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The Nature, Wildlife and Pet Photography Forum
Member Article: Devendra Kumar
Edited by James Morrissey
All images in this article are copyright 2005 by Devendra Kumar. They are licensed to the Nature, Wildlife and Pet Photography Forum for the purpose of this article.
Colorado Fall Colors
Colorado is colorful, or is it? This article tries to cover one pixel, out of millions, that makes “Colorful Colorado” the way it is. It revolves around three trips made in the last six months into the deeper parts of Colorado. My goal is to provide a glimpse of what nature landscape has to offer, what we as photographers try to shoot within our own constraints, and how we try to make the best out of it to overcome these obstacles.
Prelude to fall colors - Flower Festival in July
One of the most vibrant parts of Colorado, that is full of wild flowers once a year, is the area around Crested Butte town. There are so many flowers to look around that an annual wild flower festival is held in the month of July. This year, I had the opportunity to capture some of these flowers in their peak. Driving off road was often the way to view this endless plethora of flowers spread around mountains and valleys.
The trip was planned out in a short notice involving participation of family and friends. Being in Denver, the drive was around 5-6hrs each way, and as usual this meant camping in the wild. Camping out for 2 nights like nomads has its own charm, but being able to photograph during the day is the biggest part of the satisfaction. Good old topography maps helped in driving over safe spots, but they did not carry any information related to photo opportunities. While it is difficult to convey the essence of spectacular display of nature, here is my attempt at blending by the nature in color and B&W, with nature contributing more than me.
Based on that successful trip in July, I took a mental note to watch out for fall color opportunities in the approaching months. Having a digital camera certainly helped in making this decision easier. The possibilities of capturing countless images acted as a huge encouragement catalyst. Does that mean we should shoot every time we find a nice spot, ending up with compromising compositions? Read on, as there are disappointments and joy in approaches we take.
Fall Color Trips
We all face crunch time, regardless of being an amateur or pro. But without finding time, we cannot capture everlasting images or become better photographers. One doesn’t even have to go out and about to capture stunning images. Creativity can start at home, except to capture fall colors one has to step out.
With Colorado having good precipitation and almost two consecutive drought free years, the chances of having gorgeous fall colors was inevitable and exciting. When the time came, I discussed the possibilities with another photographer friend, Mr.Barry. Being a distant and first serious fall color trip we decided to go for the “safer spots." We also left the option open for a follow up trip depending on the success rate of the first one. For this trip we chose Maroon Bells, near Aspen, with the other being Crested Butte (of course).
Day 1– 9/24/2005 - Maroon Bells area
If you have been here, you know that this is one of the most beautiful places to shoot. This place is also a bit touristy and its proximity to Aspen makes it even more popular. Incidentally, Maroon Bells is also one of the most photographed locations in the world. One way to visualize the location is to imagine a huge picture of one of the most scenic places, except it is in 3D and is very real. The views of towering bell shaped mountains can leave quite an impression like an everlasting resonating “toll” (pun intended)!
While leaving early to capture sunlight is never a guarantee in this area, it had a tiny reward of entering the National Park by being able to drive in your own vehicle. Only fee based “buses" and reserved campers are allowed between 8:30AM-6:00PM. We entered early despite a late night arrival to stay at the nearby town called Snowmass (appropriately named). The weather pattern in this area is also constantly challenging by never being consistent. Unfortunately, this was not one of the better days, yet I did capture whatever was possible.
These shots were taken as we headed out of the park.
Crested Butte/Gunnison Nation Forest
After a 3-4hr highway drive and then some windy unpaved roads, we entered the Raggeds Wilderness Area inside the Gunnison National Forest. We noted potential spectacular views for the next day photo shoot as it was getting a bit dark in the mountains. In the last 2 miles of unpaved road towards the Lost Lake Slough main campground, we kept our eyes open to find a backup campsite in case the main campground was full. One good thing about Colorado is that camping in federal lands in the wilderness is allowed. Of course, the use of firewood has to follow any local restrictions, which is usually mentioned in the forest information boards. This potential spot was lit up and glowing with fallen leaves. It was very tempting to camp right away.
