nature

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.

Landscape Photography: Advice for new locations and nerves


One of the most important qualities of a landscape photographer is having the ability to quickly adapt to ever changing scenarios and environments. We seem to be constantly thrown out of our comfort zone and into new experiences. I have 3 useful tips that I will share later in this post that might help ease you into your next photography scenario.

      Before I do that however, I want to give you a bit of background about myself. I have been photographing landscape images all across the United States for the past 6 years. I am from Cincinnati, Ohio and I am currently in North Carolina. In my current location, I may travel through 3-4 different ecosystems a day to get an image. From mountains and forests, to beaches and marshes, each ecosystem is unique and requires a different mindset to photograph them properly. I’ll discuss a bit about each ecosystem below.

 

Mountains

 

      Mountainous Regions are my bread and butter. I am definitely in my comfort zone when taking photos in the mountains. I use apps like Google Earth along with Photographers Ephemeris and skippysky.com to research when my best chance for the perfect shot will be. Late morning and afternoon light can be just as good as sunrise or sunset in the mountains and often allows for beautiful black and white images with the use of a polarizer. Study the scene and look for light falling into a valley or hitting the side of a mountain. Just before or just after a storm can create some of the most interesting scenes. Find a good leading line and then wait for the image to happen. Don't be afraid to get out your zoom lens and pick out details. The mountains are dynamic. Don't be afraid to add the human element. It can add a nice sense of scale to your image.  Always be looking around for unique compositions to show themselves and I guarantee you come home with a great image.

Linville Gorge,  Grand Canyon of The East

Linville Gorge,  Grand Canyon of The East

Forests

      The forest is the most common ecosystem on land and one that most of us are familiar with. At some point in your life, you probably have experienced a moment where sunlight was playing through the trees and thought to yourself how that might make an interesting picture. Next time this happens, I suggest you try to photograph it. While it is typical to photograph a forested environment in overcast or rainy weather for vibrant colors and subtle contrast, you can also capture wonderful wooded shots with sun as well. I recommend taking your sunny forest shots mid morning to late afternoon to keep your histogram happy. This will help reduce underexposing part of your image if the sky is visible. Personally, I tend to keep the sky out of my wooded images altogether. Another thought for the forest is to photograph macro and occasionally look down at your feet. There are tons of subtleties in the forest landscape, and if you take a moment to look, you may find an amazing detail shot. 

Blue Ridge Parkway, Forest of Flowers

Blue Ridge Parkway, Forest of Flowers

Beaches

      In my experience with photographing beaches, the photoshoots seem to be more playful than the previous two locations. I tend to experiment a bit more with compositions, long exposures and my subjects. I have found that it is beneficial to stay low while taking images at the beach. By doing this, you emphasize the foreground subject matter and create visual tension between the foreground and background. Be careful to watch the waves! You don’t want to get caught off guard and have a wave hit your camera. Salt water can be very damaging to your camera and sensor. If you are planning on heading to the beach with your camera I recommend a Camera Rain Cover. There are many options available all with their own features and benefits. I have linked one that I personally like using that is inexpensive and does a decent job. I can't emphasize enough to protect your camera now to prevent a headache in the future.

USEFUL TIP: Plan your beach trips around interesting skies and tides. The sky goes a long way when photographing the beach. It can turn a relatively flat horizon line into a beautiful composition. Low and high tides can create drastically different effects. Don’t be afraid to have fun and experiment with your images!

Kure Beach, Coquina Rocks

Kure Beach, Coquina Rocks

Marshland

      If the mountains are my bread and butter, then the marshes are my kryptonite. If you are like me, try to use your fear to your advantage. Do your research ahead of time and plan your moves. If you are uncomfortable getting in the water, a location in the middle of the marsh may not be best for you to start with. For me the biggest issue was alligators. I’m sure that watching "Lake Placid" and "Creature Of The Black Lagoon" when I was younger didn’t help this fear .

      SO… before I came to North Carolina I researched alligators and learned a lot about these animals and subsequently have  less fear of them now (Crocodiles still scare the bejeezus out of me). More on that here: Understanding Alligators.

      When photographing marshes, I recommend side light early in the day. Try to align yourself at a 90 degree angle from the sun. Much like a forest too much contrast and information will make your images seem cluttered. I use my CANON 70-200 USM II f.4 to zoom in for detail shots. If you’re lucky enough to come across some fog in the morning, this can further enhance your wetland images. Check back next month for a post on my trip to the Great Dismal Swamp.

Lumber River, Sentinels  

Lumber River, Sentinels  

Here are 3 tips to help you loosen the nerves for your next photo outing:

1.) A little bit of research goes a long way. 

If you know where you are heading, I suggest looking it up on Google Earth to see how the light will fall throughout the day. This is one way I scout a location that I am not able to see in person before I shoot. Earlier I mentioned using the app Photographers Ephemeris to help you plan. Here are a couple more: Skippysky.com.au , Google Earth , Photographer's Tools , Meteo Earth 

If you don’t know exactly where you’re headed, it might be helpful to do an online keyword search and pull up some articles and images on interesting places around the area. These areas are always a good starting point. Once there, you can familiarize yourself with the location and broaden your search for the perfect shot.

2.)  Join the conversation!

Chances are, someone else has been to the location that you are headed to. They may have even written about it. Utilize this! Park offices, other photographers, Facebook, blogs, along with friends and family can all help you plan. If you are contacting other photographer's or park offices, I suggest avoiding broad questions when sending emails looking for more information. Instead try to come up with 2-3 specific questions that really ask what you need to know.

3.) Pack in advance

This may seem like common sense, but being prepared with the right gear can make or break your shoot. Packing in advance helps avoid the feeling of being rushed, and allows you to double and triple check that you have everything you might need. If you are heading to a marsh you don’t want to forget the Bugspray. Weather is unpredictable so I generally carry a Rain Jacket and Rain Pants that pack down small when out shooting.  Remember to have extra camera batteries charged, and check your headlamp! Packing in advance allows for peace of mind, peace of mind allows for confidence, and confidence makes great photos.

BONUS….

Using these 3 tips in order can help you feel ready to tackle a new photographic location. Once you’ve done your research, asked around for information from those who know the area, and packed ahead of time, the only thing that's left is to take some awesome photos!

 

If you found this post helpful, and would like to subscribe to my blog you can do so below. Subscribing is free and will give you regular trip reports, gear and location reviews, along with helpful tips and tricks to maximize your photographic potential.

Name *
Name

This blog uses affiliate links. For those of you unfamiliar with affiliate links, these links help readers identify, research, and purchase useful items that are related to this blog and may interest them. Each time a reader purchases an item through one of these links I receive a small commission from the company from which the item was purchased which allows me to continue doing what I love.

Hope you enjoyed this post. See you out in the field!

 

All images are © Andrew Lockwood unless specifically stated otherwise.