Mountain Photography Tips

Starting from this month, I am reaching out to the best photographers in Colorado, asking them to write guest posts on our website and showcase their work. There are some amazing masters of photography in Colorado, with various backgrounds in landscape, travel, portrait, fashion and wedding photography. My goal is to not only support our local photography community here, but also to provide valuable information, tips and inspiration from the best in the industry. One of the photography masters is Jack Brauer, who I reached out to about a week ago, after spending a good half an hour enjoying stunning landscape photography on his website. Below is a guest post that Jack was kind enough to write for us, with some very important and useful tips on landscape photography. It turns out that Jack is not only a phenomenal photographer, but also a great educator and story teller. I am sure you will love his article as much as I did. Enjoy!


Originality in the Grand Landscape

I am a mountain photographer. Mountains are my greatest passion; whether I’m hiking, camping, snowboarding, photographing, or just sitting there soaking in the view, mountains make me feel more alive and inspired than any other kind of landscape, and definitely more than any city. For that reason I live in a small town in southwest Colorado, surrounded by the mighty San Juan Mountains, an endless sea of peaks that provide a lifetime’s worth of exploration and photography.

Bridge of Heaven Tent
(Winter camping on a high ridgeline above my town of Ouray, Colorado. Olympus E-420, Zuiko 7-14mm, 30 sec exposure)

When it comes to photographing mountains, I heavily favor the “grand landscapes” – those sweeping vistas full of rugged peaks as seen from high vantage points, preferably splashed in rich sunrise or sunset light. These big views are the reason I fell in love with mountains, and perhaps the reason why most people venture up a mountain in the first place – to see the view!

I will admit, however, that it can be difficult for us photographers to be very creative when shooting big landscapes. After all, the grand landscape photo is mostly about the landscape itself, rather than a display of the photographer’s sheer creativity. Whereas a macro or close-up shooter has a virtually blank canvas to paint with light, with an infinite palette of color, selective focus, and bokeh, the landscape photographer is more or less tied to the reality of the scene and the whims of the weather and light. My goal of this article is to explain how photographing the grand landscapes can still be a very creatively fulfilling pursuit, and not just from behind the camera!

Mt Elbert at Dusk
(Moonlit mountains and the last colors of sunset, as seen from the summit of Mt. Elbert, the tallest mountain in Colorado at 14,440 feet, February. I spent three hours on the snowy summit on this calm winter night, in awe of our planet, before I made my way down under the moonlight. Tachihara 4×5 wood field camera, Provia film, 8 minute exposure.)

Location, location, location

Obviously, when photographing a grand landscape, the single most important thing is the landscape itself! The place. The location.

In terms of creativity, here’s where I think most photographers shoot themselves in the foot from the start. They swarm to the same iconic spots, over and over and over again. Delicate Arch. Maroon Bells. Oxbow Bend. Etc. Yes, these places are iconic for a reason – they are spectacular! But, the problem is that in this day and age we’ve all seen these photos thousands of times before. In most cases, the best a photographer can hope for in these iconic locations is getting something “as good” as what they’ve already seen before, or maybe just a little bit better if the weather and light conditions are truly phenomenal. But usually, the photos are already stale before the shutter is even pressed.

If you enjoy the camaraderie of your fellow photographers and strive to tick the checklist of all the popular iconic views, then perhaps this can be a fun pursuit. But if you’re more interested in getting your creative juices flowing, I would suggest straying from the beaten path. Whether it means taking a short side path through the bushes away from the established viewpoints, or trekking for days into the wilderness to get away from it all, finding your own spot is the first step in the creative landscape photography process.

For me, this is a huge part of the process, and most of the fun of it all. I am fortunate to have the time and health to go on long backpacking treks in the mountains, and indeed this is what I enjoy doing, as much or even more than taking photos. I loved backpacking before I even owned a camera, and I still love it. Photography just adds another dimension and motivation to the experience. The bonus for the hiking photographer is that they can get to their own locations – places that haven’t been photographed to death, places where he or she can see landscapes with fresh eyes and can choose compositions that haven’t been chosen before.


(Misty Teton Reflection B/W. Here is a shot of the famous Grand Teton in Wyoming, reflected in a remote alpine lake on the west side of the mountain. We’ve all seen the classic views of the Tetons from the Jackson Hole valley – they are indeed spectacular. But I prefer the experiences and challenges of hiking into the range to pursue lesser known vistas like this. Tachihara 4×5 wood field camera, Nikkor 135mm, GND grad, Provia, drum scanned and converted to b/w in Photoshop)

The initial creative spark of much of my photography happens before I even put my backpack on. I spend a lot of time researching new routes and remembering past hikes and views, all the while trying to envision potential scenes in potential light. There are three very powerful tools I use for this:

1) National Geographic’s Topo! mapping software has all the USGS topo maps for a given state stitched together seamlessly in one easy to use application. I can draw my routes and it will tell me the mileage and elevation gains. Then I can print out only the sections I need for my trip. This is the best way to plan a trek. Having all the maps on my computer, I don’t need guidebooks anymore for trip ideas – I just open the topo maps and pick my own routes. Topo! is expensive, though; free online alternatives include Caltopo.com, Hillmap.com, and Mappingsupport.com.

2) The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) is a fantastic tool for planning potential light conditions. This application, built by photographer Stephen Trainor, shows maps or satellite imagery with an overlay of where and when the sun and moon will rise and set. This is invaluable knowledge for planning grand landscape shots. Will the sunrise shine directly into this mountain valley, or will it be blocked by a high ridgeline? Will the moon set behind this peak, or somewhere off to the side out of view? TPE makes it easy to figure out. [ http://photoephemeris.com ]

Solar Eclipse
(Solar eclipse over the Sneffels Range, Colorado, May 2012. I used TPE to determine that I’d be able to view the eclipse positioned above Mt. Sneffels if I climbed up 13,139 ft. Hayden Peak. That much was planned, but while I was shooting I was surprised and thrilled to see that the eclipse was clearly visible as multi-colored refractions in the lens flare! Normally I go to great pains to minimize or eliminate all lens flare, but this time I quickly experimented with different focal lengths, angles, apertures, and shutter speeds in order to fully maximize the lens flare and the eclipse refractions.)