Luckily, the main campground was full, so the tent was pitched in the potential spot in a heart beat. A nearby log was quickly rolled down to act as a bench. It was momentous to camp in a campsite that was “glowing” with true Colorado fall colors!
For the curious, the above shots were taken “after and before” we packed out the next day, when there was enough light.
Day 2 – 9/25/2005 – Day shots around Crested Butte
Being photographers involves the drudgery/blessing of waking up in the early hours after a long drive. It is difficult to shoot with half closed eyes (except this time it’s both eyes and not just one for the viewfinder). Unfortunately getting sick did not help me, so my friend Mr.Barry was kind enough to take a few pictures for me at the Lost Lake Slough area and one of them being this colorful view of Beckwith Mountain:
Once he got back, we decided to check out potential spots that we had encountered while driving towards the camp site. Because of the bright sun, all the trees displayed dazzling bright colors unlike anything that I have seen before. The shimmer was partially due to gentle wind, meaning faster shutter speeds if trying to capture still leaves. I was afraid that monotonous views of the landscape will grip me after seeing hundreds and thousands of yellow aspen trees. But the photographer within me also felt it was my responsibility to bring out the best from these redundant views, as if it were indeed the rarest of the precious moments rushing to become part of long lasting memories. Since I was shooting digital and I had a 60gb backup drive, it was the least of my worries to ever run out of “film." The next few shots were a joy to shoot despite feeling quite (physically) sick, but my enthusiasm made me carry on.
After a good shoot for a few hours, the tent seemed like a perfect place to recuperate as I expected a long drive back to Denver. Within a couple of hours of noon-nap, I was feeling extremely good for more shooting! After packing up the tent, we started driving towards the town of Crested Butte, with the potential of seeing and capturing newer areas for more colors.
I love overcast sky for most landscape shoots, but to capture the essence of these leaves with the brightness radiating from under them, I needed the sunshine. I try to avoid completely blue skies, without any clouds, and the break of puffy clouds really thrills me. I try to include clouds whenever possible, especially when opportunity strikes. For me, it can be a deal breaker/maker. This spot culminates in what I really mean. We almost passed this area and then immediately reversed 50ft back after seeing the potential – sounds familiar? I ended up taking 30-40 shots in this trigger happy non-wildlife session.
The remaining part of the drive back to Denver made us reflect that, never in our lifetime of photo shoots, had we taken so many fall color shots in such a short time. For me it was all in digital except for 1 roll of Velvia 50, but for my friend, it was almost 10 rolls of Velvia 100 F in 2 days!
About Devendra Kumar
My photography experience started with a Fuji Discovery point and shoot film camera in the early 90s. Despite lack of funds while being a graduate student in Florida, I would travel to various national parks using the Amex "student" travel deals. A two week hiking and camping trip in 1994 to Glacier National Park, the Grand Tetons and the YellowStone National Park really sowed the seeds for nature exploration. I would try to capture landscapes with few attempts of composition with limited technique.
My first SLR was a Samsung SR4000 - yes very cheap and very frustrating to use because of lack of Autofocus, yet it had auto metering, flash and every possible "high end" feature for a low price! After a few years of generic usage, with quite a few impressive shots and 5x7 prints, I ended up buying a N80 in 2002. Similar "high end" features were very usable and moving back to Colorado definitely acted as an impetus. It was a bonus to use a seemingly responsive auto focus after driving a stick shift camera for a while. It was also time to start using slide film, especially Velvia for my needs. My photography knowledge progressed, yet it was at a slow pace. The quirks of shooting with film taught me the fundamentals of picture taking. When ever I got my slides developed at "The Slide Printer" store I would get to see framed shots from various talented photographers hung across the walls. The beauty in each capture often left me with quite a humbling experience!
Photography rapidly changed for me after moving to a digital SLR camera in April 2004. Suddenly, the possibilities are endless and the limit is me, myself and I. Juxtaposing technique, art and gear is the new rule of thirds. Learning has become exponential and refinement happens every time I take a shot. My core area is still landscape photography, yet I have extended it to anything under nature including macro and wildlife photography. There is rushing, yet soothing calmness within me every time I take a photo trip. This passion for photography still gives me the same thrill that I developed several years ago from my early trips to the wilderness of national parks.