Good Light Hunting in the heart of colorado

No doubt everyone knows that light is the single most important component in creating a photograph. There are basically two broad light categories in photography; natural and controlled lighting. The latter, as it suggests, is predictable and is used in studios or as a supplement to outdoor illumination. Natural light, on the other hand, is arguably not controllable so keeping an eye on weather forecasts, etc. is, not only helpful but a necessity.

I'm always at the mercy of whatever Mother Nature doles out.

Because my concentration at the moment is landscape photography, I'm always at the mercy of whatever Mother Nature doles out. What makes things even more unpredictable is that I'm constantly on the move from state to state.

The first thing I do when I arrive at a new location is use my iPhone to figure out a few basic things. For weather forecasts, I've found the AccuWeather app to be the most helpful, particularly for predicting fog. Everyone has their own favorite weather app but this works for me.

I use an app called PhotoPills to determine when the sun and moon rise and set. This app is like the Swiss Army knife of photography apps. It also displays three-dimensional Interactive overlays of the exact position of the sun and the moon throughout the day. So if I scout out a place where I want to shoot the sunset, for instance, I can hold my phone up to the sky and move it around to see the precise spot on the horizon where the sun will disappear. I also use the app to do calculations for long exposure when I am using an eight-stop ND filter. I can't recommend it enough so go get it.

AccuWeather and PhotoPills for me are indispensable.
There is nothing quite like being able to capture the personality of light.

I have found the quality of light to be different for each state I've visited. I'm not sure what accounts for this aside from the effects of being at a different longitude. I'm sure atmospheric conditions, both natural and man-made are also influencing factors. It's exciting for me because each situation poses new challenges and new rewards. There is nothing quite like being able to capture the personality of light.

Recently, my travels took me to Gunnison in Colorado. Here, at the end of the summer, there was all manner of weather drama. Almost every evening there was a thunderstorm and each morning had clouds hiding and revealing the sun. Across the landscape, this made for beautiful pools of light and when it shone full on the wonderful rock structures, I was in black and white heaven.

The day after I arrived, I got up at what felt like the witching hour to capture the sunrise. The weather called for intermittent clouds so I was expecting to make some interesting photographs. For this trip, I decided upon the nearby Blue Mesa Reservoir, a massive presence with craggy rocks looming above the water's edge. I had a hard time figuring out the most advantageous spot because I was literally driving in the dark. Eventually, in the faint glimmer of dawn, I managed to find a little turnoff and unpacked my gear.

I have a Fujifilm X-T1 mirrorless camera and, for landscape photography, I primarily use my 18-135mm and 10-24mm lenses. That gives me an equivalent full-frame focal length range of 15-205mm.

There was sheet lightning on the horizon and thunder booms that rattled my rib cage.

I set up my tripod, camera and shutter release cable and waited. There was a sliver of color on the horizon and then it was gone. Angry storm clouds moved in quickly and, before I knew it, there was sheet lightning on the horizon and thunder booms that rattled my rib cage. I slapped on my 10-24mm lens and captured a few stills of the black clouds. Large drops of rain started to fall and I made a beeline for my car. I managed to get one decent keeper shot out of this little adventure. It's better than none, I suppose, but it's what I expect in this part of the country.

The storm clouds got so dark, I thought it was turning back to night.

A couple of days later, I went back to the same place but this time the weather cooperated. I had lots of impressive clouds and patchy light to create the perfect mood for a monochrome photograph. When I see light like this, I naturally think of Ansel Adams. Throughout his long artistic life, I don't think he ever really grew tired of the thrill of seeing the sun hit a rock just so.

The diagonal angle of the clouds and the mountains made, I think, a dynamic composition.

It took me a while to get the look of the above image right in post production. The strong light, shadows and textures suggested an aggressive approach to the black and white processing. Earlier attempts were too timid and the mood wasn't bold enough. The final version more closely matched how I felt at the moment of capture.

I always keep my eyes peeled for as many picture-making opportunities as I can.

Even though I was focussed on capturing exciting light, I always keep my eyes peeled for as many picture-making opportunities as I can. With the prevalence of lakes, ponds rivers and rain in the area, I was on the lookout for interesting reflections.

Optical Illusion

I thought this made for an interesting composition. Even though I obviously knew what I was shooting in the field, while culling through the images later, I did a double take to figure out what was going on here and then remembered it was a reflection in a puddle. The similar and unified tones of the black and white, for me, conceal the idea initially.

Floating in Air

I had the same kind of reaction to this image when I tried to recall what was going on. Aside from the rocks breaking the surface of the water, the entire picture is a reflection of the boulders above and beyond the top of the frame.

One morning, my wife Linda and some friends drove the thirty miles from Gunnison to the trail at Dillon Pinnacles. This is an impressive rock outcrop that formed from the mudflows and lava of ancient volcanoes. The morning light hits the craggy rocks at an angle that accentuates their unique character so I wanted to be there for that visual experience. For the trip, I challenged myself to get one shot that represented the majesty of the Pinnacles. Black and white was my obvious choice because I believe it was better able to capture the ominous feeling I had while looking upwards.

The beauty of having an electonic viewfinder is that I'm able to see what the photograph will look like before I press the shutter.

I shoot in both RAW and JPEG and I use the in-camera film simulations to help me compose the photograph. I had the JPEGs set to black and white and the beauty of having an electonic viewfinder as opposed to the more traditional optical viewfinder is that I'm able to see what the photograph will look like before I press the shutter. For that reason, I was able to see everything in black and white and perhaps compose in a different way than I might have otherwise. It's a great advantage to me.

Still, as good as the JPEGs are straight out of the camera, I use them only as a reference. I like my black and white landscape images to be big and bold so that requires me to process the RAW files in Capture One and Silver Efex Pro. Given the control each program gives me over every pixel in the image, I am confident the end result will be exactly how I have previsualized it.

This is exactly how I remember my experience looking up at the Pinnacles.

The Dillon Pinnacles Trail is full of beautiful scenery. As early as it was, I was completely wide-eyed and attentive to every conceivable photo opportunity. There was fog, sun and clouds and the views of the Blue Mesa Reservoir were mesmerizing. The fact that the elevation is in excess of eight thousand feet was literally breathtaking :)

Sights all along the Dillon Pinnacles Trail (click images for larger view).

I had passed a sign on the highway that said Wildlife Viewing Area a few times so I finally decided to give it a look. While I didn't see any actual wildlife, the viewpoint was from the top of a hill so the perspective of the valley below was pretty amazing. Again, the morning light did not disappoint and the spotlit landscape had me clicking my shutter in a frenzy.

I love the atmosphere in this photograph. The rich tones give it a timeless feel.

I've always loved the idea of roads that seem to go on forever. I mentioned in a previous article that it's the perfect metaphor for my nomadic lifestyle. This unpaved road up by the wildlife viewing area worked so well as a black and white photograph with the fantastic morning sky. Moments later, it started to rain so I retreated to my car. It's at times like these that I'm glad I have a weather-sealed camera and lens combo.

The Road to Infinity.

This last image is a bit of an oddity. I was visiting Crested Butte, a ski town outside of Gunnison with mountain views to die for. This little house caught my eye, particularly with the mountain behind. What's so striking is that it has no real definable style, at least not to me. As a result it's anonymous, out of time with its modern surroundings. Isolated as it is in the composition, it could be anywhere, at anytime and that's what I like most about it.

Mountain Home.

If you would like to keep up with my travels, click on the button below and sign up to be notified of new posts. Peace.

Created By
Steven Dempsey

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