Colorado Fall Photography Trip Recap

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I just got back from spending a few days in Ouray, Colorado. WOW! I tagged along to a workshop that Tom Bol and George Theodore were leading, and I had the opportunity to shoot in some amazing places, at an amazing time with a great group of people. Tom and George are such pros when it comes to putting on a workshop and making sure everyone shoots a lot, learns a lot and has fun while doing it.

Timing (and Luck) Is Everything

Whenever you head somewhere to photograph fall color you’re always taking a gamble since you can’t predict it 100%. I’ve been to Acadia National Park in Maine before (and arrived after the rainiest late summer/early fall they’ve had), and been greeted by mostly green trees. I’ve been back to the same place during the same week, years later, and missed the fall color altogether. So it’s definitely not an exact science. Luckily though, this trip was timed just about as perfect as you can get. The colors were blazing and we were treated to some of the nicest fall photography opportunities I’ve ever seen.

Thursday started out just about as good as you can get. The light on the Dallas Divide was perfect.

(make sure you click on the photos to see them larger)

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As I mentioned, timing is everything when it comes to fall colors. Believe it or not, you could tell that by the end of the trip (just 4 days later), the color had totally changed and was already fading in some areas.

Shooting And Semi-Harsh Light

One of the great things about being so high up in the mountains was that it offers you some extended shooting opportunities. Even though the sun is at it’s best right at sunrise or right at sunset, it still looks great within a couple of hours of each. In fact, the crisp blue skies with the bright colored trees really helps create a different type of photo. Plus, in many places the sun is behind a mountain when it rises. So you really don’t even see light on some of these hills until an hour or so after it’s actually risen.

(click on the photo to see them larger)

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Stormy Weather

Over the years my taste in photography has changed. While I still love a nice clear (well, some clouds are nice) sunrise/sunset, I find I’m drawn to the dramatic conditions more and more. We knew some stormy winter weather was going to move in late one afternoon when we went out shooting. As a result the clouds rolled in and set up the conditions for some amazing photos. It was stunning to watch as the sun peaked through the clouds to create these strips  of light on the glowing Aspen trees.

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It also set the stage for an incredible sunset. If you can imagine, we had just photographed the place you see right above. There we were driving back to town, thinking the sun would definitely have disappeared by this point and killed any chances for a sunset shoot. At the last minute we decided to give it a go and try to shoot at the Dallas Divide again. Well, we got really lucky. For about 5 minutes the clouds cooperated and cast some beautiful dramatic light on the San Juan mountains.

(click on the photo to see them larger)

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Here Comes The Snow

The weather forecast called for some wintery weather to move in on Thursday night. So we went from warmer 60′s weather (heck, I think it was even 70 at one point) to below freezing almost instantly. It was that weather that gave us some killer dramatic photos the evening before, and opened up some entirely different shooting opportunities on Friday. The combination of the snow on the trees along with the contrast of the glowing yellow Aspens set the stage for some of my favorites from the trip.

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Heading Out To Owl Creek Pass

On the last day we set out to a place called Owl Creek Pass. It’s a road through the mountains surrounded by trees and rock formations all along the way. We were worried the road would be impassable because of the weather but, yet again, we got lucky. It was a little muddy but that’s about it. What was really nice is that the shooting was different from what we’d seen up until that point. There were huge groves of colorful trees with light bouncing in all directions. The canopy was beautiful. It was perfect for wandering around and capturing some different and more intimate photos of the trees and color.

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We finished off the evening photographing the mountains and rocks that lined the road we’d traveled during the day.

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I’m One Happy Camper

All I can say is that I’m one happy dude after this trip. I’ve taken many photography trips before and I have to say this goes down as the one I got the most “keepers” from. Aside from one evening where the clouds were too thick to shoot, we had 3 solid days of near perfect shooting. The combination of timing the fall color just right, along with the sun, clouds, and snow made each day feel like we were in a totally different place.

If you ever get the chance to take a workshop from Tom or George you definitely should. These guys are absolute professionals in the workshop business and you’ll have a great time with them. And I have to give a big thanks to everyone in the workshop. While getting out there and making some wonderful photos is always great, I walk away from every group I’ve ever been with, with great memories, many laughs, and many new friends.