3) Google Earth is just plain fun. Who doesn’t like flying around the globe seeing all the 3-D topography from a bird’s perspective? But it’s also a powerful tool for planning grand landscape shots. Before Google Earth, I’d just have to study a map carefully and try to imagine the topography as it would be seen from a certain point. Google Earth does this for me, and does it well! Say, for example, that I know I want to shoot from a certain high ridgeline. Normally I’d hike up to that ridgeline and then I’d have to hike around back and forth, perhaps over a number of peaks, just to scout out the best spot to shoot from. I might even have to do this the day before to find my spot, then return again the next morning. With Google Earth, I can do this before I even leave! By virtually flying around in Google Earth, I can find that perfect vantage point on a big ridgeline, mark it on the map, and then I can hike to that spot in the dark, knowing precisely where I want to be for sunrise. This saves many hours of hiking. Google Earth is also helpful for scouting off-trail bushwhack routes. I’ll print out a screenshot overview of the terrain from Google Earth, which is sometimes much more helpful than an actual map, since I can “see” the terrain and vegetation as reference while hiking.
So, using these tools, along with weather forecasts and a reservoir of experiential knowledge from past trips (depending on where I am), I am not only able to discover new landscape perspectives to photograph, but I’m also able to increase my chances of being there in the right place at the right time. If I’m going on a 7-day trek, I’ll use these tools to pick out a potential grand scenic photo or two for each morning and evening of the trek. I go into these treks with these pre-visualized photo options in my mind. Sometimes the weather and light work out perfectly and I actually get the shots that I imagined; other times the light sucks and I don’t get the shot I wanted, or oftentimes I find something totally different and unexpected.

Capitol Peak Sunset
(Sunset behind Capitol Peak, 14,130 ft., in the Elk Mountains of Colorado after the first snowfalls of autumn. After shooting the sunset and moonrise from this high perch, I made my way carefully back down to camp under the full moon light. Canon 5D Mark II, 17mm TS-E)

The Hollow Pursuit of Tripod Holes

What I do not recommend doing is to see a striking photo and say to yourself “I want to go THERE!”. Some photographers do this. Hell, I even catch myself with this impulse from time to time. We see a photo we love and we’ll figure out where it was taken and we’ll hike for days to basically reshoot the scene. That kind of motivation is no different than the icon shooting that I mentioned before – except it’s just harder to get there!

No, what I’m talking about here is finding your own locations. It doesn’t have to be a place that nobody’s ever been before; after all the entire planet is more or less thoroughly explored and photographed by now. When I mean is to do your own research, come up with your own ideas, and then pursue those ideas. This is part of the creative process!

By following in other’s footsteps and trying to copy other images that you’ve seen, you’re shortchanging yourself of the initial creative spark. In fact, in that case the creative spark is not yours at all – you’re simply executing someone else’s original creative vision! Sure, you can make your own variation on the composition and maybe you’ll get lucky with even better weather conditions, but the end result will always be less gratifying than a photo that you conceived and created on your own from start to finish.

This is what I strive to do with my photography, and what I enjoy doing the most. Are all my photos totally original location ideas? No, of course not. But a large portion of them are (at least as far as I know), and those are the photos that mean the most to me.

Cimarron Sunset Panorama
(Cimarron Sunset Panorama, San Juan Mountains, Colorado. This was taken from an outcropping that I had scoped out from afar during a hike up a nearby mountain early in the summer. When I finally made the bushwhack hike up to this point in the autumn, I was delighted by the great view and the even better sunset! Canon 5D Mark II, 24mm TS-E. This is a stitched panorama of four images – and each of those four images were a combination of 2-3 exposures each for exposure range, blended manually in Photoshop before the final stitch in AutopanoPro.)

It can be argued that if the originality of a landscape photo is based simply on finding an original location, then it’s not truly creative since anybody could simply go find that same location and potentially take a similar or better photo. While that is true to some degree, again I think it goes back to the intentions and motivations of the photographer. This is the personal aspect of creativity, and many times only the photographer him/herself will know if his or her photo was truly born out of an original creative idea. Nobody else knows, or cares. But, I believe that over time, the collection of an original creative photographer will speak for itself.

Regardless of these judgements of originality and creativity, the point is that by finding unique, original landscape perspectives to photograph, it is much more enjoyable and much easier to get the creative juices flowing. It’s easier to create your own landscape interpretations when you are seeing a place with fresh eyes, without previous photographers’ images cluttering up your head and influencing your motivations.

Sultan Mountain
(Sultan Mountain, high above Silverton, Colorado. After waiting in our tents in an autumn storm, a photographer friend and I hiked up to this high ridge to watch the breaking storm clouds lift off the peaks. The combination of repeating ridgelines – accentuated by the compressed view of a longer lens – misty clouds, and natural complimentary colors made for a striking photo. Tachihara 4×5 wood field camera, Nikkor 200mm, Provia.)

Although hiking and backpacking is the easiest method for find unique locations, it’s not always a necessity. For example, here in the San Juan Mountains where I live, there are also a lot of 4×4 dirt roads – a vast network of old mining roads that go way up into the mountains as far as 13,000 feet. These offer plenty of opportunities for non-iconic grand landscape shots, especially for those who are willing to wait while storms pass, so that they can be up high to shoot the dramatic weather. Or for another example, in another place perhaps a canoe or kayak could get you to some lesser seen river canyons or ocean beaches. Even at iconic locations, chances are you can wander away and find your own unique perspective on the scene.

Plitvice Waterfalls
(Plitvicka Jezera. This famous national park in Croatia is a fantasyland of turquoise lakes and waterfalls. Instead of shooting from the regular viewpoint near here, I bushwhacked through the forest a little ways to gain this front-and-center perspective of the waterfalls. The overcast weather allowed a longer shutter speed to give the waterfalls that soft motion look. Nikon D100.)

The basic idea here is to get off the beaten path, to come up with your own ideas to find unique locations to photograph. Instead of searching other photographers’ portfolios for photo location inspiration, search a map and use your imagination. This is a big part of the creative fun of shooting grand scenics!

That Special Something

The next step is to seek that “special something”. Any striking landscape photo needs to have something special going on – something out of the ordinary. A good cloudy sunrise or sunset is the standard sure bet (if the weather cooperates). A splash of sunlight beaming through the clouds or trees. Foggy mist swirling about the peaks. A perfect reflection that adds symmetry to the composition. Things like this add that extra spice to an image, and set it apart from a regular snapshot. They elevate a scene into more than just a static landscape, but a unique slice of time – an event in nature.

