Landscape Photography

Capturing Canyonlands

I spent the last few days chasing light and dodging lightning in Canyonlands National Park.

As I hiked around the Needles District, the ever present pop-up thunderstorm made exploring the wide open spaces a challenge. Despite those pesky storms, I managed to find a few good windows when the light was at its best .

For a few years now I have wanted to capture the essence of the desert in Utah, but every time I came home with images, I felt they fell short. So with perfect wildflower conditions this season, I have made it a point to seek out the best wildflower pockets around Utah, and attempt to capture the elusive desert image. I captured the below image as the final moments of sunset caught a low hanging rain cloud just above the cliffs of Indian Creek. I had scouted a runoff wash earlier and found a composition I believed would make for a beautiful sunset if the light began to go nuts. As usual, that composition didn’t work out, but luckily just down the wash, another fishhook cactus was in bloom and I was able to compose a composition before the light disappeared ( a matter of 3 minutes).

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Many people think of deserts as arid wastelands, and while some certainly are, most are incredibly diverse and dynamic landscapes. My wife captured 38 different species of wildflowers on her phone over a 4 day period. I managed to capture one. But to me this one image is the culmination of a lot of preparation and research, lack of creature comforts (i.e. showers, toilets, beds) and time and calorie consuming leg work. Any more images I capture of the phenomenal display of desert wildflowers this year will only be icing on the cake.

Speaking of cake,

check out the smooth glazing on this geyser formation near the Green River. At sunset the waters change a myriad of different hues thanks to reflected light from the sky.

The finely layered pools of the geyser allow for endless intimate compositions. I could have spent multiple days exploring the 60 foot area picking out detail after detail. Here is a more traditional landscape image of the location. You can see the finely tiered layers as they rise towards the geyser.

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After I was done playing in the pools I headed to the Needles District and sought out the first image in this post.

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Once in the Needles District, I hiked out to Chesler Park to get closer to the unique formations. Although the light wasn’t perfect, I managed to come away with a few good shots that I am proud of, including one panorama from right after a heavy downpour as the sun set behind the clouds.

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Needing to get back to civilization before someone mistook me for a new species of desert primate, I reluctantly packed up my belongings (now coated with a layer of red earth) and began the trek back to Salt Lake City. I made a few stops along the way. One to an arch near Moab which is now all over the internet, a roadside petroglyph, and another lesser known location (which will remain anonymous) that required some decent rock crawling and low gears.

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What A Trip!! I think I returned home with quite a few keepers. Im heading to Arches next, to continue my wildflower search, so check back next Tuesday (21st) for a trip report.

All images © Andrew Lockwood 2019

Falling For Fall: A look at my fall images from 2019 thus far.

Every year after the wildflowers disappear from the mountain basins, I find myself scrambling to stay creative through the remaining Summer months. So when Fall comes around, I am usually overly anxious to explore as many locations as possible in the brief window when the colors change. This year was no exception, and I’ve been keeping busy up in the wild country. I’ve managed to capture quite a few beautiful images and some even made the last minute cuts into my annual Calendar, which is available here.

Light is fickle and oftentimes fleeting.

When an opportunity for the perfect conditions arise, it is important that you are ready with your camera. This past week we had rain move into the area that settled on the mountains just before sunrise. It provided me with the opportunity to photograph Mount Timpanogos and the fall color surrounding the mountain in all its glory. So at 3am I headed out from my apartment in Salt Lake City, and made the journey into the Timpanogos Backcountry, down a long gravel road, and along a deer path with nothing more than the light of my headlamp to guide my way (I had discovered the location on Google Earth [an app that I continually promote], while searching for unique perspectives of common landmarks). I came across the clearing and was extremely happy to find the aspens in peak color (the only mystery while using google earth). Because I had arrived with plenty of time to explore, I fussed over my composition for the next 40 minutes as blue hour slowly crept by. I finally fixed my camera to my tripod in the location I deemed best, and waited for the sun to crest the horizon and light the scene in front of me. About 5 minutes from sunrise I knew I was in for a treat as the clouds left of my composition were slowly changing a deep purple. I knew that if the horizon stayed clear for the next few moments, that the high peak of Timpanogos would catch the morning light and turn a brilliant red. The only other factor was the incredible amount of wind that morning. Because it was a storm front moving in, there was an immense amount of wind whipping the young aspen trees around making it impossible to make them sharp. I got lucky and got a few seconds of calm right as the sun crested and captured one of my best photographs to date.

