Over the last month I’ve dealt with fog so thick you can stir it, cold that would make Jack Frost shiver, and enough rain to make Noah start building another Ark.Read More
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
What I thought would be a weekend of frolicking in fields of wildflowers; photographing the beautiful blooms from sun up until days end became a scouting trip for future images and an alpine lake dominated photo excursion.Read More
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.
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.
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.
By 10:30am the fog had completely lifted and revealed the beautiful Sangre De Cristo Mountains.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I recently traveled to Colorado to photograph the beautiful aspen trees, who's leaves change a vibrant yellow every year before falling off for winter. I had heard rumors that winter was starting early in the mountains, and by the look of the weather forecast, it was going to stick around. I was nervous that I had missed my window of opportunity to capture a photograph of the changing colors in Colorado.
Our first day in colorful Colorado we drove to the Capitol Creek Trailhead where there is a stunning view of Capitol Peak and its watershed. It wasn't an easy drive and on a few occasions I thought the way may become impassible. The area had witnessed a violent storm a day earlier and trees were down on top of a foot of snow. Coupling that with a dirt road that winds straight uphill, our journey quickly became an uphill slog. We made it (after getting stuck only a few times) about 30 minutes before sunset. Golden hour had already begun and I quickly searched for a composition. I found one I was content with and waited to capture my image. Waiting is always the hardest part, especially when it is windy and cold. I came prepared though and was armed to the teeth in cold weather gear (gear that really came in handy as the week went on). As the last rays of light stretched across the horizon the peak became illuminated. This is something we call alpenglow. I took my photograph and waited in awe as the last light from the day faded into darkness.
Day two was an early morning and we were still jet lagged from the day before. We got up and groggily made our way to the Maroon Bells/ Snowmass Area, and boy am I glad we did. The Maroon Bells are one of the most photographed locations in the United States and it was evident upon arrival at 6:00 am by the loads of photographers pouring out of their vehicles to capture an image of the iconic peaks. Normally I tend to shy away from locations where I know there will be large gatherings of photographers, but on this occasion I wanted to understand what drew them all to the area. Everyone has seen the image of the Maroon Bells reflected in the calm waters of the lake below. I wanted to try and get an image from a different angle, so I walked around the trails in search of a strong composition, and I believe I found a few. If you are looking for a way to stand out from the crowd, don't just take the traditional image (the traditional image is still good to capture, but don't just walk away with that one image). Scout the area and really make the image your own. Here is one I took while everyone was facing the Maroon Bells. I simply turned around and walked up the hill.
Sievers Mountain was catching the light beautifully while the bells were still in shadow. I counted 57 photographers standing along the shoreline, all vying for the perfect composition of the Bells and not one was facing the opposite way. I continued up the path and settled next to a small stand of aspens that overlooked the lake. (It is important in areas like this where foot traffic is high to stay on the designated trails and not trample the environment around you).
I then proceeded farther away from the lake and was able to get another composition I enjoyed.
From this area I travelled down the mountain a ways to a tall and healthy stand of aspen trees that were still in full color. The light had just come over the mountains and the area entered the golden hour of light. Composing a forest scene is much more difficult than a wide "glory shot" of a mountain range. There are intricate details to a forest that can make or break your images. I took a few photographs from different locations and captured some great photos.
It was a long and fruitful morning in the Snowmass Wilderness, but I had a schedule to keep and it was time to head to a location I have been wanting to get to for a long time, Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park. We were only in the park for 5 hours, so I wanted to make the most of it. I began scouring the cliff tops for my composition and finally settled on a well photographed location called the Painted Wall. Had we planned on being in the park for a few days I would have gone into the canyon to explore more in depth (pun intended). I hope I will be able to do this in the near future. As sunset came upon us, I finished up my compositional adjustments and clicked the shutter.
I was extremely happy with the image I created so I began to play around with a new composition and got a few extra images. I toyed with integrating the human element and had fun posing for a "selfie" that really gives a sense of scale to the image.
Once the light had faded from the area we began a 4 hour drive through the night to one of my favorite places on this planet, Great Sand Dunes National Park. We did however stop for one final image as the full moon rose over the canyon.
That was the end of our second day in Colorado. Check back on Tuesday to follow along on the remainder of our trip.
Below is my gear list for travel camping and photography along with clickable links to each one.
- Canon 6D
- Canon 70-200 ƒ2.8L USM
- Canon 17-40 ƒ4L USM
- Velbon 2x Extender
- Lee Filters Foundation Kit + Lee Big Stopper
- Hahnel Remote Trigger
- Caden Travel Camera Bag