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Fall Photographs from Colorado 2021

Fall 2021 Photography

Due to the generous monsoon we had this summer and the warm temps during the late summer, the colors the trees displayed had more depth and a deeper orange component than last fall. The color lasted a good 3 - 4 weeks from the time the aspens started to show through 'til the cottonwoods in the valleys turned. The cottonwoods, especially, held their color a long time this year as our Indian simmer lingered. The trees finally dropped their leaves in earnest after a few early snows up at elevation and down here in the valley. September was a busy time for me which cut into my availability to get out but I still hiked with a camera in my pack four times this fall. Please enjoy the slideshow above to view the photographs I took this fall here in Colorado. The video is in 4K so it will convey most of the quality of the images. You may need to request the higher quality from the settings in YouTube as it'll default to a lower playback quality sometimes. Some of these photographs are available in my 2022 Calendar and this year's Artist Cards that are both still available to order.

Please continue reading if you'd like more insight into these photographs and the outings I took this fall.

Things Learned

  • In years past I found that the intense colors of the leaves, whether it was the oaks and maples of Zion or the aspens of SW Colorado last year, overwhelmed both the film or the sensor of my camera. The shiny surface of the leaves, especially aspen leaves, reflects back strong highlights even when the subject is in reflected light. Even pulling the luminosity of those colors back in post processing wasn't adequate to allow for the detail of the leaves to come through. This year I exposed for the brightest colors on the trees and then dialed the exposure back a stop or two before exposing the image. The files have ample dynamic range to bring back the detail in the shadows while capturing more detail of the leaves so this worked much better.
  • I especially enjoy when the trees are at the beginning of the change, when there are still plenty of trees with green leaves. I enjoy the variation of color and texture added to the scene and find it's more visually interesting then a frame filled with a blast of one very saturated color. Just me but I'd love to hear your thoughts.
  • As you probably remember I have lightened the load in my pack when hiking now for a couple of years. I have a small Tenba bag that holds a Fuji XT4 with two lenses that fits easily into my Gregory daypack. I strap my smaller carbon tripod to the outside and the total added weight is about 9 pounds. This is a big difference to the large pack I carry for shorter hikes and outings that can weigh upwards to 45 lbs depending on which cameras and lenses I carry. While the XT4 kit is really good, I am spoiled by the very fine results of its bigger brother the medium format GFX 50s that I've been shooting with for the past several years. In the mountains here and when photographing trees, I have found that a normal focal length of the 35mm equivalent of 50mm can capture most compositions. Out of curiosity I put the GFX with one lens, the 63mm which in medium format is a 50mm equivalent, my filters and a battery in the same Tenba bag and found to my pleasure that it weighed a pound less than the XT4 kit. Granted I didn't have the flexibility of a focal range of 24mm to 300mm that the two lenses of that kit provide, I knew that the 63mm would work for many of the possible compositions and I like the challenge and simplicity of working with only one focal length.

Hike up to the base of Lizard Head

This was a solo outing on a familiar hike up to 12,000'. It was partly an exploratory outing to see if the aspens were starting to show some color. On the drive up to the trailhead there were just a few patches of color showing so I decided to go for the hike and see if I could get a good photograph of the fourteeners near Lizard Head. I had taken a few with my phone on previous hikes but never had one of my of my cameras with me. The hike is somewhat strenuous climbing 2000' in 3 miles but I felt good and enjoyed setting a quick pace. Once I broke through above timberline I was pleased to see that the low scrub bushes and tundra had turned a beautiful golden color that was washed in the late afternoon light. I scouted for a location that offered a good viewpoint and set up the camera on the tripod. At first I focused on Mt Wilson and took this photograph at a focal length of 85mm. This didn't make the cut for the slideshow, though it does capture the magnificence of the mountain for me, but what was catching my attention up there was the warm glow of the scrubs with the backdrop of the blue peaks in shadow. I changed lenses and set up a panorama of the three peaks, El Diente, Mt Wilson and Gladstone with much more of the warm glow of the tundra in the foreground. Again I enjoy that there is still various shades of color and texture and the composition expresses the amazing view available there. It is one of my favorite hikes and I encourage a visit for you to see for yourself.

West Dolores Above Dutton

Last fall I focused my attention on the aspens of the upper Dolores river and the area around our place further down the valley. Late in season last year, after the aspens were mostly dropping their leaves, I took a drive up the West Dolores towards Dutton at dawn one morning to see what I could find. Despite most of the leaves being on the ground, I enjoyed the morning and added a few more images to my portfolio. It was clear to me that this was where I wanted to focus my attention for future fall color as both sides of the valley were covered in aspen.

I had taken a hike this past summer up the Navajo Lake trail above Dutton and discovered a beautiful area filled with subjects for fall color. I didn't have a camera other than my phone with me on this particular hike as I was in exploratory mode and looking for a good hike but it wet my appetite to return in the fall. One of the discoveries were some waterfalls and I made a promise to myself and to Lisa to return to show her and properly photograph them. When my son James came to spend a week to visit and hike, this became the first hike we took and Lisa joined us. There are four images taken this day that are included in the slideshow; Fall Gradient, Saturation, Journey, Upper West Dolores and West Dolores Falls. All these images were taken with the Fuji GFX 50s and the 63mm except Saturation which I took with the iPhone 11. Our intended destination was the falls where we all spent some time enjoying and photographing them. I got to get a little extra exercise playing catchup as I scrambled after them once I finished capturing a couple of photos I took in the basin. After hiking back out from the falls, we all agreed to continue up the trail to possibly get a view of some distant falls that cascade off the high peaks below Navajo Lake. On the way back down I stopped to capture Saturation with my phone and took a picture of Lisa in the glow of the aspens. Settings and technical details for all photos from this outing are displayed with each image in the slideshow. Again, a few of these photos are featured in the Calendar.

