I am proud to offer my 2020 “Colorful Colorado” fine art wall calendar, which includes 12 of my favorite images from across the Centennial State’s pristine landscapes. This is an opportunity for me to share with you some of the stories behind these unique, iconic captures that make up this year’s calendar.
SOUND OF SILENCE
It is hard to pick my favorite season in Colorado, because they all offer such differing allures. What’s true though is that I have never been bothered by winter. Quite to the contrary, I love winter. Not only am I an avid skier, but the hush-hush of a fresh coat of snow has always given me a warm feeling inside (while, granted, my feet were probably freezing). There simply is a special kind of silence when I am out in nature all by myself at dawn in winter. The fresh snow has a unique ability to absorb all sounds, and it reflects light in mesmerizing ways no other surface really can.
The city of Denver is my adventure basecamp. As a fine art nature photographer, I do not often include images of cities in my portfolio. For this image, I made an exception though, because it combines many of the principles and things that I love about nature photography, mainly the effect of light on the sky and the earth, or, in this case, a water surface. It just so happens that instead of a mountain range reflecting from an alpine lake, here the Denver skyline reflects from a lake just blocks from my house, a lake both my wife and I often go for a quick jog around. This image to me captures the essence of Denver: The city is surrounded by natural beauty, and it is chock-full of people who came here from all over the country, all over the world, really, to live a more adventurous life, to be connected to nature. What’s not beautiful about that?
One of the plethora of things that amaze me about Colorado are the many unique opportunities to be surrounded by incredible landscapes without having to drive hours to get there, first. Take this image, for example. It was taken in a park just outside the state’s second-largest city, a place I come to often. I almost always come here early in the morning, when the light is best and before the day’s many, many visitors arrive. No matter how many times I visit this park, though, I never seem to run out of photographic possibilities. And also, most days, my favorite image I walk away with is one that is not necessarily the one I thought it would be when I walked in. That was the case here, too. I set up in a different spot waiting for the first light of the day to bathe the rock formations in the elusive Alpenglow. After I captured that scene, I walked around for a while before heading back to the car. I often do this, just to “see what I will see”. While the rising sun started to pronounce the shadows on the formations more emphatically, this composition still sparked my imagination. I clicked the shutter, and once again, here was an image that only being there, being in the moment, could produce.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a national park in southwest Colorado. Probably because of its distance from the Denver metro area (it’s about a 4-5 hour drive), this park is much less overrun than its big brother in Arizona, the Grand Canyon. And while it would be blasphemous to equate the two, it is true that this park is a real gem, too. The loop around the park is ripe with overlooks that left me speechless. When I thought about how to approach this canyon photographically, I chose to make a black and white image. The Black Canyon is so steep, so deep and so narrow that parts of it receive just 33 minutes of sunlight a day. To me, a black and white image best illustrated this drastic chasm between light and dark.
Only one in ten Americans has ever seen a truly dark sky. To me, that is crazy, and sad. Living in Colorado, we are blessed with vast swaths of land that are not light-polluted and therefore offer stellar stargazing opportunities. The core of the Milky Way is visible in this part of the world from May to September — and so, during summer nights surrounding the new moon, when the skies are the darkest, I usually venture out into the night to capture the Milky Way. While the camera and post-processing certainly bring out a much more vibrant image of the galaxy than is visible to the naked eye, what gets me most excited are nights when it is so dark, and the sky is so clear, that the Milky Way becomes visible as a band arching above without the help of any technology. I am 6”5’, and I have yet to encounter anything that makes me feel smaller than those moments.
Great Sand Dunes National Park in Southern Colorado is undoubtedly one of the most surreal and mind-blowing locations that I have visited within the last year. And that is to say something, after all my stomping grounds are a state with no shortage of outstanding beauty. But hiking through the dune fields in this national park is not just an experience unlike most others, but it is also the gateway to a true photographer’s paradise. Being out in nature, I often have a feeling of being hypertensive — not knowing where to look first, or, in my case, not knowing where to point the camera first. This was certainly the case here. One of the lessons I have learned over the years is to slow down, take in the scene and force myself to see, not just look. That way, very quickly, a whole new world of possible images opens up. And so, while I also took the vast panoramic shot of the entire dune field nestled against the Sangre de Cristo mountains, what intrigued me most about this location was the intricate play between light and shadows and how it shapes the dunes. During golden hours, the light changes very quickly, and with it, seemingly, the shapes of the dunes changed, too.
