San Juan Mountains, Colorado thumbnails only

The Right Light in Owl Creek Pass The Right Light in Owl Creek Pass
Stories are great. Sometimes a picture tells a story and sometimes a story comes from getting the picture. One afternoon during a fall photo trip to Colorado, we headed to Owl Creek Pass. This area is very scenic, especially with fall colors.
 
The dirt road over the top of this pass can be questionable after a rain (at least without an off-road-capable vehicle) and we had plenty of rain but opted to give it a go with the small Ford Edge AWD SUV we had rented. At a relatively high elevation, we discovered that the road was being worked on and by the time we reached the top, we were bottoming out on loose gravel being dumped (tailgated) onto the road. By maintaining forward momentum, we made it over this rather long obstacle but were then greeted by a thick mud road surface until finally reaching the top of the pass.
 
As we went over the top, the serious question was whether or not we should risk going down the other side. That answer was quickly provided in the form of a 6-wheel-drive grader coming up the other side. It was mostly sideways and consuming the entire width of the relatively narrow road. The large machine had its rear scarifier down and was tearing up the road surface, preparing it for a fresh layer of stone similar to what we had just driven through. The decision to turn back was easy and immediate with a strong sense of that get-out-while-you-can feeling.
 
While on our way back down the mountain (it is easier to plow stone when going down hill), beyond the active road construction area, the sun broke through the clouds and we stopped to take pictures at the next clearing. Very few people were around this rather remote area, but a couple was at this spot taking a selfie. My daughter asked them if they would like us to take their picture, volunteering me to do so. They were quite happy about that and I quickly obliged while very anxious to get my shot before the small hole the clouds passed and the sunlight again was again shut off.
 
Looking at my hat, purchased in Hawaii over 5 years prior, the young guy asked if I had been to Hawaii. Turns out that he was a crew member for the boat company I had sailed with during the Canon Hawaii product announcement event only a few weeks prior. He showed me pictures on his phone of the boat I had been on. What are the odds that?
 
We chatted for a while and I of course captured a large number of images of this spectacular scene while doing so.
 
Direct sunlight shining under heavy clouds is at the top of my favorite lighting scenarios list. When the light is this good, the image results can be striking without much processing. The standard picture style was used to process this image and no additional contrast adjustments were made. The biggest processing challenge was to determine which image to share with you.
 
50mm  f/9.0  1/180s  ISO 100
Trout Surfacing in Alta Lakes, Telluride, CO Trout Surfacing in Alta Lakes, Telluride, CO
The drive to the abandoned mining camp at Alta Lakes in the Uncompahgre National Forest just south of Telluride is a treat – if you have a high-clearance 4x4 vehicle and you know how to drive off-road. The AWD crossover SUV I had rented was marginal in meeting that first qualification, but I'm apparently at least somewhat qualified for the second requirement as I managed to navigate the vehicle to Alta Lakes. Unquestionable is that the drive to this amazing scenery was worth taking.
 
When at a high elevation, strong wind is generally what you find. OK, more like always what you find. Even at about 11,000' of elevation, there was no wind on this day and the Alta Lakes (3 of them, Upper is shown here) were absolutely calm.
 
Give me a mirror-smooth lake with something attractive behind it and I can be entertained for hours. OK, more like days. The snow-covered Wilson Mountain easily qualified as "attractive".
 
There was one exception to the mirror-smooth water surface and that was the occasional trout feeding on the surface, sending rings of ripples across the lake surface. When this happened, I would pause my shooting until the lake was again smooth. Then the nicely-time trout rise happened.
 
I was shooting HDR images to insure that I had lots of flexibility in final image brightness. One frame was exposed to hold the highlights, preventing the brightest clouds from becoming blown (pure white with no detail). The second frame was exposed to maintain the shadow details including those in the evergreen trees. The third frame included a trout's jump that synched perfectly with my 2 second self-timer release. I find the trout, though small in the frame, to add a positive element to an image that I already liked.
 
I generally share images because I like them. It seems that images with clean frame borders very frequently bubble up in my selection process and this image again has this trait. From a compositional perspective, placing the horizon in the middle of the frame with a reflective lake in the foreground virtually guarantees a perfect vertical balance to the image.
 
24mm  f/11.0  1/25s  ISO 100
Snow, Fall Foliage, Sun, Clouds and the San Juan Mountains Snow, Fall Foliage, Sun, Clouds and the San Juan Mountains
After spending a late September day scouting from Crested Butte to Durango and back north to near Telluride with practically no pictures captured, the sun finally broke through an opening in the heavy clouds that had produced rain and the season's first snow for most of the day. This is the breathtaking scene that was presented to me.
 
Capturing attractive landscape images with a telephoto lens is sometimes so easy that it almost feels like cheating. I safely pulled off the road, setup and quickly shot until the sun went back behind the curtain of heavy clouds.
 
Looking for a fall foliage photography trip? Few locations are better than the San Juan Mountains in Colorado. The aspen trees play a starring role in this spectacular landscape.
 
124mm  f/11.0  1/125s  ISO 100
Gate to the Last Dollar Ranch, Telluride Gate to the Last Dollar Ranch, Telluride
Colorado is known for its big ranches and a big ranch calls for a grand entrance. The Last Dollar Ranch on Last Dollar Road near Dallas Divide (and RT 62) has one of my favorite such entrances. The huge mountains behind large golden fields fronted by a rustic wooden fence and of course, a grand entrance create a simply beautiful scene.
 
To make the entrance appear grand in the image, I moved in close and used a wide angle focal length.
 
Just looking at this photo brings back memories of the large heard of elk in the distance and I can still hear the large bull bugling. That is the power of an image.
 
24mm  f/11.0  1/20s  ISO 100
Red Mountain, San Juan Mountains, Colorado Red Mountain, San Juan Mountains, Colorado
Why am I posting a fall foliage photo for a summer photography tip? Good question – Let me explain.
 
Anticipation is one of life's greatest feelings.
 
Strive to create anticipation for your clients and also in your own life. One of my favorite anticipations is for a photo trip and, while many lament the end of summer approaching, my favorite time of the year to photograph is when the leaves change color. This time of the year is primarily in the fall season, but ... the leaves in some of the most-scenic areas are reaching peak color just as the summer season comes to an end.
 
Many landscape photographers share my affinity for fall and photographers with interests other than landscape photography can also benefit from the brilliant colors. For example, portrait, sports, car and many other photographers can find the colorful fall backgrounds advantageous. If it is summer and your fall trip(s) is(are) not planned, don't wait any longer.
 
If colorful leaves are the desired subject, a location experiencing that color during your time there is important. While that timing can change from year-to-year, influenced by water and temperature, trip planning should use historical averages for decision making. There are many fall foliage maps available to help with destination and date planning.
 
My last fall foliage photography trip was to Colorado, including the San Juan Mountains, a location sure to be found on all USA fall foliage maps. For this image, I used a telephoto lens to bring the snow-capped mountains in close, making them appear large in the frame. A break in the heavy cloud cover provided beautiful lighting and the low-hanging cloud added the extra element I am always searching for.
 
While your fall foliage photo trip may be best planned even earlier than summer, if summer is here, wait no longer. My big fall trip is planned, but ... I'll let the destination be a small anticipation for you.
 
112mm  f/11.0  1/250s  ISO 100
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