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