The Might of Morning  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

The Might of Morning

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

The image above is the culmination of 6 hours of planning, 2 hours of fumbling through the dark and cold, and 1/3 of a second in the eternity of time.

Fall was off to a good start, and I wasn’t sure if I could top the image above, so I headed into the forest to capture the more intimate side of fall. As the sun rose higher into the sky I was making my way deeper into the wilderness in search of a magical forest of gold. Around an hour or so into my wanderings I came across the forest I had been looking for and methodically began planning my image. The storm clouds were being held at bay by the mighty mountains, and I had perfect weather to create another lasting image.

Golden Hour  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

Golden Hour

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

I’ve been searching for this image for four years. I always manage to take good images of fall color, but the elusive aspen forest has always been a step ahead of me. To say I was ecstatic when I found this composition would be an understatement. Finally, I found the image I had envisioned so long ago.

I returned the way I had come, and got back to my vehicle with a great feeling of accomplishment. It was now 10:00 am and in the time most people take to start their morning, I had already hiked 5 miles and created two portfolio worthy images. It was a good day.

After a few days of rain, I returned to the woods with my wife in search of more! I was struck with Fall fever and all I could think about was the next location and the woodland compositions yet to be captured. We scoured the hillsides along an old mountain road and I came up with an image that had I been alone, I would not have gotten.

The Art of Wandering  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

The Art of Wandering

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

Selective focus and a shallow depth of field can enhance a photograph’s story. By focusing on the trees in front, and allowing Anna (my wife) to be out of focus, the image tells a story of a person wandering through a dense forest in search of something. If I had allowed for everything to be in focus, the story would become muddled and the subject would be unclear.

Farther along the road we came across an opening as a light drizzle began to fall. Using my zoom lens I isolated the road in front of us as it wound uphill out of sight, and allowed the fall color to vignette the road.

A Path Less Traveled  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

A Path Less Traveled

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

The light rainfall helped saturate the fall color, making it even more vibrant, while the dense cloud cover helped balance the image’s shadows and highlights. As we continued on, the weather began to get less and less inviting, so we decided to make for the car. I took one more image that day, a closeup of a single aspen tree with a maple sapling surrounding its trunk.

Aspen and Maple  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

Aspen and Maple

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

While Guardsman Pass was shut down for construction, we ventured out along the Mill D Canyon and came across a location of tall standing aspen trees that allowed for a composition looking directly into the sun. I couldn’t resist taking this photograph as it practically fell into may lap. A combination of careful planning and a bit of luck went into this image.

Under Aspen Canopies  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

Under Aspen Canopies

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

The key to a good forest image is to find a figurative pathway leading through the scene. The sunlight on the forest floor in this image creates a path through the forest that leads directly to the beautiful rays of sun that are bursting through the aspens.

I am headed to Moab this week in search of Fall in the desert regions of Utah. Check back next week to see if I was successful, or if the weather shut me out!!

Chasing Fall Continued... Part 2

An epic sunrise, the right time at the wrong place, 30+ hound dogs, and a little surprise.