Trollveggen Norway
(Trollveggen, Norway. This photo is all about the misty clouds streaming off the peak, which happens to be the tallest vertical wall in all of Europe. The light isn’t remarkable, and without those clouds the photo would be fairly mediocre. But the swirling clouds add a fascinating dynamic that turns the scene into more than just a landscape image – it’s a moment in time.)

There are two main ways to increase the chances of finding special weather and light conditions. The first is to shoot when the light is good! And the most surefire way to do this is to get up and be there for sunrise and/or sunset. Not only that but be there a half hour or more before sunrise and after sunset. Sometimes the best light for certain landscapes is that soft purple dawn glow which illuminates entire landscapes and reveals the topography better than direct light can. This often involves hiking and waiting in the dark, so be sure to have warm clothes and a bright headlamp with you. I oftentimes wait in one place for hours for the best light; but this is never boring for me. I value this time to relax and soak in the view.

The second way is to go out in unstable weather, when you’d probably usually rather not go out. When the weather forecasts call for a week of pure sunny weather, unlike most “normal” human beings I usually lose motivation to go backpacking and I just stay at home. Why? Because cloudy stormy weather makes for dynamic photographs and great sunrises and sunsets.

That said, clear weather offers unique opportunities too, particularly for night shooting. What’s the moon doing? Did you know that a rising or setting moon will cast the same kind of red alpenglow that sunrise or sunset does? It’s not visible to the naked eye, but it is certainly visible to a high-ISO camera sensor with a long exposure. Or perhaps there’s just a sliver of moon and you can capture the stars and Milky Way over the mountains? Just moonlight or stars on their own won’t always provide that special touch, but they are ingredients that can help push a photo in that direction.

Matterhorn Moonlight
(The most iconic mountain of all, the famous Matterhorn in Switzerland. Here is an example of a mountain that makes me want to say – ignore everything I just said about not shooting icons! The mountain might be the most photogenic in the world, and it pulls ALL photographers to it like magnets. In this photo I was fortunate to catch three extraordinary elements together to create a more unique take on the oft-photographed peak: fresh snowfall, breaking storm clouds swirling about the peak during a long exposure, and full moon light illuminating the night scene. This photo probably also breaks some fundamental photographic rules by having the peak smack in the center of the frame, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. The peak demands to be front and center. Canon 5D Mark II, 70-200mm f/4)

In any given landscape, it’s important to seek out those special moments of light and weather, and somehow incorporate that into your photo. Remember that photographs of a big landscape are never as impressive as being there in person. You can stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon in the middle of the day and be totally awed by the scene, but that awe will not transfer over to the two-dimensional photograph unless the light or something about the atmosphere is special.

Creative Composition

Framing the shot is without doubt the most hands-on, actively creative part of photography.

Shooting grand landscapes is a somewhat traditional affair, and by that I mean that it is difficult to get wildly creative; afterall, the subject is the landscape in front of you and you have to take what is given to you – you don’t have full control over the possibilities. That said, you still have an immense amount of control over how you choose to present the landscape.

Wetterhorn Moonflowers
(Wetterhorn Peak in Colorado is one of my favorite mountains and this is the best angle of it. I took this on the first night of a 5-day trek around this peak. My wife and I hiked up to this high ridgeline for sunset, but I took this photo after sunset, when the moon was rising and the alpenglow illuminated the peak with an even, warm light. Some people have remarked that “it’s too bad” the flowers are facing away, but I actually like it that way in this image. It’s like they are the audience of the scene, admiring the mountain and the moonlight. The attention is not focused towards the viewer, but rather towards the mountain itself. This was shot with a Canon 5D Mark II with a 24mm tilt/shift lens, in relatively low light: 4 seconds at f/20 and ISO 1600. By using the lens’s full tilt, I was able to keep the extreme close up flowers and the peak both in focus in one shot (something that would require numerous exposures and an impossible mess of focus blending with a regular lens). Because I was at the limit of the lens’s tilt focus ability, I also stopped way down to f/20 to ensure that everything was as much in focus as possible. I jacked up the ISO (the sensitivity of the sensor) in order to have a relatively quick 4-second exposure to increase my odds of getting those flowers sharp between gusts of wind.)

Choosing the foreground is perhaps the most creatively important aspect of framing the grand landscape, and can have a profound effect on the image. I do think it’s important to have a solid foreground, when appropriate, in order to give the viewer a place to “stand” in the scene. A close foreground gives a better context of reality and scale of the scene, and it makes it easier for people to imagine being there in person.

I rarely shoot with my tripod fully extended; when the camera is closer to the ground I can get much bolder lines and compositions, and objects in the foreground are bigger and more dynamic looking. Also, with the camera down low, I can move just a few feet or inches to dramatically change the composition. Using this technique, I can hone in on a foreground composition that compliments the subject.

Sundial Peak Sunset
(Sundial Peak, Utah. I typically go for reflection shots when I have the chance, but on this evening the wind made that impossible. I was then drawn to these big glacier-polished slabs and their unique crimson color. The lines in the rock converge towards the peak, leading the eye into the photo. Canon 5D Mark II, 24mm TS-E, with lens shifted up and down for a seamless stitch of two horizontal frames.)

Some people really go nuts with foreground, with compositions where the foreground utterly dominates the scene. Ideally these foregrounds will have strong leading lines that direct attention to the subject in the background. When done right, this can lead to very dynamic compositions; when done wrong it can actually block the viewer from the scene, distract from the subject, or just look plain gimmicky.

Typically when I shoot mountain landscapes, my priority is to frame the shot in a way that centers the attention on the subject itself (usually a mountain peak). The foreground is supplemental and only used when it compliments the subject and grounds the scene. Therefore, in many of my photos, the mountain is big and the foreground is just enough to ground the scene and lead the viewer into it.

Pyramid Peak Sunrise
(Pyramid Peak Sunrise, Glacier National Park, Montana. Here’s an example of a most minimal foreground. The underwater rocks are very subtle, yet just enough to ground the scene. The reeds at bottom right give just a touch of spacial reality – they break up the mirrored symmetry just enough to bring the scene back to a relatable reality. Canon 5DII, 24mm TS-E, with lens shifted up and down for a seamless stitch of two horizontal frames.)

As for compositional rules, I say forget about them. I’ve never felt the need to formerly learn them myself, and in my opinion they only serve to clutter your brain and make it harder to think clearly while shooting. I think it’s better to trust your instincts and frame the composition in a way that simply looks pleasing too you. One simple exercise that I use when framing a composition is to think of it as a print already on the wall. If that image was a print on my wall, seeing it day in and day out, what would I change to make it more pleasing, more interesting, more balanced? If you can think in terms of a finished print before you even take the photo, it will help you hone in on better compositions in the field.

