Tag Archives: Rocky Mountain National Park

Those Crimson Peaks Stir My Soul

Longs Peak, Cloud Crest.  Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2015.

When you have an interest in photography, like I do, you tend to look at a lot of photographs.  It’s natural, I think, to begin to form opinions about what you like and don’t like, what works for you and what doesn’t, etc.  Eventually, you may find yourself asking whether certain photographs are “art” or not, or maybe if they are “good” or not.

I’m not even going to wade into that debate.  As far as I’m concerned, you could doodle a stick figure on a cocktail napkin and call it “art” and you probably would be right, and the question of whether something is “good” or not is largely in the eye of the beholder. 

But I will say for myself, having looked at a lot of photographs, a hallmark of the ones that stand out to me is that they tend to have a degree of nuance, subtlety, or sophistication in the way in which they communicate their message.  Photography being a visual medium, it’s a bit hard to describe what I mean.  But, by way of analogy, it’s kind of like the difference between the sentence

“Those mountains are pretty at sunset”

and the sentence

“Those crimson peaks stir my soul”

Okay, granted, neither of these sentences is a literary masterpiece, but the point I’m trying to make is that the second sentence (hopefully) communicates its message with more nuance, subtlety, and sophistication than the first sentence. 

Photographs are like that too, except of course that the language of photography is visual communication rather than written communication.  Some photographs simply are executed with more nuance, subtlety, and sophistication than others.  It’s something to perhaps consider if you find yourself asking whether something is “art” or not, or whether it’s “good” or not. 

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Proving Ground

Moon and Dark Sky Over Rock Cut

Moon and Dark Sky Over Rock Cut
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2017

Over the years that I’ve written this blog, I’ve come to realize that it’s become a kind of proving ground for the images I post here.  When I create my images, I subject them to a fairly intense process of scrutiny.  Naturally this includes reviewing the images on the monitor as they are being created, but also I make prints of every image I post here on the same grade of paper that I use for the sale and display of my work.  The printing often involves several iterations reflecting successive stages of editing, and often each iteration will sit on my desk for days or even weeks as I live with the print and gradually see what changes I can make to improve it.  In short, I invest a lot of time and effort to make sure I’m satisfied with an image before it is posted here.

Nevertheless, the act of posting seems to change the way I look at the print.  On more than one occasion, I’ve cued up a blog post with an image that I’m going to post, but before I post it I’ll see something about the image that makes me pull it back.  A couple of times, I’ve even done this after the image has been posted.  Usually I’m able to further tweak those images and they make it back on the blog, but sometimes those pulled images never see the light of day.

There’s just something about posting. The act of committing the image to public view creates a kind of feedback that I just don’t get when I’m editing an image in private. It’s a valuable kind of proving ground that I’m grateful to have at my disposal.

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Landscapes are Landscapes, Photographs are Photographs

Longs Peak, Range of Clouds Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2015

Longs Peak, Range of Clouds
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2015

“My interest in photography did not begin with books or mentors, or with any burning desire to see the world through a camera.  It evolved from an intense devotion to mountains and wilderness that eventually shaped all the parts of my life and brought them together.”

— Galen Rowell

What an interesting quote by the great landscape photographer Galen Rowell.  It’s interesting to me personally because it is almost exactly backwards from how my interest in photography developed.  From a very young age, I remember being interested in photographs as objects in and of themselves.  I remember when my Dad would travel on business, I would ask him to bring me back a postcard from where he had been and spend an inordinate amount of time getting lost in the photograph.  Conversely, I did not grow up with much of an outdoorsy lifestyle, and to this day I have no appreciable wilderness skills to speak of.  Most of my landscape photography is done by the side of the road or maybe, if I’m feeling adventurous, down a well-marked, well-traveled trail in a National Park or somewhere similar.

This is not to say that I have no connection to the land or to landscapes.  To the contrary, I feel a photographer interested in producing expressive photographs should feel a strong connection with the subject matter he or she is photographing.  It’s just that my connection with landscapes has not developed as a result of lots of time spent in the back country or otherwise outdoor adventuring.  I love to travel and to see new places – most of my eyes on the landscape likely has come through the windshield of my car.

There’s nothing wrong with the Galen Rowell approach, of course, and indeed my experience is that most photographers who photograph the landscape come at it from this perspective.  I’m a little fearful, however, that the Galen Rowell quote may create an expectation that reverence for the landscape is all that is required to photograph it expressively.  It is not.  It my opinion, it’s far more important to have an interest in photographs – what makes them work, what make them fail – to produce expressive landscape photography.  Being an accomplished outdoorsman is admirable, but landscapes are landscapes, and photographs are photographs.  It is being an accomplished photographer that is required for photography.

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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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