So, for the past couple of summers I’ve been in the habit of driving up to Rocky Mountain National Park (about an hour from my home in Northern Colorado) a few nights a week after work. There’s about a six week window of opportunity, from about the middle of June to about the first week of August, when it stays light out late enough to be able to make the drive and still have anywhere from an hour or two to photograph. It started a couple of years ago, when I felt I needed a source of regular field practice to improve my photography skills. It’s developed into a contemplative respite from my workaday life that I look forward to every year. It’s been a great summer for me up in the park. I’ve met some great people (hi to everyone I’ve met!), seen some incredible sights (some of which I even managed to capture with my camera), and continued to hone my photographic skills.
I certainly count the image in this post as supporting that last point. I’ve always been one to stay out late with my camera. Some of my favorite images have come well after the sun dips below the horizon, and I’m always surprised when I see other photographers packing it in quickly after the sun sets, missing the magical, radiated backlight that fills the sky. Even I would reach a limit, though, as night closed in and there just wouldn’t be enough light left to properly expose the image.
That is, until I expanded my skill set. I’ve been experimenting with long exposure photography, principally in the form of using neutral density filters in front of my camera’s lens to cut down the amount of light reaching the camera’s sensor, thus allowing for exposures of several minutes in bright daylight. In the process, I’ve become more proficient with the tools of the trade to do this, such as using my camera’s bulb mode, operating the shutter with an intervalometer, etc.
Here is where preparation meets opportunity. As night was closing in on this particular day, I noticed what looked to be some interesting motions in the fast-moving clouds that were present that evening. It was already quite dark, well too dark to use my camera’s manual mode, for which the maximum shutter speed is 30 seconds. So, I switched to bulb mode. It was too dark to use the camera’s meter, so I guessed the exposure time – six minutes – based on what my shutter speeds had been earlier, as the sun was going down. It also was sufficiently dark that I really couldn’t see the shapes of the landscape in the foreground, so I guessed the composition based on my knowledge of the area from the many trips I’ve made. I don’t think I could have predicted the shapes of the clouds in the final image, which represent their motion over the span of the six minute exposure. The star trails also were a pleasant surprise, since I could only see one or two stars with my naked eye.
As mentioned, I’ve greatly enjoyed my time in the park this summer. Unfortunately, I think my 2014 season is drawing to a close, as the days grow shorter and leave me without enough light to justify making the weeknight trips. Still, I’m looking forward to turning my attention to other subject matter – which I think will benefit from my experience in the park this summer – and to my next summer up in Rocky, only a little less than a year away.