I arose at 3:00am ready to take on the world, checked my weather app (high clouds, YAY!) made a pot of coffee, and headed out the door to a location I had not been to. Looking Glass Rock is a stone monolith that juts out of the surrounding mountains creating a unique bubble like appearance to the otherwise tree covered mountains. I arrived early to where I believed I wanted to photograph Looking Glass when the sun arose. I could barely make out the monolith through the darkness as I set up my tripod. The sun was due to come up in 45 minutes, but there was no sign of light. Then all of a sudden the sky lit up and the scene in front of me became illuminated.

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I was in the wrong spot. In my excitement I had passed up my turn out and ended up on the opposite side of Looking Glass facing directly into the sunrise. As photographers shooting directly into sunrise is not ideal (with a few exceptions). We much prefer side lit images with well balanced light. Shooting directly into the sun negates a polarizing filter and also creates a dynamic range hard to capture in such low light. To make matters worse, a group of hunters had pulled up near me and were releasing there hounds into the forest. Some 30+ hound dogs were howling and running around me anxious to get on the trace. They ran off into the woods and could be heard for the next hour. Regardless of this interruption to my otherwise calm morning, I still managed to capture a few wonderful images of the incredible sunrise that occurred. Since I had missed my location I decided to stay put and not try to rush to a different spot. I noticed some beautiful scenes beginning to manifest themselves so instead of photographing the giant stone monolith, I began looking around me for more unique compositions. 

I switched lenses and began photographing the distant ridges, barely illuminated by the burning sky. The sunrise was incredible and the light lasted long enough to capture a few great sunrise images. 

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By not running around scrambling for the image I had envisioned, I was able to capture multiple images I would not have otherwise got. This isn't always the case and I advise triple checking your plans before heading out; sometimes little mistakes can have positive results. It was a good brain exercise and kept me on my toes. After the sun had risen to a point that made the location I was at useless, I made my way to where I thought I had been earlier and found that Looking Glass was nicely side lit, revealing some wonderful fall color.

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Out of coffee and with a deadline to return home I headed off back towards home. I stumbled across a few hot air balloons enjoying the beautiful morning, as well as photographed the Biltmore Estate rather by accident. I saw an appealing composition and doubled back to take the image. It wasn't until I was peering through the viewfinder with my telephoto lens that I realized the stark white building amongst the forest.

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I received a text while shooting from a fellow photographer (check his work out on instagram: @fixedlinemedia ) that there were kayakers preparing for the brutal Green River Race that takes place each year in November. I decided I had enough time to make it over to the Green River Narrows and try and catch some of the action. Little did I know that the hike in was almost as brutal as kayaking the rapids. After getting lost twice and taking a few more images (seen below), I managed to find the descent trail into the gorge. 

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As I descended into the gorge I was surprised at how steep it was. The roar of the rapids was quickly getting louder, and pretty soon I came to the rivers edge. The rapids here were enormous, and falling in without a life vest would mean certain death. I was careful to pick my way around the enormous boulders to a spot where a few kayakers were standing around discussing their lines. I politely asked if I could photograph them, and they were all psyched up to be getting their photos taken. These guys made kayaking the rapids seem easy and despite my fear of drowning to death I found myself slightly jealous I wasn't the one paddling the current. I don't photograph action sports, or sports in general often, so it was a nice change of pace from the landscapes I had been photographing earlier. Capturing the motion and the power of the water and the kayakers was a real treat, and icing on the cake to a great day.

Check back Friday to see if I made it out of the Green River Gorge to photograph my next location!

Chasing Fall

The beautiful colors of autumn last only a moment before they fade into winter. If you hesitate you could miss the opportunity to capture the show.

Over the past few weeks I have been traveling almost nonstop to different locations, trying to capture the autumnal display of the Appalachian Mountains. As is normally the case with fall photography I am exiting the season wishing I could have photographed more. This feeling arises from the understanding that during fall an almost endless supply of compositions expose themselves to the world as a seemingly normal forest bursts with color. On one occasion I spent the morning walking along the side of the Blue Ridge Parkway for a good 3 hours, only to find that I had traveled a mere one and a half miles from where I began. I wasn't upset with this however because I captured 3 images I am extremely happy with. Each image is unique and tells its own story.