Moose are flat-out my favorite animals. Although they can be extremely dangerous and will most certainly outrun any human, to me they have such an aura of positivity, of goodness, that whenever I come across one of them on my ventures into Colorado’s backcountry, they just make me feel at ease, and that everything will be okay. When I photograph these animals, that is the feeling I am trying to transport in my images, and I feel like this bull’s expression does so pretty perfectly. For me, it is impossible to look at this image and not smile almost instantly.
In my humble opinion, summer months in Colorado are best spent two ways: 1) Watch the sun rise over an alpine lake, while the water’s early morning calmness perfectly mirrors its surroundings, and 2) after the first rays of sunlight have warmed up the chilly air a tad, jump into said lake for a quick dip (where allowed only, obviously!). Colorado has almost 250,000 lake acres spread over thousands of water holes of all shapes and sizes, and to explore them all is an undertaking worthy of multiple lifetimes. This particular lake is one that I find myself coming back to time and again. In the summer months, wildflowers grow along its shorelines, and often there are moose who greet the early birds (both the actual birds and humans) during morning hours. This lake may not show up on all the lists of Colorado’s most beautiful, but its serenity certainly draws me back over and over again.
Many of my images are the product of what photographers often call “pre-visualization”. We know of a location. Based on our experience and research, we anticipate when this location will look its best. And then we show up, and pray to the gods of light and weather to treat us to a show. That’s one kind of photograph. And then, there is an image like the above one, the serendipitous capture, if you will. This barn, which, as local lore has it, was a school house in the olden days, stands roadside on a street that leads to a beautiful recreation area that my wife and I had chosen to spend our second anniversary at. Now, I would run into the danger of seriously jeopardizing our domestic bliss if I neglected to mention that I did not even see this scene at first. It was my wife who pointed it out — and then had to suffer the consequences of waiting in the car for 20 minutes while I waited for the storm clouds in the background to break open just enough that some light would fall onto the barn and illuminate both the rustic structures and the wildflowers in the foreground. When I looked at this image on the computer for the first time, my sub-conscience hit play on Bob Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm” — and while that may not be the most original interpretation of a scene like this, it encapsulates the essence of what I felt when I made this image.
Life in Colorado is dictated by the possibility of having to live through all seasons within the span of a few hours, no matter the calendar date. Never does that adage ring truer than during the state’s world-renowned falls, when changing aspen trees turn entire mountainsides into a sea of gold, and the first snowflakes in the high country quickly muddy seasonal distinctions. Those days are heaven on earth for a nature photographer. What I love about this image though is the subtlety of color. It’s not as if a few snowflakes had been added to a magnificent alpine fall scene, but actually it’s the other way around here. This image could have easily been taken during the height of winter, minus the specks of fall color.
What fascinates me about mountain goats is their innate knack for alpinism. In fact, the more rugged the terrain, the more these animals seem to rejoice. Running into one of these fellas high above tree line, the pecking order gets quickly overturned at 13,000 feet. Struggling to catch my breath, I had a hard time holding the camera still enough, while this mountain goat seemed perfectly content with the lack of oxygen in the air.
A thick coat of snow during winter will drown out most sounds. I was driving over a pass on my way to Steamboat Springs, when finally, I just had to pull over. I couldn’t ignore any longer the rows of snow-covered pine trees, giving the whole scene a very monochromatic feel, it it wasn’t for the shimmers of green from the pine trees faring well and the shimmers of red from those who did not. As I stood there, roadside, on a pass during the early hours of the day, with no one else around, I could hear the thoughts echo in my head. At least, at first. Eventually, my mind adapted — and adopted — the silence around me, and for a moment, I was perfectly at peace.