Musings and news on photography and the natural world, capturing the sights, and preserving them for generations to come.

Colorado Fall Color 2015 - McClure Pass, Marble, and Aspen

September 29, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Winding back across the southern portion of the Elk Range, I turned north and headed up McClure pass, which has been a reliable spot for beautiful color on my past years' trips. Do note that currently road construction near the Paonia reservoir can cause a substantial delay (30+ min) during business hours, weekdays, and there is no decent bypass to the construction zone. Upon reaching McClure pass from the south, I found most of the southern slopes just barely beginning to change color, with a bit more yellow at the higher elevations towards Chair Mountain.

Near McClure Pass, Colorado

Cresting the pass, slopes on the north side showed a bit more color, as did the distant ridges and peaks to the north and east, however, I would still say this area is currently quite a bit before peak, based on my past experiences of just how electric these hills become.

Near McClure Pass, Colorado Heading down the road to Marble, I saw a lot of nice color along the Crystal River, from Aspen and Cottonwood, to Willow and smaller brush, the valley floor showed a nice range from green to dark yellow. The slopes around Marble showed a bit more color than those closer to McClure Pass as well. Still not what I would call peak, but a nice, early range of colors.  Shockingly, as I drove through the valley Monday afternoon, it was pushing 85F on my car's thermometer, not what one expects at 7000ft in the last few days of September.

Near Marble, Colorado.

From Marble, I headed on to the Aspen area, specifically the Castle and Maroon Creek drainages, both of which were simmering with fall shades from top to bottom.  I would say that the lower sections of Castle Creek were definitely not near peak yet, with plenty of greens still on display, however, the upper reaches were peaking, with vibrant yellows and hints of orange.

Along Castle Creek, Colorado. Along Castle Creek, Colorado. Maroon Creek, on the other hand, oddly showed some trees past peak, having dropped their leaves, in its' lower reaches, while the upper end above 8500ft was simply spectacular with wall-to-wall yellows and oranges, and just a few hints of green yet to turn.  Hiking up West Maroon Creek from the tourist stalwart Maroon Lake, the color continued to come in waves, all the way up beyond Crater Lake, where the aspen dwindled, but the smaller bushes and shrubs showed a variety of autumnal hues.

Maroon Lake, Colorado.

Above Maroon Lake, Colorado

Look forward to one or two more reports as I make my way to and from Denver over the coming weekend. Happy shooting!

Colorado Fall Color 2015 - Grand Mesa and West Elks

September 27, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Moving out of Southwestern Colorado's San Juan Mountains to the north, one approaches Grand Mesa, a massive table-top mountain towering 5,000ft above the surrounding valleys and cities. Near the top of this monolith, Aspen perch in groves, clustered near or just below the rim, dotting the otherwise green landscape with bright yellow here in late September 2015.

Near Land's End, Grand Mesa, Colorado.

The Aspen on the northern end of the Mesa are further along than their southern brethren, with the north end getting close to peak, with a few patches of green leaves still lingering, particularly at lower elevations.  The southern fringe of the mesa shows aspen in full golden glory primarily near the very edge of the mesa, while most of those spreading further down the slopes toward the valley still bearing green.

Mesa Lakes, Grand Mesa, Colorado.

While there are patches of Aspen here and there across the gently rolling mesa top, they are often clustered in small groups, and at this point surrounded by little more than brown grasses. Most of the isolated, mesa-top Aspen have turned yellow at this point, with a few having dropped their leaves already.  Aspen on the northern side, particularly near Mesa Lakes, were losing leaves fairly rapidly with each gust of wind, suggesting that the color bounty at that particular site may be shorter-lived than others.

Near Kebler Pass, Colorado.

Further east, the Elk Range rises dramatically, and is also amid a near-peak showing of autumn aspen.  As I drove east on Kebler Pass road, the Aspen gradually grew more and more verdant, peaking in and around Crested Butte.  While patches of green leaves could still be found well west of the pass, the area immediately west of the pass showed excellent color.