Although the good morning light disappeared by the time I returned to my vehicle I did not head home.  I noticed a good bit of cloud cover forming and decided to see what a view of my morning location looked like from an adjacent mountain. I was rewarded with this view and another image I enjoy.

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Staying out all day not only increases your chance of getting multiple images, it also allows you to scout new locations for future photographs. After the above image I went to Linville Gorge, a location I had been many times before but never photographed in the fall. I wanted to check out a place called "The Chimneys". The weather was turning unfavorable and my weather app was calling for rain by sunset, but I headed out under the understanding that I was at least scouting a place to return to if I could not create an image. I was able to find a unique location and I photographed it for reference to come back to under better conditions.

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As the clouds rolled in, the temperature began to drop and the wind picked up. Poor lighting and wind are two of landscape photographer's worst enemies. I decided to call it a day since I was in a new location and there were potentially dangerous obstacles between myself and my vehicle.  I took one final image on my way back to the car when the last few rays of light for the day peaked through the clouds.

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I was able to capture quite a few nice images in the 8 hours I was out in the field, and it set in motion a fall frenzy that I have been utilizing to capture the autumnal color as fall has progressed here in the Appalachian Mountains. Check back Wednesday for more fall photographic adventures. Until then I’ll be out looking for my next image. Enjoy!

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Maximizing Photographic Potential While Traveling: Colorado 2017 Part 2 of 2

As we drove through the night from Black Canyon of The Gunnison National Park, the weather began to shift on us. Large rain clouds were building on the horizon and lightning would occasionally light up the sky. After a 4 hour drive and a large storm riding our tail, we arrived at Great Sand Dunes National Park weary and ready for bed. We quickly set up camp and hopped into our sleeping bags before the weather settled on the valley. Sunrise was at 6:38 and I wanted to make sure if there was a nice sunrise that I didn't miss it. The alarm went off and I groggily arose and looked out of the tent. I couldn't see a thing. The entire area was covered in a thick fog making visibility a mere 5-10 feet.  Knowing (hoping) that the fog would lift I grabbed my bag and we set off to explore the dunes.

To get to the sand dunes you must cross Medano Creek, which by this time of year is usually a dried up creek bed. Due to the amount of rain that fell on the surrounding mountains the night before, Medano Creek was about a foot high and crossing it was a challenge to not get soaked. By the time we made it across, the fog had lifted enough to barely make out the dunes in front of us. I looked for a composition that would sum up how the area felt that morning and quickly settled on a piece of drift wood that had been carried down by the creek and laid nicely in front of the dunes. 

Adrift On A Sea Of Sand, Great Sand Dunes National Park  © Andrew Lockwood 2017   

Adrift On A Sea Of Sand, Great Sand Dunes National Park

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

 

This image speaks volumes to how the morning felt, and is an image I am extremely proud of. It is simple and beautiful with no frills added. After this image we continued to explore the surrounding low dunes but I didn't feel compelled to take another image. The light wasn't there and the compositions weren't coming to me so we decided to pull back from the dunes and see what they looked like from afar. Boy am I glad we did! The dismal feeling didn't change, but my creativity came flooding back to me the farther out we got and I was able to produce another nice image before the fog finally lifted.

Lifting Fog, Great Sand Dunes National Park  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Lifting Fog, Great Sand Dunes National Park

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

As the fog lifted, it slowly revealed more and more of the landscape that we had fallen in love with on our last visit. We even got a few rays of light to come through and illuminate the dunes.

Out Of The Fog, Great Sand Dunes National Park  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Out Of The Fog, Great Sand Dunes National Park

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

By 10:30am the fog had completely lifted and revealed the beautiful Sangre De Cristo Mountains.

