Tag Archives: Rocky Mountain National Park

Meeting the Challenge

Bright Cloud Over Longs Peak

Bright Cloud Over Longs Peak
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2017

I never get tired of the views of Longs Peak from the Trail Ridge Road area of Rocky Mountain National Park.  I have a number of images collected together on this website of the peak photographed from this area, and probably a dozen (or more) pretty much finished images of it that I haven’t gotten around to posting yet.

After a few years of doing these kinds of photographs, I began to realize that many of the images I was making were looking alike.  The profile of the peak is more or less the same, and the big topographic features of the terrain remain the same too.  Given these limitations, the challenge of the project has become to see if I can keep making photographs of the peak in such a way that each given image says something unique about it and the collection as a whole does not become duplicative or boring.

This image was taken well after the sun went down over the horizon (I’m always surprised at how many landscape photographers pack it up after the sun goes down – some of the best light remains for a good 20 or more minutes after sunset!).  As I recall, the sky conditions were pretty flat and I wasn’t sure if I could make something interesting out of the scene.  There was a bright spot on the clouds above the peak, though, that with the longer exposures required in the dim light produced the interesting elongation of the cloud that shows up in this image.  In the end, I think it fits the criteria I set for myself in keeping this series of images going.

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And Stars Too

Two Stars Over the Never Summer Range Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2017

Two Stars Over the Never Summer Range
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2015

“What are men to rocks and mountains?”

- Jane Austin, Pride and Prejudice

And stars, stars too.  If I am recalling correctly, the two stars here actually are the planets Jupiter and Venus, which came into (I believe perfect) alignment a couple of years ago.

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On Inspiration

Standing Wave Over the Mummy Range

Standing Wave Over the Mummy Range
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2016

It’s that time of year again, when there is enough daylight to allow me to drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park after work.  For example, if I leave my house in Fort Collins at 6 p.m., I can be at this spot by around 7:30, and still have a good hour and a half of light to work with for photographing.  I’ve been making these trips in June and July for the past four or five years.  They began as an exercise to help me practice my outdoor photography skills, but have since developed into a cherished summer ritual.

Truth is, for a while now I’ve been pretty uninspired when it comes to landscape photography.  But I plan to continue my visits to the Park if for no other reason than that I’ve come to enjoy making the trip so much.  I’ll bring my camera along too, because that’s part of the ritual.  Inspiration is a flighty thing, it comes and goes without much rhyme or reason.  But I believe that so long as the underlying passion remains, the inspiration will return, and I’m not yet prepared to concede that the passion is gone too.

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Well-Being

Profile, Spire at Rock Cut Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2016

Profile, Spire at Rock Cut
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2016

I remember vividly the evening that the capture for this image was made.  The weather forecast called for thunderstorms in Rocky Mountain National Park.  This often is a bit risky from a photography standpoint, because it seems there’s about an equal chance of seeing something really cool happening with the conditions, or getting simply a flat, drab sky or a persistent downpour that washes away all of the visual interest in the landscape.

On this night, I got the really cool conditions.  In fact, the conditions were unreal, I’ve never quite seen anything like it in several years of visiting the park during evenings in the summer.  A rolling fog filled Forest Valley, the valley just behind this spire, and curtains of mist moved in and moved out with alacrity over the spire itself.  But the fog and the mist were uneven – a clear sky would sometimes develop, even as most of the landscape otherwise was covered by the fog or draped by the mist.  In summer, this location usually is quite crowded with tourists, but on this evening, warned away by the weather, there were few people about, and perhaps none by the time I made this capture.  Photographically, it was one of those evenings I probably never will forget.

But there’s something I remember even more – the profound sense of peace and well-being I felt while I was working that evening.  This particular image was a long exposure, two minutes or perhaps more if memory serves.  While I was waiting for the exposure to run, I simply was sitting with myself, watching the scene unfold, and being at peace with my inner life.  There were no regrets about the past, nor anxiety about the future, just being, truly being, a part of the moment.  The feeling was all the more remarkable for occurring at a time otherwise rife with personal turmoil.

Photography is like that for me, and there’s a lesson in there somewhere, I suppose.  Wouldn’t it be nice to carry that feeling with you all the time?

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Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Moon Over Sprague Lake Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2015

Moon Over Sprague Lake
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2015

Here is an image that was captured last summer in Rocky Mountain National Park and probably edited not too long thereafter.  It sat unnoticed on my hard drive until just a couple of weeks ago, when I came across it by accident while going through my files looking for something else.

I’m not sure why I didn’t think it was post-worthy the first time around.  Maybe I didn’t like the way the long exposure blurred the shape of the moon, or the fact that the clouds actually are airplane contrails windblown into the shapes of streamers, or that there are two fisherman visible in the image (normally I don’t include people in my images).

If those things bothered me before, they don’t now.  In fact, I rather like them.  They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, what is it about time spent away from something that makes it more appealing?

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Outsider

Endovalley Fog Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2014

Endovalley Fog
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2014

To be honest, all my life I’ve felt like an outsider in most things, and photography is no different.  I feel like an outsider among photographers – for some reason, I just don’t fit in when photographers get together and talk photography.  I feel like an outsider with tools and process – I don’t have formal training, professional experience, or even a lengthy amateur background in this field.  I even feel like an outsider with my subject matter  – particularly when it comes to landscapes, since I’m not and never have been much of an outdoorsman.