I also think it is good practice to try to choose the exact composition before setting up the tripod. This is something I learned when I used to shoot a large format 4×5 field camera (the old-fashioned style camera with the bellows, dark cloth, ground glass focusing, and all that). That camera was so difficult to set up and manually focus that once it was set up, it might take another five minutes to move positions and refocus. This forced me to learn how to compose my shots first, using just my eyes, before setting up the camera. With digital it’s tempting to just immediately set up the camera and keep moving it around and taking shots while gradually honing in on the best composition. But, it is faster and more effective to try to learn how to chose the composition first. That way you won’t have to mess around with adjusting the tripod so much and you’ll be able to take less photos, with a higher keeper rate.

It would be funny to see myself doing this composition hunting – walking around, bending up and down, bobbing my head around like some kind of voodoo dance until I find the right spot and height to set up the camera. If you walk around, do the dance, and get on your hands and knees and snoop around the scene like a hound dog, you’ll find more interesting and creative compositions than if you just show up and set up the tripod in the first spot you come to. You’ll find things that you might miss on first glance.

Wrap it up!

If you’ve made it this far, I thank you for reading and I hope that perhaps some of my words and photos here have inspired you to think creatively about shooting original “grand landscapes”. To boil it down to the essence, creativity with grand scenic photography goes beyond just framing and taking the photos; it involves the entire process including researching unique locations, coming up with original ideas to shoot, and the adventures to get to the right place at the right time.

Uncompahgre Sunset
(Uncompahgre Sunset, Colorado. Despite everything I’ve said in this article, here’s an example of a totally unplanned spontaneous photo – just dumb luck of being in the right place at the right time. If you get out enough, even this will happen quite often!)

You can see more examples of Jack Brauer’s work at his website and his “Mountain Photographer” blog.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Matt
    October 6, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    Jack, really inspiring, unique photography and excellent tips for us newbies. Thank you for sharing!

    P.S. Just came back from your website. Wow, I am beyond impressed!

    • October 7, 2012 at 4:10 pm

      Thanks Matt!

    • 64
      ) Makofoto
      October 9, 2012 at 3:27 pm

      Might as well put my cameras away and just see the world through Jack’s eyes! Well, maybe he doesn’t photograph car activities/races, so … I’ll just stick to that. :-)

      Thanks Jack!

  2. 2
    ) Mrinal
    October 7, 2012 at 12:18 am

    Absolutely Awesome, Jack..

  3. 3
    ) gregorylent
    October 7, 2012 at 12:30 am

    post production notes?

    • October 7, 2012 at 4:14 pm

      Hi Gregory, any particular photos you’d like to know details about? I shoot in RAW (or drum scan film) and process all the photos through Photoshop. Nothing fake, just mainly color and contrast corrections and adjustments. I also do quite a bit of dual-exposure blends to increase exposure range; these are done manually with layer masks in PS. (With film I would use graduated neutral density filters instead).

      • 26
        ) gregorylent
        October 7, 2012 at 7:56 pm

        thanks much … not in a negative sense at all, it was just that they seemed a bit jacked up, so was wondering .. chromatic drama to compliment the compositional drama ..

        enjoy, gregory

  4. 4
    ) Andy
    October 7, 2012 at 5:42 am

    Wonderful idea having guest writers, and WOW: what an intro!

    Jack Bauer’s article is well written which includes plenty of diverse info such as location, equipment used, camera settings and any software used and/or recommended. These types of articles are what separate seemingly “homage to self” article writers vs. those such as Jack who share a wealth of info in their writings that actually teach rather than preach or to show off their talent.

    I look forward to seeing more articles by other guest writers and hopefully, more from Jack. Thank you!

    • October 7, 2012 at 4:20 pm

      Hi Andy, I’m glad you enjoyed my article, and I appreciate your comments since I was worried that this would come off as a self-homage, which is certainly not my intention!

  5. 5
    ) Pascal
    October 7, 2012 at 5:55 am

    Really amazing images and fanastic article!
    I’m stunned…

  6. 6
    ) Peng
    October 7, 2012 at 8:22 am

    Love your work. Thank you for sharing. Keep up the good work and write more on this site, please.

  7. 7
    ) Kevin
    October 7, 2012 at 9:25 am

    Thanks Nasim for extending an invitation to him. Greatly enjoyed. That’s why I love this site!

    • October 7, 2012 at 4:21 pm

      Yes, thank you Nasim for the invitation!

  8. 8
    ) JR
    October 7, 2012 at 11:31 am

    Hi Jack!

    I’ve been following your work for YEARS and consider your images to be at THE VERY TOP of the landscape/adventure photography field. You’ve mastered a style that combines the respect for the natural world that men like David Muench have shown, with an adventurous, colorful style that Rowell would’ve been proud of.

    Your work is truly inspiring. Congrats and best wishes to you and yours!

    ~JR

    PS. Nasim: thanks for inviting Jack to your site. You rock!!!

  9. 9
    ) JR
    October 7, 2012 at 11:56 am

    One other thing, Jack. As much I am about patting you on the back for you great acomplishments, I will also point out that you may have disheartened a few landscape photographers with some of the things you’ve said.

    You highlight originality and make it sound that unless someone is willing to hike 5 miles into the back country, like y0ud do(to get your ORIGINAL images), their pictures aren’t worth taking. Aren’t you just a little too full of yourself there, Jack? ;-)

    I share the same enthusiam for the back country, living in Colorado and often hiking for days into the backcountry to MAYBE get 2-4 ‘good’ pictures. But, I also know what it takes to do that, and it’s not easy. It’s VERY DIFFICULT work. You have to be feeling well, without any sinues headaches or backaches. You have to have a VERY GOOD tent(at least a 3 season. Four season mandatory for late fall and winter) and sleeping bag(below zero degs is mandatory…-30deg if doing winter camping) and a REALLY GOOD pair of boots($400 on avg), otherwise your feet will hurt for weeks, or longer. And above all….you have to REALLY want to do it. Not everyone is willing to put up with 3-4 sleepless nights, because the canyon winds were howling like a freight train, nor hike with 60 lbs of gear through 10-12k foot passes.