Hike to Hope Lake

This hike was something I'd researched a little as a good one to do with James. I had no idea really what to expect, whether there were any aspen groves or views of them, but we committed to do it and I again packed up the GFX with the 63mm lens. After several weeks of amazing weather, when James arrived it started to change and after a few days we had day after day of rain, the day of this hike included. The Hope Lake trailhead is above Trout Lake at the top of Lizard Head pass and as we drove up we could see that the rain had turned to snow across the peaks. As we headed off up the trail we soon encountered a couple coming down wearing clamp-on micro spikes. They told us there was snow about a mile further up and that the trail was quite slippery. We continued on. When we encountered the snow it was melting off as bits of sun shown through the storm clouds. We continued on. Once the trail started to switch back, gaining more altitude, it started lightly snowing again. On one of the switchbacks the view opened up to one of the peaks that surrounded us but had remained hidden behind the clouds. It was here that I stopped to captured the scene Lake Hope Trail. It was quite beautiful, misty snow clouds blowing about the slopes, first encounter of this winter for me. After a few minutes we continued on, feeling a bit of urgency to obtain the objective of Hope Lake and beat the weather and the end of the day. We walked on into the clouds and snow and after another mile or two of hiking through a couple inches of snow we reached the lake shrouded in clouds. We spent a few minutes there and snapped a few phone picts to record the moment then headed back down the trail as it started to snow in earnest. As we descended below the storm, one of the nearby peaks revealed itself and a couple of moments of amazing light happened. I was able to capture the moment in the photograph Early Storm, before it all changed again.

A Return to the West Dolores

On our previous hike up to this area, as we headed back down I was trailing behind scoping for more subjects. I saw a really cool aspen tree off the trail in a grove that was surrounded by a darker backdrop. I took a quick phone picture and noted the location so I could return another time when the light was right. This was the nudge that got me out for what ended up being my last outing this fall in Colorado. It was only five days since James and I hiked to Hope Lake. He had headed back to California so this would be a solo outing. The color change was rapidly peaking and the same area we had been in only a week before showed the trees with mostly yellow and orange leaves. It was a beautiful afternoon as I headed up the trail with my bigger pack so I could have additional lenses with me. I settled into the area below the falls with a view of the peaks and surrounding aspen groves. A little of the snow from the storms the previous week clung to the tops of the peaks, the air was still and I was the only soul there, the silence caressing me. I dropped my pack and set up the camera with a good vantage point to capture the mountains as backdrop to the trees and took photos as the light danced in and out of the clouds. I explored a few different compositions and came away with one of the south face of Mt Wilson with a foreground of trees that framed the peak. What I really like about this photo and what set it apart from a few of the others that I took here, was that the ridge between the trees and the peak was in shadow creating a nice dark backdrop for the trees in the foreground lit up by the late afternoon sun.

I then grabbed the tripod and the camera to go find the tree I had spotted on our last hike up here. The light was soft and perfect, illuminating the trunk and the dead trunks of some past young trees and the leaves softly glowed against the dark background of the evergreens behind. I initially composed for the whole tree but there was too much competition for the beautiful shapes of the trunks from two other trees on either side. So I went in close to frame in on the center of the tree, including just a few of the leaves. When I was later processing, I cropped it even a bit more till I settled on the final composition of Grace.

The next two images, West Dolores Basin and Backlight Glow, were a few steps away from where I had dropped my pack. I wandered the area pausing to listen to the silence and breathe as I refined the framing for these final two images. Backlight Glow was fun and a challenge. The framing of the aspens by the evergreens in the foreground was perfect. I was using the 100mm - 200mm and it is always a challenge to maintain sharpness beyond your subject with a long focal length lens. I wanted the immediate foreground sharp and progressively softer going back into the frame. I had to use a tight aperture setting of f/26 to achieve this while focusing on the brush just past the evergreens. The aspens are a little soft which complimented the glow of the backlight and the trees in the distance are softer still which worked perfectly with the hazy atmosphere from the sun about to drop below the far ridge with its warm light flowing from back to front through the aspens and the brush between the evergreens. All four of the images from this day make up this year's Artist Card Set available in the store.

While I always enjoy sharing time with people dear to me in these places I love to explore, I also always enjoy when I get a chance to be in solitude amongst such beauty.

Let me know your thoughts and comments or any questions you might have in the comment section below. Thank you for taking the time to share in this and if you are new and haven't subscribed to my newsletter and want to be notified when I publish a journal post, please use the little form at the top of the side column on the left of this page.

4 thoughts on “Fall Photographs from Colorado 2021”

    • Hi Craig!
      Good to hear from you.
      Thanks that’s my favorite too.
      If local I use either our jeep or our Tesla model Y. When going on a road trip we are still using the Winnebago View model D.
      How are you? Doing any traveling? You’re always welcome to stop by, we have space for your camper.

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