The Layered Effect, Great Sand Dunes National Park  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

The Layered Effect, Great Sand Dunes National Park

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

A Moving Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

A Moving Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

At noon another rain cloud gently rolled in and covered the area in a gray blanket again until 4:30pm. Anna and I had decided to hike out to the front of the dunes in hopes of catching last light bouncing off of Star Dune. It is a 6 mile round trip that is quite exposed if a lighting storm comes in, so we were closely monitoring a formation moving in from the southwest as we went. Luckily the storm stayed south and looped up behind the Sangre De Cristo Range as the sun began to set. I took one more image of this beautiful place before the light disappeared and we began our trek back to our campsite. The image shows the abounding beauty of the park. 

The Great Sand Dune, Great Sand Dunes National Park  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

The Great Sand Dune, Great Sand Dunes National Park

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

Colorado Springs was next on our list of places in Colorado to visit, so the next morning we bid the sand dunes farewell (for now) and headed north where we intended to spend the day at Garden of The Gods. As the sun rises, the Garden of The Gods is illuminated below Pikes Peak which creates a wonderful contrast between the red rock of the park and Pikes Peak in the background. It was here that I created my favorite image of the trip.

Morning Rituals ,Garden of The Gods  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Morning Rituals ,Garden of The Gods

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

After the light disappeared, we packed up and made our way to the Paint Mines. The Paint Mines Interpretive Park is about an hour east of Colorado Springs. I wasn't sure what to expect from this place as it was a spontaneous side trip from our initial plans. I am glad we decided to make the trip to the Paint Mines because it is a truly unique experience. Like Goblin Valley of Utah, the Paint Mines in Colorado come out of nowhere and offer the ability to explore (as long as you stay on the designated paths and don't climb on the formations).  Despite the lack of clouds, I was able to create a few unique images that I enjoy.

Sherbet, Paint Mines Interpretive Park   © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Sherbet, Paint Mines Interpretive Park 

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

Rock Mushrooms, Paint Mines Interpretive Park  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Rock Mushrooms, Paint Mines Interpretive Park

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

Candyland, Paint Mines Interpretive Park  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Candyland, Paint Mines Interpretive Park

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

From the Paint Mines, our next destination was the beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park. Temperatures were expected to drop 40 degrees to a low of 10, and an early season snow storm was expected to pass through overnight. We opted to get a room in Estes Park at the Discovery Lodge since we had not anticipated this drastic change in weather and were severely unprepared. As you have probably heard, "Anything can happen in the mountains". Unfortunately due to travel expenses we opted out of bringing the heavy duty, "baton down the hatches" cold weather gear, and settled on a couple good mid layers and nice down jackets. Before the storm hit, we raced up to Nymph Lake and attempted to get a few shots of Longs Peak. Longs Peak is the 14er that dominates most of the park's skyline, and makes for a beautiful subject with the aspen trees and alpine lakes in the foreground. 

Over Nymph Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Over Nymph Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

From my vantage point above Nymph Lake, I was able to see back towards Estes Park and watch as the clouds began to close in. I took this photo of Bear Lake as the suns rays reflected off of the peaks of distant mountains. 

Above Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park  © Andrew Lockwood 2017 

Above Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

© Andrew Lockwood 2017 

I traveled slightly farther up the mountain to an overlook I was familiar with and took an image with two aspen trees that had a similar curvature to them which helped create a unique perspective with Longs Peak in the background.

Calm Before The Storm, Rocky Mountain National Park  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Calm Before The Storm, Rocky Mountain National Park

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

Sunset was snuffed out by the incoming snowstorm and we hiked back down the mountain quickly to catch the shuttle back to the parking area before it closed down for the night. Back in Estes Park we ate a good meal and headed off to bed early in preparation for the following day. When we awoke, a foot of snow had already fallen and the streets were eerily quiet and devoid of the usual hustle and bustle of a tourist town. We made it into the park early with the intent of photographing the elk at Moraine Park with the fresh snow before the rest of the world was awake. I took an image of a young elk who may have been experiencing snow for the first time. I don't consider myself a wildlife photographer but there is a certain joy that comes from photographing animals in their natural habitats. 