    BTW, I know exactly where you took your “Cimarron Sunset” stiched panorama and not many photographers, or hikers, are wiling, or capable, of making that trek just for one or two pictures(or, in your case, a stitching). Kudos to you, but keep your humility. It’s a valauble asset.

    It’s interesting what we learn when others talk about themselves. In your case, Jack, you’ve made it sound as if though it’s not worth shooting landscapes unless you do it YOUR WAY. I disagree, although I, too, do IT YOUR WAY.

    • October 7, 2012 at 5:11 pm

      Thank you JR for your compliments and comments! You bring up some good points, which I hope to address.

      If I came off as saying that MY WAY was the only worthy way of photography, then that’s just a byproduct of my poor writing skills. My intention was to offer insight into my way of photography, but not to say that it is THE way. And I did explain in the article that hiking is not always necessary to find unique locations to photograph. Perhaps I did not elaborate on this enough.

      If there’s one theme I hope to communicate in this article, and on my blog, it’s that the experience behind the photography is of utmost importance – and by that I mean the personal experience. For me, that means the hiking and the backpacking, which gives me great satisfaction in and of itself. For others, it could mean something entirely different. If a photographer has fun and is creatively satisfied and productive with roadside shooting, then that’s great – there’s nothing wrong with that. Conversely, if a photographer is hell bent on trekking into the wilderness with their camera, but doesn’t enjoy the experience, then they are wasting they’re time.

      Although I prefer hiking, I have no problems with roadside photography, and like I said in the article it’s certainly possible to find unique landscapes without hiking. There is a difference, however, between roadside photography in general and the more specific pursuit of “icon” hunting – which, in my opinion, is fairly devoid of originality. I knew that I risked offending some photographers with my comments disparaging “icon” shooting, but I decided to leave that in there because it’s pretty central to the theme of my article.

      In the end, I can only write my own honest opinion, and I invite everyone to take it with a grain of salt. My hope was to inspire other photographers, in particular beginning photographers, and I certainly don’t want to dishearten anybody!

      • 24
        ) JR
        October 7, 2012 at 7:35 pm

        Hi Jack, thanks for the reply!

        As I’ve said, and I’ll repeat again: your work is at the TOP of the heap, brother. There are more “impressionistic” landscape photographers out there, but as far as capturing the grandeur and detail of the landscape, and doing so from unique vantage points, your work is unrivaled; and I’m including the classic landscape ‘masters’ when I say that. Your images are *WORLD CLASS*.

        BUT….you’ve got to keep humble and realize that what you’re able to do is VERY UNIQUE. Not everyone can get away from civilization the way you do. Either beacause of health constraints, fears, lack of time or plain ‘ol laziness! To you, it’s second nature(pun intended) to throw a backpack on your back, load it up for a 2-4 day trip and whala!

        Take this image, for instance: http://www.widerange.org/photo/maroon-bells-reflection/?gallery=favorites

        FANTASTIC! Just PERFECT!

        But, it required a lot of work. It’s taken from a vantage point that’s well off the beaten path. What percentage of photographers that visit the Bells will have the energy to wander off to that location? You know the answer to that: VERY FEW. I’d say, 5 out of 100, if not less.

        That’s why I say to you to keep humble, because your ‘gift’ is not only your magnificent ability as a photographer, but your drive, energy and focus that allow you to continually get to places that most photographers wouldn’t dare attempt.

        As much as you’d like to inspire, motivate and help others, you’ve got to realize that you’re in ‘rare air’(pun inteded, again) and have few peers. You almost have to dumb down how you ‘teach’ others because most folks won’t be able to get to the places that you do and may ultimately get discouraged.

        Galen had the gift and so do you; it’s a matter of understanding and accepting that the vast majority of photographers do not.

        Best wishes to you and may you stay healthy for a LONG time so you can keep giving the world more beautiful images of our planet’s vast wilderness reserves.

        ~JR

        • 25
          ) Larry
          October 7, 2012 at 7:47 pm

          JR, give the guy a break… he is clearly in a league of his own and a master at his craft. Why do we have to have an opinion on the applicability of how he chooses to create his art and why that may or may not apply to anyone else. Why would you or anyone care if Jack is the only human being in the world that can do what he does… if that is true… great! If not, okay too. This is why I don’t spend too much time on the Internet because of silly comments like this. Please find a better way to invest your time than to counsel a master on his work. Jack, rock on brother and do it while you can.

          Regards,

          Larry

          • 27
            ) JR
            October 7, 2012 at 8:14 pm

            Larry,

            How Jack applies his art it’s his business. How he chooses to teach and inspire others is for the consuming public to critique. He’s taking that chance when he comes on a public forum and he’s admitted as much by saying: “I knew that I risked offending some photographers with my comments disparaging “icon” shooting.”

            So why are you so bent up about what I’ve said? Jack expected such a response and why he kindly responded to me, without the slightest hint of animosity.

            If Jack comes on here and tells us that shooting “icons” is worthless, how am I to take that if I’m confined to a wheel chair, or have severe arthritis, or fear of heights, or am overweight by 100 lbs? Not very inspiring, is it?

            I live in Colorado and there are tons of nature photographers who hike into the wilderness for days at a time(I’m one of those). We’re everywhere and sometimes there’s an attitude that prevails among the ELITE that “if you don’t get out to the furthest reaches of the backcountry” then you might as well shoot from you car. Jack knows exactly the kind of folks I’m referring to and he would be the first one to shoot down such comments.

            That kind of talk is discouraging, if not outright pompous. Because, as Jack knows, it’s VERY difficult to get back into those places and to make it seem that only those that get back there and take so-called “original” pictures are worthy of being categorized as nature photographers is wrong. Plain, wrong.

            • October 7, 2012 at 8:30 pm

              JR, yes, my post is highly hiking-centric, reflective of my photography. But, I did talk about how hiking is not necessary, and some alternative tactics – did you not read that part? Yes, it was brief, but you can see that I am aware that not everybody can or wants to go hiking, and that there are other ways of finding unique locations besides hiking.

              As I tried to explain in my previous comment, when I’m critiquing icon shooting, I am NOT critiquing roadside shooting. These are two different things. It is entirely possible for a disabled person like you described to find unique roadside photography opportunities without going to the same old iconic spots.

            • 31
              ) Larry
              October 7, 2012 at 8:41 pm

              JR, please stop talking… your discussion of “how am I to take that if I’m confined to a wheel chair, or have severe arthritis” is just plain silly… please don’t reply. Go hiking, take some photos or something.. this is turning into a circus… I am guessing based on your previous responses that you will reply but I won’t read them or reply. Jack, I am sorry that you have to put up with this type of stupidity and hopefully you will return and continue to write quality articles like this one.