If there’s one advantage to being an outsider, though, it’s perspective.  Being an outsider inherently places you a certain distance removed from the thing from which you are outside.  This allows you to consider that thing from a place of detached observation, which in turn allows you to interpret it free from the influences and biases that come from being more wholly immersed inside of it.  Stated more succinctly, you gain a perspective that most others don’t have.  This can be a valuable tool in creating work having a unique appeal.  In at least some aspects, it seems to me a good fit for photography.

I write these thoughts having read the writings of other photographers who assert that value in artistic work comes from familiarity and intimacy with the subject.  With landscapes, it seems to be the idea of spending weeks, months, or years living in close relationship with the landscape sought to be photographed.  Maybe so.  But there’s value in having an outsider perspective as well.  There are, in fact, many paths to achieving artistic value, and they will not be the same for everyone.

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When Your Projects Find You

Moon and Shadowy Clouds Over Longs Peak Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2014

Moon and Shadowy Clouds Over Longs Peak
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2014

I didn’t really start out to make a project of photographing Longs Peak, in general I don’t consider myself to be a project-based photographer.  However, having spent a fair amount of time in Rocky Mountain National Park (well, at least in the Trail Ridge Road area), I’ve really became drawn to these vistas of the peak.  I say drawn, because I don’t push myself to go to them, rather, they really do draw me in like magnet.  Over time, I’ve amassed many iterations of these views, but I’m still not tired of them and feel compelled to keep on photographing them.  I find it fascinating the way you can keep one element of the composition the same – the peak – and still get nearly endless compositions by varying the other elements in the image.  And in this manner, a project was born.  I didn’t go looking for it, it found me.

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How to Approach Photographing a Popular Location

Longs Peak, Rock Cut, Angled Clouds Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2014

Longs Peak, Rock Cut, Angled Clouds
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2014

Here is an image of Longs Peak (the flat-topped peak in the far distance) photographed from Rock Cut in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Longs Peak is a very popular subject for photographs, and Rock Cut is a very popular (and very accessible) location along Trail Ridge Road from which to photograph it.

Photographing subjects that are very popular seems to engender much discussion among photographers.  One school of thought seems to treat iconic subjects much like trophies to be hunted and bagged.  In the same way that a trophy hunter might have a collection of stuffed animal heads on his or her wall, this approach tends to suggest that a photographer’s portfolio is not complete without a collection of iconic subjects that have been stalked and captured.  The criticism to this approach is that it lends itself to producing cliched, repetitive photographs lacking in creativity and originality.

Another touted approach is to ignore subjects that are very popular.  The thinking seems to be that great photographs can be found anywhere (which is true!), and photographing subjects that are very popular is at best a crutch in producing compelling photographs, and at worst a substitute for true artistic expression.  The drawback here is that much compelling subject matter is passed over in order to avoid the risk of producing derivative and repeated imagery.

So what’s the right way to approach photographing a popular location?  Myself, I just don’t think about it one way or the other.  My personal feeling is that a photographer with a strong personal vision and the discipline to follow it honestly will inevitably produce images that have his or her unique stamp on them.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time photographing Longs Peak.  I don’t do so to be part of the crowd (indeed, I’ve passed by and have no interest in photographing a great number of very popular subjects).  But I also don’t avoid Longs Peak just because it is popular.  I photograph Longs Peak because it speaks to me on a personal level.  In this way, it’s no different than any other subject I photograph, and I treat it no differently when I photograph it.  To me, that’s the best way to approach photographing a popular location.

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All Cool and Stuff

Moon, Cloud Banks, Evening Star

Moon, Cloud Banks, Evening Star
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2015

This summer, seems like every time I turned around, there was the moon, looking all cool and stuff.

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Not Fit For Public Consumption

Moon, Branches, Low Clouds

Moon, Branches, Low Clouds
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2015

I’m a regular listener of the podcast by Brooks Jensen over at Lenswork Daily, which always offers up interesting and thought-provoking episodes about the practice and appreciation of photography.  In the recent podcast titled “Just for Me,” he raised the notion that most photographers tend to produce at least some work that is purely personal, as opposed to that offered for public consumption.  He may have offered more than one reason for this – the one that sticks with me is the idea that photographers may hold back work that, for whatever reason, is thought to run the risk of not being well received by one’s audience.  The takeaway, as I understand it, is that this kind of thinking should be questioned, since the work produced that is personally meaningful to its creator also is likely to be the work invested with the highest degree of merit.

I agree with this point entirely, but what struck me the most is how much it missed the mark for me.  Personally, I make no distinction between personal work and work for public consumption, at least as near as I can tell.  My thinking is that if something is good enough for me, it’s good enough to share with the world.  Taking a different approach would be like drawing a line around some of my images and declaring them “not fit for public consumption.”  What I share with my images is more than just the photographs themselves, it’s basically a window into how I see the world.  To me, this is very much an “in for a penny, in for a pound” kind of proposition.  If I offer up one part of my work, there’s no reason I can see not to offer up it all.  Doing it any other way just wouldn’t make sense to me.

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