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.