              Larry

            • 33
              ) JR
              October 7, 2012 at 10:14 pm

              Larry, are you Jack’s mom, or public defender? Grow up and learn that in this world not everyone is a ‘yes man’ nor will everyone agree with you. You say that you don’t frequent the net, but you seem to take the stance of ‘net cop’, wanting to regulate what people say in public forums, going as far as asking people to shut up. Sounds to me like this is a habit of yours.

              Jack, thanks for being so kind to respond to me. I will contact you through the email address at your web site since talking openly about this issue through this forum has been hijacked by the Net Polizei.

            • 41
              ) DavidB
              October 8, 2012 at 10:33 am

              I’ve been following the discussion between JR and Jack because JR spoke to some of my concerns contained within the article.

              Jack and JR have both responded and this may be a situation where the two may choose to “agree to disagree.” No problem with that.

              I don’t see a problem with photographers shooting “iconic” spots. This gives the photographer an opportunity to practice their skills and to compare with previous works. This can be a useful learning experience and one that should not be discouraged. Eventually, however, the photographer will want to try something new and test their creative skills.

              DavidB

  10. October 7, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Great article Jack, I’m only halfway thru and I can see that already. True inspiration.

    • October 7, 2012 at 5:12 pm

      Thanks Rob! I hope the article wasn’t too long! ;)

  11. 11
    ) Larry
    October 7, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Jack, thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience as a professional. As a long time amateur large format photographer myself I often wonder what differences exist between my large format sheet film and analog workflow vs the modern digital equipment and associated workflows. I am not the type to spend much time on the Internet but I do follow a few blogs to include Nasim. I like Nasim’s site because he tells it how it is and I like that.

    Based on your images in this post it would appear that you use both analog capture as well as digital. Do you typically scan your large format sheet film for some type of digital output or are you making optical prints? Any thoughts or tips you can share about your large format analog experience vs digital would be helpful.

    Thanks,

    Larry

    • October 7, 2012 at 5:26 pm

      Hi Larry. I shot 4×5 slide film for 4 years before switching back to digital. The reason I switched was mainly an issue of weight – the 20+ lbs of 4×5 gear in my backpack was ruining my back and my knees, and making the hiking much less enjoyable. When Canon came out with their awesome wideangle tilt/shift lenses, I was sold – I converted over to digital, and haven’t looked back.

      Anyhow, my printing has always been done with a digital workflow (I prefer ink prints and cotton papers). With the 4×5 I would drum scan the slides and work digitally from there. So, I can’t really speak about the difference of analog vs. digital, aside from the actual taking of the photo.

      I would say that with digital, you need to be pretty proficient with photoshop in order to get results on par with film. With film, the film itself does a lot of the image-quality work for you; each film has its own color and contrast characteristics that can produce stunning results right out of the camera. With digital most cameras give you fairly “flat” renditions of the scene, and it’s up to you to adjust the colors and contrasts as you see fit. (By the way, the same concept applies to scanned film, which can come out looking much flatter than the original slide, in the interest of maximizing the amount of detail that is captured by the scan).

      • 23
        ) Larry
        October 7, 2012 at 6:35 pm

        Jack, thanks for the reply and information. I am also finding with my age and physical limitations that I am struggling with lugging the LF gear. I mainly shoot 8×10 and I am a little more limited as to what I have been able to tackle from a hiking perspective. For my architecture work the weight is not a problem and I don’t ever see a reason to ever leave LF for this type work. But for hiking and landscapes, it is a real option for me.

        I recently bought a Nikon D800 and have honestly been amazed at the results. I find the D800 the first DSLR that has got my attention. I will have to check out the Nikon T/S lenses. I’ve heard rumors that the Canon T/S lenses are better, but I have no basis for that information. Maybe Nasim has some input on Nikon T/S lenses?

        In any event I’ve been drum scanning my chromes for many years and over 10 years of Photoshop experience making edits to my scans, so all is well on that front. I am glad you wrote this article because it has sparked my interest in pursing the T/S lenses and maybe this is a good option to pursue with the new D800 for my landscapes.

        Thanks again, and beautiful work.

        Larry

        • October 7, 2012 at 8:37 pm

          Hi Larry, the advantage of the Canon T/S lenses is that you can rotate the tilt and shift independently; with the Nikons you are stuck with one tilt and shift orientation relative to each other.

          I’m a lens guy – cameras are disposable, but a good lens will hold its value forever. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the D800 and am admittedly jealous of its sensor, but I can’t use the Canon T/S lenses on it, so I’m sticking with Canon for now, hoping that they have a higher MP model up their sleeve for the not-too-distant future. That said, I am still very happy with the 5DII and have been able to make detailed 45″ prints from a single sharp frame.

          • 32
            ) Larry
            October 7, 2012 at 8:48 pm

            Jack, thank you for that information and as a LF guy I know the value in what you are saying… I will consider looking into a 5D III and the 17mm TS-E because that would effectively replace my entire 60lb backpack. Now I understand why you haven’t looked back… Thanks for that info.

            Larry

          • 71
            ) Derek
            October 10, 2012 at 11:24 pm

            Hello Jack,

            Fantastic work and great tips. Really appreciate the time you took to put this together.

            One question: You say that you “have been able to make detailed 45″ prints from a single sharp frame”. Can you please elaborate on how you do that? With steps, please?

            I see where other landscape photographers offer 45″ prints on their websites and they shoot the Canon 5dMII. That’s a 21 MP FF camera and we all know that at either 300 or 200 dpi, the largest possible print is nowhere near that large.

            Of course, there’s always Photoshop “enlargement” via interpolation. Is that what you are doing? Or, are you printing at dpi below 200 and rely on viewing distance to handle any of the loss in sharpness that may occur when going that big?

            I just don’t see how folks can do it, but it must be possible, since so many photographers offer 45″ prints.

            Please elaborate. I would really like to know how you do it(even if you’re using software other than Photoshop).

            Many tanks in advance,
            Derek

            • October 10, 2012 at 11:46 pm

              Thanks Derek. Good question. First off, please keep in mind that I am using very sharp lenses, including tilt-shift lenses which enable a degree of manual focussing precision that is unattainable with most fixed lenses for many scenes, particularly scenes with great depth of field. (Except perhaps if one is doing focus stacking, which in my opinion is too much of a hassle, and too unreliable). If you are unfamiliar with tilt/shift lenses, it’s too complicated to explain them here but you can find lots of info online with a google search.