Near Ohio Pass, Colorado

The nearby Ohio Pass road showed a somewhat less developed Aspen color, with a much high percentage of leaves yet to turn, but some nice highlights nonetheless.   The area north and northwest of Crested Butte, on the Schofield Pass Road was very much in peak form, with few green leaves to be seen, and even a fair number of trees losing leaves rapidly.

Near Gothic, Colorado

Next, I head to the north side of the Elks, near the town of Aspen, and on to Leadville and the I-70 corridor as I make my way to Denver.

Colorado Fall Color 2015: The San Juan Moutains

September 25, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

For the fifth time in seven years, I am visiting Colorado in early autumn, drawn to the mountains and to hiking by the irrefutably amazing colors of the Quaking Aspen, as they shed their summer garb under the lessening light.  I have a marked love for Southwestern Colorado's San Juan Mountains, which, while not the highest, nor the most well-known of the state's towering peaks, have always stood out for their beauty and variety.

Near Trout Lake, Colorado

Thus I began my journey out of Cortez, following Route 145 up into the mountains, seeing a decent color show as I ascended, with probably 30% or so of the trees and shrubs along the Dolores River turning. Reaching the top at Lizard Head Pass, the colors began to intensify, and stayed powerful through Trout Lake onwards, beginning to wane as the road dropped down towards Ophir, and further as one descends to Telluride.  These areas are probably a week or so off of their top color show, but curently have a nice contrast of green and yellow aspen leaves amid the confers.


Morning at Trout Lake, Colorado

Following the 4WD route Last Dollar Road out of the Telluride Valley, colors continued to stay mixed, with at least 60% of the foilage still not turned, a situation which only grew greener on the north side of the range, towards the Dallas Divide.

Mount Wilson from Last Dollar Road

Fall Colors on Last Dollar Road above Telluride, Colorado

Later, I headed up to Yankee Boy Basin, which showed similarly mixed, green and yellow aspen leaves, as the road ascended from Ouray, and once in the basin itself, the grasses and shrubs were a lovely variety of shades from green and yellow, through orange, brown, and red.

Gilpin Peak and Yankee Boy Basin, near Ouray, Colorado

However, it was above Ouray on US-550, just below Red Mountain Pass, where the Aspen were truly in top form. The valley walls were coated in a bright yellow sheen, contrasting with the surrounding dark evergreens, and the stark rocky peaks above treeline. Virtually none of the aspen had yet lost their leaves, and only a few had theirs remaining in shades of green.  It was a wonderful show, as in past years, I have always come to this particular area too late, finding it barren, by comparison.

Near Ironton, Colorado


Look ahead for further reports, as I will be heading to Grand Mesa, McClure Pass, and the Aspen area, among others.

The Simplest Choice to Improve Your Digital Photographs

April 20, 2015  •  1 Comment

If you could save your photos in a format that retained exactly what the camera captured, and allowed you to revisit and reimagine the look of your photos days, if not years later, why wouldn't you? Fortunately, odds are that you can, with a button press or two, by saving in RAW.

Way back in (digitally speaking) 2006, I bought my first camera, a mostly unassuming digital pocket cam, the Fuji E900, which distinguished itself by offering RAW file capture, a rarity on small cameras at the time. Nowadays, nearly all serious digital cameras, and even some phone cameras offer the ability to save in RAW, but many people remain unaware of the feature, the benefits it offers, and how to take advantage of them.

RAW files are a direct copy of the data coming off a digital camera’s sensor, with no, or very little processing applied, resulting in much larger files than typical processed JPEG files. This data would be unrecognizable as a photograph, without additional processing, as much interpolation must be done to create the image we see from most digital camera sensors.  All this extra data is the key to the benefits of RAW, as you can leverage improving image processing technology to reinvent your photos into far higher quality renditions than possible with a camera’s internal processing.