Thanks for stopping by today. Have a good one!

  • Dennis Zito

    Wow, Matt! Those are some spectacular and beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing them with us! Being from Colorado, you can’t beat the colors against those snow capped mountains! Ouray, is a Great place! Were you able to get up to Telluride? What’s interesting is I was thinking about doing Tom’s workshop, but finances got in the way … darn I wish I would have done it! :-(

    Thanks again … oh, any hints on processing those photos?

    Dennis

  • Peter Nord

    Ready to move to Colorado from Florida? Next thing we know you’ll be telling us about the great 8×10 view camera you just got for mountain scenes. Lived there 50 years ago and have a ton of color slides boxed away. Next you need to head out for the ski season. Did you hear the elk bugling?

  • David Latour

    The image the looks like you are taking a photo of the of the trees while laying on your back and looking straight up, is that how you did it? Did you use a tripod or was it handheld? Great stuff.

  • Johnny Boyd

    Nice images, well done my friend!

    It is an unbelievable area, my favorite of Colorado by far.

  • http://www.quiettime.org/ Catherine Martin

    Absolutely magnificent photos! Breathtaking and showing off the majesty of God. I love what you see in the landscapes that comes through in the photos. So beautiful. Seems like I read somewhere you were trying out a different camera – what camera did you use for most of these?

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  • Tom Tietz

    Great shots Matt!!! I was there about 10 days before you, normally a great time, but the only color was between Ouray and Silverton. Dallas divide and Telluride were basically still green. Still got some good shots, but nothing compared to yours. All about timing. Look forward to seeing you again at PSW Vegas in 2014

  • George Hendrix

    You took some beautiful photos, and you were here on a particularly glorious Indian Summer weekend, although autumn in general is pretty amazing on the west slope. The occasional autumn snow storm adds to the beauty, but the storm you caught the tail end of was powerful for early October. It dropped quite a bit of snow down to about 7,000 feet and chased it with a couple of really cold nights. The morning the snow ended I got some nice snow-and-foliage shots in my neck of the woods, which is about 30 miles down the Roaring Fork Valley from Aspen (and about 80 miles north of where you were). But by Saturday, up high the aspen foliage looked sort of freeze-dried, and it started turning a shade of orange I’m not sure I approve of. So, I agree with you, it peaked out fast.

    The good thing about coloring foliage in Colorado is that it progresses by elevation, starting up high and then moving down. The color season is just getting going good along the Front Range and down in the lower valleys out here. I don’t know if you flew into Denver or Grand Junction, but I’m sure you noticed how green it still is at lower elevations. So, if you get a chance to hang out a few days next trip, you can chase the color.

    Also, the cottonwoods along the rivers and cottonwood/poplar hybrids planted as street and yard trees out here can steal the show from the aspens. Where I grew up in the western Midwest, cottonwood leaves just turned brown and dropped. Here they light up a buttery gold. We also get a lot of color from serviceberries and gamble oaks (we all call them scrub oaks except for the people who sell real estate). And in years with wet late summers (and boy did Colorado have a wet August and September this year), some of the thickets of scrub oaks turn as scarlet as any maple in Vermont.

  • Brian W. Downs

    Great collection of shot. Fall color in Colorado has to be on the bucket list of most landscape/nature photographers. There is something special about the jagged peaks, partially covered in snow, set against the colorful foreground trees that is a recipe for great images.

    One day I’ll get a trip out there planned, organized, and executed. For now some NC color fills the void nicely. With a free place to stay set in the foothills, the trips are much more economical and a lot easier to schedule at the last minute when the timing is right.

  • http://www.thomasfitzgeraldphotography.com fxgeek

    Stunningly beautiful images Matt. I love this time of the year, and you’ve certainly captured the spirit of it. You should consider releasing a book, or even make one available on Blurb. I know I’d buy it.

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  • Teresa Moore

    Thanks for sharing your amazing photos! They are truly stunning.