              So, assuming that your frame is tack sharp from corner to corner, at 100% view in photoshop, the detail is resolvable down to the pixel level. (This is much sharper than even drum-scanned large format film, at the per-pixel level). Considering that real life “print” view is around 33% view in photoshop, you can see that you have a lot of leeway for enlargement.

              I know that on paper the numbers don’t seem to add up, but believe me the 45″ prints look great – very sharp at close up gallery viewing distances. If you’re ever in Ouray, Colorado, stop by the Skol Gallery on Main Street – I have some big prints there, including a 45-incher, and you can see what I mean!

            • 76
              ) Derek
              October 11, 2012 at 12:42 pm

              Jack – it’s good to know that you can do it and that it can be done. Lot’s of people seem to be doing it. But I I didn’t get any numbers from you, though, and I would like to see some. I hope I’m not asking you to expose any of your secrets, or techniques. I just can’t imagine that you’d be printing at less than 200 dpi.

              The only way I can see printing that large, while staying at, or over 200 dpi:

              - Take the native file size from my 5DM2 and up rez it to 20×30″ @300 dpi
              - Take that new size and print it at 200 dpi, which will be a 30×45 inch image.

              Irrespective of the quality of the lens, is that what you’re doing?

              Unfortunately I cannot travel to Ouray to see the print you mentioned.

  12. 22
    ) Tim Behuniak
    October 7, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    Thanks Jack for an amazing article! I love hiking, exploring, camping and all of that fun stuff. I live in New York and I am a Adirondack 46er. You have to hike all of the highest 46 peaks in New York – I loved photographing my way and the journey was amazing – I know what you mean by your love of hiking and being outdoors. I want to be a landscape photographer (I’m only 15), this really inspired me, thanks for the time you put into this and I absolutely love your images!!! Thanks! :)

    • October 7, 2012 at 8:38 pm

      Hi Tim, I’m glad to hear that! Thanks for your comment.

  13. October 7, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    Jack: I love your work and I really enjoyed this post. The point I appreciated is that it’s the exploration, not the location, that matters most.

    My website is filled with “iconic” (and sometimes even roadside) locations – primarily because it’s difficult for me to get away from work and family obligations. So when I do get out, I hit up the “usual suspects.” Or if I’m traveling for work and bring my camera along, I may only have one sunset or sunrise so I take the easy way out (because it’s so easy). However, I always have the most fun exploring the roads less traveled. Sometimes that results in a great photograph. Many times it doesn’t – but it will burn a memory in my brain to return to that location at a later time and hope the light is better, that the sky is filled with clouds, or that I have more time to spend when there. The memories I have of these locations, while not always photographed by my camera (yet!), are 10X better than the “perfect” shot I got at Maroon Lake last year with snow on the Bells and the aspens at their peak!

    Great stuff – I hope to run into you on the road / trail some day!

    • October 8, 2012 at 9:44 am

      Hi Scott, thanks for your comments! I am familiar with your photography and you have a fantastic collection!

      Perhaps I was too harsh on icon photography in my article; but I was just trying to make a broader point. I shoot icons myself occasionally, particularly when I’m traveling in foreign countries and it’s all new to me.

      And, let me say, if I happened to be at Maroon Lake on that morning of your shot, well… I would have to be one stubborn bastard to not pull out the camera! That is an epic scene… there’s no doubt about that!

      • October 8, 2012 at 10:35 am

        I don’t think you were too harsh at all. Like a teacher who is trying to push his/her students onto the next grade, you are inviting photographers to think about “what’s next” in their journey!

  14. 35
    ) JR
    October 7, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    Hi Jack, please check your inbox. I sent a message to you through your website.

  15. October 7, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    Very interesting post, a lot learn here. Wonderful images, particularly liked the Croatian lakes and falls. Thanks for all the hard work, Peter

  16. October 8, 2012 at 12:33 am

    Oh!. Most inspiring photography. . It would be of immense help and excellent guidance if you can kindly mention the gears used to click these along with technical details, details. thanks a lot in advance.

    • October 8, 2012 at 9:54 am

      Thanks, Shashikant! I have listed the camera and lenses used for each photo underneath the caption, along with any other relevant notes. In the interest of brevity I have left out all the details of shutter speed, aperature, etc, as well as post-production notes. If there’s any particular image you’d like to know the details about, please let me know.

  17. 43
    ) sunil
    October 8, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Hi Jack, awesome article and some really useful tips. I shoot with an Xpan and velvia 50 for panos.

    I’ve been searching for months to find a good place to drum scan my film, can you throw some light on that? Any info on processing and scanning will be really helpful.

    I hope to join your workshop someday.
    Thanks
    Sunil

    • October 8, 2012 at 10:59 am

      Thanks Sunil! I get my film drum scanned at West Coast Imaging in California. It’s expensive, but they do a good job, and a couple times a year they offer sales on their scans.

  18. 45
    ) Vlad
    October 8, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Hi Jack,

    Really awesome pictures. Wow! I mean wow!

    Looking at these pictires makes me envy someone like you, who can take shoot not just a picture, but breathtaking picture.

    Browsing through this website has been eye-opening experience for me. Knowing that people can take pictures like this is really an inspiration.

    I should start playing with my D40 to see if I can get any decent pictures with it.

    Thanks again for sharing the pictures!

    Vlad

    • October 9, 2012 at 11:25 am

      Thank you for your kind comments, Vlad!

  19. October 8, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    Jack –
    Wonderful article and phenomenal portfolio! Thank you for taking the time to share and to inspire each of us as we consider our own pursuit of photography regardless of our experience and skill level. Happy trails!

  20. 47
    ) Eric Nadler
    October 8, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    Jack, I have seen your website before and it is just awe inspiring. I really enjoyed looking at your photos.

    And thank you so much for the article, it was a great read.

    • October 9, 2012 at 11:26 am

      Thanks Eric, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  21. 48
    ) YJ
    October 8, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    Great photos as always.

    I also use Google Earth for location scouting, and for setting up tracks and waypoints for export to Garmin BaseCamp (via kml file drag-and-drop import) to use on a GPS receiver.

