushering in a long Winter. The Fall season never seems to extend as long as you would like it too. Autumn always leaves you wanting it to last just a little longer. As I’ve grown older, I’ve gained a much greater appreciation for Autumn. The beginnings of Autumn used to signal the end of Summer, school work and mid term exams, and the pending cold of Winter. I was difficult to appreciate Autumn for what it is. It’s a time to slow down, reflect and be thankful for the great days we were able to spend out in the field photographing the fall color and enjoying the season.
Autumn was short and sweet this year in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a productive season, but while two early storms opened up lots of photographic opportunities for a short window and mixing of seasons, it also abbreviated the fall color season in the Park. As I write this, a third snow storm is bearing down on the Front Range of Colorado and the lakes and peaks will amass more early season snowpack.
I’ve been able to get out to photograph Rocky Mountain National Park a few times since the peak of fall color and the Park has quickly transitioned from Summer to Autumn and now Winter. In fact, I had a difficult time finding any open water in some of the Park’s popular lakes in and around the Bear Lake Trailhead. Sprague Lake was 95% frozen over by the end of last week. I was able to find a small area of open water near the inlet to Sprague Lake.
The wind was howling at 30 mph clips while I tried to photograph this composition at sunrise. I could literally watch the inlet to Sprague lake freeze over and close up with each bone chilling wind gust. Flakes of ice would blow off the open water and the inlet would continue to shrink in size as more ice formed on the surface. There were some nice clouds on the eastern horizon this morning at Sprague. Since there was little to no open water with the exception of a portion of the inlet, I focused my attention on capturing the colors of sunrise reflecting off the icy surface of the lake. It’s likely to be a long time before the lakes of Rocky Mountain National Park’s high country thaw again. Time for me to go find some Winter scenes to photograph.
The fall color around Boulder is still hanging on in many areas. With the upcoming weather forecast for Tuesday night into Wednesday morning calling for up to six inches of wet heavy snow, the fall color window appears to be closing very quickly. While the snow might bring some interesting opportunities, the time is now to wrap shooting fall color here on the Front Range of Colorado.
I’ve been very busy photographing fall color in and around Rocky Mountain National Park the last few weeks. I’ve not had as much time as I would like to get out around Boulder and it’s open space. I was able to squeeze in a short excursion this morning to explore around Chautauqua and the bottom portion Gregory Canyon. To my surprise, there is still some very nice color in Chautauqua Meadows and some even better color in Gregory Canyon, especially along the drainage. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get out again before the pending storm, but there should be some nice opportunities for some lingering fall color in and around Boulder the next few days.
The Colorado River is one of the American West’s great rivers. It’s undoubtedly the West’s most well known icon’s as it meanders through 7 states on it’s way to Mexico and the Gulf of California. The Colorado helped form the canyons of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. The Colorado is the force behind the formation of the Grand Canyon. The Colorado has also been a bone on contention for many as it’s water’s no longer flow freely from the numerous Dam’s the have been built to divert it’s water away to growing cities such as Los Angeles and Phoenix. One of my favorite book’s, ‘The Monkey Wrench Gang’ by Edward Abbey details at length the supposed fictional account of a group of what we would loosely call environmentalists attempt to blow up the Dam at Lake Powell and free the Colorado again.
Of course all of this is relevant because the headwaters of the Colorado River begin in Rocky Mountain National Park. Above La Poudre Pass, The Colorado begins as a small dribble on a mountainside. As the Colorado makes its way down into the Kawuneeche Valley of Rocky Mountain National Park, it grows in size as it meanders unpretentiously through the Valley. The portion of the Colorado River that travels through Rocky has a unique style and personality. It’s subtle, small and placid. It’s nothing like the river it will become downstream.
In many ways the Colorado River should be a highlight of Rocky Mountain National Park but is in fact an afterthought to most visitors. It does not travel through majestic canyons in Rocky, nor does it plunge over dramatic falls. The Elk and Moose whom inhabit the Kawuneeche Valley and graze along the banks of The Colorado garner much more attention from Park visitors than the famous river itself. I’ve been just as guilty as the next photographer when it comes to photographing this icon. There areas of Rocky Mountain National Park in which the scenery is far more dramatic. There are few areas of Rocky however, which hold as much historical and iconic value as the Colorado River does. It deserves more attention, and I for one plan on taking more time to photograph along it’s serene banks.
It’s getting to be that time of the year awful quickly. Wildflower season has passed and Colorado’s fall color season is quickly fading away. Were heading into the dreaded ‘photographers offseason’. The circled dates on the calendar are running out, no trips planned to far flung reaches of the state to hunt down the best wildflower patches or to find peaking golden aspen groves.