Photo processing software, like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, Phase One Capture One, and many others, are the tools for turning your RAW files into beautiful finished photos, and they are improving continually. With each new release, the software makers improve the algorithms that interpret RAW data into photos, giving lower apparent noise/grain, sharper edge resolution, and improved color fidelity. Contrast that to the JPEG processing engine of most digital cameras, which is typically fixed at release, and never changes again.

Yosemite Falls, Morning HighlightYosemite Falls, Morning HighlightPeak runoff season in spring 2008 saw Yosemite Creek running high, filling the upper falls with a weighty torrent that thundered into a drowning mist near the bottom, in the morning light.

Yosemite National Park, Mariposa County, California, USA.

I’ve presented two photos taken with the E900, a camera which, by modern standards, one would not expect to be a high-performing digital camera, as it had a relatively small sensor, slow lens, “only” 9 megapixels, and no image stabilization. These photos are ones whose composition and subject I have always liked, but until recently, I wasn’t pleased enough with the output quality in order to print and share them as part of my collection. However, revisiting them with the most recent version of Adobe Camera Raw, I was surprised to see just how much the software advances helped control some objectionable noise, and allowed me to increase the resolution while maintaining sharpness.

Afternoon AspenAfternoon AspenPerfectly golden autumn Aspen catch the afternoon's final rays of sun, as Carson Peak looms large in the shadows to the south.

Inyo National Forest, Mono County, California, USA.

The ability to reinvent your photographs with improved technology, years and years later, is why I argue consistently for the use of RAW files.  While the files are larger, and hence consume more storage space and can slow the responsiveness of some cameras, the potential image quality benefits are such that I would only use JPEG for the most time-sensitive, fast-action photography where the luxury of time for post-processing simply isn’t possible.

As such, I've been on a program recently of revisiting and "remastering" a number of photographs taken over the years, consistently being impressed with just how much better they look, with the application of updated post-processing software, and post-processing skills. If you sock away a a library of RAW photos, they can grow with you, as you improve your technology, and, more importantly, your ability to leverage it. Look forward to more remastered classics for me, and I hope you'll consider, if you already haven't, the potential impact of RAW on improving your photography.

Riding the Wind and Waves

February 12, 2015  •  Leave a Comment
This past weekend, the atmosphere came together in just such a way as to provide a strange phenomena in recent history - rain in Central California!  The so-called "Pineapple Express" describes an alignment of the upper atmospheric wind patterns that draws warm, moist air from the Central Pacific, near Hawaii, directly towards the California coast, an arrangement that can account for a significant portion of the state's overall precipitation each winter.
On my way to San Francisco, I skirted the Pacific along Highway 1, just as the first storm was spooling up into full fury.  In between bands of intense rain, the wind violently tossed back and forth above the roadway for a menacing, Tolkienesque effect.

I stopped at several beaches between Santa Cruz and Pacifica, as I made my way up the coast under darkening, overcast skies.  While this section of the California Coast may not be as heralded as its' counterpart to the south of Monterey Bay, it is very scenic nonetheless, if a bit less rocky and dramatic.  Rain and fog conspired to obscure the view of Pigeon Point Lighthouse, but I did catch a few breaks in the weather to watch massive waves come tumbling ashore. Strong winds blowing directly out to sea would catch the waves as they crested, shearing off the tops into a misty spray.

Amazingly, despite the crashing surf of 10-15 feet, and menacing winds that I felt just as high as 60 miles per hour, there was a group of dedicated surfers and boarders still out on the water of Pacifica beach, even as the evening light began to fade into darkness.  As one group passed me, there was a nod of acknowledgement, through the howling wind spraying salt water and sand about, a look recognizing the slight crazy in all of us to enjoy braving such elements, whilst most were content to a warm meal inside.  

Another day, another storm, another wave chased, whether with board, or lens.
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