First Snow, Rocky Mountain National Park  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

First Snow, Rocky Mountain National Park

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

The snow continued to fall throughout the day and turned our fall trip into a winter wonderland. We decided to make the trek back up to our location from the night before and photograph the difference 12 hours had made. Upon arrival the area seemed to be a completely different location. We arrived early enough to explore farther up the trail to Dream Lake which sits under Hallet Peak, a beautiful steep face that juts into the sky. Dream Lake lived up to its name. The snow was completely untouched and the wind had died down from the previous night, offering a perfect reflection of Hallet peak in the glassy water.

Living The Dream, Rocky Mountain National Park  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Living The Dream, Rocky Mountain National Park

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

With "sunset" fast approaching we headed back down the mountain to our previous location. Longs Peak had been engulfed by a stretch of low hanging clouds. Thankfully we caught a bit of luck and the clouds broke to reveal the peak before the light was gone. The following images show an interesting game of hide and seek as the clouds and low lying fog fluctuated, revealing different parts of the mountain.

Through The Fog, Rocky Mountain National Park  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Through The Fog, Rocky Mountain National Park

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

Balance, Rocky Mountain National Park   © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Balance, Rocky Mountain National Park 

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

Island In The Sky, Rocky Mountain National Park  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Island In The Sky, Rocky Mountain National Park

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

The Dance, Rocky Mountain National Park  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

The Dance, Rocky Mountain National Park

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

It is amazing how much can change in 24 hours. Hiking back down to our car in the dark with our headlamps we were nothing but smiles. The complete stillness around us interrupted only by the crunching of snow at our feet reminded us of how remote this area would have been even a hundred years ago. We were thankful to have witnessed it.

Fueled by the previous night's success, the next morning we ventured into the Mummy Range before sunrise. The temperature was a whopping 8 degrees and more snow had fallen in the night. I managed to muster up the fortitude to gather my camera and step out of our car. I hiked a short distance downhill to a viewpoint of Ypsilon Mountain that I had selected on a map  the night before. I waited (bouncing in my boots) for the first signs of morning light to glisten off the pine trees on the mountain in front of me. 

Wrapped in White, Rocky Mountain National Park  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Wrapped in White, Rocky Mountain National Park

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

The first signs of morning illuminated the tops of the mountains and showed signs that the storms had passed. The valley was still, and elk could be heard calling, breaking the silence. It was cold, very cold. I continued to bounce in my boots trying to stay warm and waited for the light to continue to creep down the mountainside. I eventually took what I thought would be my last images of the trip. They were two panoramic images, one 15 minutes before sunrise and one 15 minutes after sunrise. They show the huge difference a few minutes can make when it comes to morning light. Each image has a unique feel to it.

Good Morning Mummy, Rocky Mountain National Park  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Good Morning Mummy, Rocky Mountain National Park

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

Crystal Valley, Rocky Mountain National Park  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Crystal Valley, Rocky Mountain National Park

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

On our way down the mountain, I stopped to photograph a bull elk that was standing alone looking off at a distant peak. It was nice to see that despite the blisteringly cold temperature, the elk seemed right at home. The resulting image gives a sense of scale and provides ample subject matter to create your own story, which is something I enjoy. 

A New Day, Rocky Mountain National Park  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

A New Day, Rocky Mountain National Park

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

I hope you enjoyed reading about our recent journey to Colorado. It was a trip designed to maximize photographic opportunity while diversifying the content. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience from start to finish and can't wait for the next adventure.

 

Check back next week as I attempt to capture fall in the Appalachian Mountains and deal with more adverse weather conditions. I will reflect on the images as well as give you some tips for shooting in high wind, and with blue skies.