All photographers and artists will go through ebbs and flows of creativity. Many of us seem wired to be affected by the changing seasons. This is evident in our moods and reflected in our creative output. It’s beneficial for photographers to recharge their batteries, take inventory and unwind from field work a bit. It’s ok to spend a weekend working on a backlog of images while sipping on one of Colorado’s finest microbrews.
It’s also important at this time of the year not to get to complacent. Celebrate your wins, update your portfolio, print and frame some of your best shots from these last months of creative bliss. It’s also important at this point to keep your goals in view, and your skill set sharp. Make sure to continue to get out in the field to shoot and discover subjects. This will help keep your eye trained and your senses alert. Dedicate yourself to a new project and make sure you keep getting out into the field regardless of the weather or the subjects closet at hand. Even if you dial your creativity and photograph back a bit, stop the cobwebs from forming and the dust from settling. Before we all know it, wildflowers will be blooming once again.
Working within the elements goes hand and hand with being a landscape photographer. My best images are made during weather events or on the front or back end of weather events. Weather makes photographs more dynamic and unique. In a world filled with pretty landscape images photographed under cobalt blue skies, weather events can help separate your images from the rest of the pack by helping to create unique circumstances that cant be easily replicated and may occur infrequently.
I’ve had a very productive fall color season up here in Rocky Mountain National Park even though the weather by layman’s standard has been for the most part bland. I’ve been eagerly keeping an eye on the weather report each day looking for signs of change. While the San Juan’s and the southern Colorado mountains got pounded with snow starting on Wednesday, things looked very promising around Rocky Mountain National Park for this weekend. A Winter Weather advisory was in affect and Rocky was anticipating between 5-10 inches of snow starting on Saturday morning. I was in the Park on both Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday was exactly my kind of weather day. Light snow fell all day in Rocky Mountain. Even better was there was still a good amount of fall color amongst some of the Aspen trees. Saturday turned out to be a great day to photograph snow on Aspen trees and along the banks of streams and creeks that have yet to freeze over. I’ll post some of those images in the near future, but Sunday morning yielded another good sunrise image. I’ve photographed Longs Peak from upper Beaver Meadows many time. I’ve been lucky enough in the past to be able to shoot Longs Peak with fresh snow and Aspen trees in their full golden splendor.
Because of the dynamic weather conditions on Sunday, I was able to photograph Longs Peak and Autumn Aspens all covered in fresh snow as Saturday’s storm started was clearing out. Surprisingly, other than a large photography workshop group that showed up briefly to shoot this scene, there were very few other photographers present this morning to witness this awesome event. While the image is not unique and is a popular locations to photograph Longs Peak, I can say with certainty the conditions present on Sunday morning occur on occasions few and far between. Luckily, I was in the right place at the right time and have to say I’m glad I was able to capture this photograph because It’s unlikely the stars will align with the elements to allow for an image like this for some time.
So far this fall color season I have spent all my time in Rocky Mountain National Park. There are a couple of locations in Rocky that I have been attempting to photograph for some time. I’ve been lucky enough in the last week to capture some of these images. I’ve also been unable to check them all off my list and it looks like a few of these locations will require attempts again next season(cue the violins). Don’t mistake this for whining, I’ve had a great week in the Park, and I’ve been able to capture some new images that I basically stumbled upon. While I plan on making a few more attempts for some of these illusive images, time and weather may not cooperate with my attempted photographic endeavors in Rocky and I’ll just have to attempt these again next year.
The fall color in Rocky Mountain National Park is past peak in almost all areas except the lowest elevations. Because of the warm weather, lots of yellow leaves remain on the trees but wind and high based thunderstorms are quickly removing much of the foliage from the Aspen trees in the Park. In particular the Bear Lake area is quickly losing it foliage and the Bierdstadt Moraine is not far behind.
Regardless, there are still many opportunities for fall color in the Park. Harkening back to my September 25th, 2011, I employed fall foliage ‘tip 2’ to work to my advantage this morning. It’s certainly easy to wander through an Aspen grove and just stare upwards and the golden leaves and branches. But following my own advice, I headed over to Boulder Brook after shooting sunrise from the Bierdstadt Moraine.
While the Aspen trees around Boulder Brook are past peak, the trees are in the process of shedding their leaves which are currently landing all around the Brook and on top of the vibrant green moss that lines the banks of the stream. Boulder Brook is one of my favorite locations in Rocky Mountain National Park. Having grown up on the east coast amongst forests of deciduous trees with lots of moisture and flowing creeks, Boulder Brook seems out of place along the typically drier eastern slopes of Rocky Mountain National Park. Boulder Brook has a unique and refreshing feel to it. Hiking along the stream covered with Aspen leaves is in my mind, one of the best experiences one can have in the Park. Water, moss, rocks and falling leaves make for a great photographic subject, especially for those willing to look on the ground for interesting subjects and compositions.