    A tip: Google Earth can also show light conditions. It’s especially handy for viewing the sun/shadow locations with mountains around. Just drag the person icon someplace where there is no street view imagery, half way up a mountain for example, and adjust your view. Then click the button at the top left icon strip with the Sun rising over the green hills. In the time slider just below it, click the + magnifier for more “time resolution” so it’s easier to be more precise (or the – magnifier to be less precise.) Now move the time of day slider around to see where the Sun and shadows are at a specific time. The settings (wrench icon) let you adjust the date and time zone so the clock display is accurate. Interesting! Although, it seems one drawback is that you can’t set the year for being in the future.

    Good article, thanks.

    • October 9, 2012 at 11:30 am

      Thanks for those tips, YJ! I’ll give that a shot. The last time I tried the light conditions in Google Earth, I noticed that they aren’t exactly correct, though – they didn’t account for obstructions (including significant obstructions like mountains). For example, when I look at the sunrise or sunset light in my town of Ouray, Colorado, it shows the light shining all over the mountainsides, when in reality the town is in a deep-set valley in the mountains and never receives sunrise or sunset light except on the very highest tips of the peaks. But, it’s still a fun tool to play with and I’ll try it again with your tips.

  22. October 9, 2012 at 6:59 am

    dear Jack,
    being a travel photographer I like your photos very much. In one word stunning. I describe you as king of mountain photography. well done and congrats. I will look and study your works again and again

    • October 9, 2012 at 11:30 am

      Thank you for your compliments, Aravind!

  23. 50
    ) Drew B
    October 9, 2012 at 8:11 am

    Jack,

    That was a wonderful, and inspiring article. One of the best I’ve seen anywhere. I just spent the summer in the San Juans, after visiting there most years for the past 20+, and your article really spoke to me. I hike first for the enjoyment of the gift those mountains are to all of us. I take pictures to try to capture some of the beauty of those mountains. Thanks for the ideas, and the challenges. Those mountains are special indeed, and you’ve captured some of their beauty in a very special way!

    • October 9, 2012 at 11:31 am

      Thank you for your comment and compliments, Drew! I’m glad you found the article inspiring, which is the most I could hope for! That’s great you spent the summer here in the SJ’s… my favorite mountains in the world!

  24. 51
    ) Adnan Khan
    October 9, 2012 at 8:30 am

    Wow!
    Very beautiful images and some really nice work Jack.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and great work.
    4×5 rules!

    Have you used Schneider 90mm f/8 Super Angulon ? any thoughts or opinion about that glass ?
    I’m looking for a used one …(still searching)
    What lens would you recommend in $1200 range from 120 to 210 mm ?
    If you shoot BW ,then which film you find having more contrast the T-Max 100 Pro , Delta HP 5 + or Delta 100 ?

    Thank you
    Adnan

    • October 9, 2012 at 11:35 am

      Thanks Adnan! I have not used the Schneider 90mm, but knowing Schneider it’s probably a kick-ass lens. My best and favorite 4×5 lens is the Schneider APO-Symmar-L 120mm/5.6. It’s very small and light, and incredibly sharp and bright.

      I never shot b/w film; only color, so I can’t help with that question. My favorite film is Provia.

      • 59
        ) Adnan Khan
        October 9, 2012 at 12:48 pm

        Thanks for the reply jack ,you are welcome :)

        I recently got into 4×5 and have only 300 Nikkor F9 (fantastic glass) but am looking for something wide ,have heard good things about Schneider 90mm F8 .. isn’t the Schneider APO-Symmar-L 120mm/5.6 a more MF lens than a LF one ? as it gives a smaller image circle the camera movements on 4×5 are very limited.
        However I was thinking of Schneider 150mm f/5.6 Apo-Symmar L as a normal lens it costs around $1200 and I know one guy who is using it ,according to him it’s a very good lens.
        So, in 35mm terms I am planning to have 3 lenses with at least 30 mm difference ,300 I have ,I need a normal and a wide now …in search :)
        =======
        I love Velvia and Provia both and have been shooting with them in 35 and 120 , really great stuff from Fuji :) ,though I miss Kodachrome :(

        Thank you very much again for your kind reply

        cheers!

        • October 9, 2012 at 12:57 pm

          No, the 120mm is definitely a 4×5 lens. Maybe it has more limited movements, but I never once had any problems with it. I started out with a 90mm, 135mm, and 300mm. For my style of shooting, I found each of those lengths to be too tight, so I eventually replaced them all with a 75mm, 120mm, and 200mm, which fit perfectly for me.

          • 61
            ) Adnan Khan
            October 9, 2012 at 1:19 pm

            OK, thanks for the update about 120mm , your focal lengths are ideal for landscape and especially mountain shots . I have to refine my skills for 75mm lens though :) ,which one is the 75mm ?
            Sorry for bothering you too much ,we don’t get guys like you too often to communicate ,that’s why the loads of questions :) ,I hope you don’t mind :)

            cheers!

            • October 9, 2012 at 1:28 pm

              No worries! I have the Nikkor SW 75mm/f4.5, and the Nikkor 200mm/f8. The 200mm is exceptional. The 75mm is good but it’s heavier and dimmer on the ground glass, but I think most wideangles are that way with 4×5. Also, depending on the camera you use, you may have to get a recessed lens board for that lens, in order to have enough bellows space. All these lenses are very sharp.

  25. 63
    ) Adnan Khan
    October 9, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Thank you so very much for all the info Jack ,really appreciate it mate
    Just visited your gallery ,it’s awesome!
    Keep up the good work
    Have a lovely time :)
    cheers!

  26. 65
    ) Jay Gosdin
    October 9, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Jack,
    I really enjoyed your article and website. I really was perked up when I saw that you live in Ouray,one of my favorite towns. Indeed, I have been traveled to your area during the fall several times. This year though I made a big mistake. I listened to social media and other pictures to warn me about the severe dry spell you guys had this year. So it looked like your aspens were peaking about a week early this year. Months ago, I had made flight arrangements to fly in on Sept. 28 and stay until Oct. 6. Most years this would have been peak. But I cancelled my trip and ate $300 on my plane tickets. Now it appears with hindsight, that this was a mistake. The weather was nice, there was snow on the peaks around Ridgway, and the trees were more red than usual. A big wakeup call for me! So from now on, I will not let others help me to make a decision on peak season. I will just go and depending on altitude and weather, will find pockets of color in different places. I did see though that your latest pictures were in September. So maybe I would have been a little late?

    • October 9, 2012 at 8:50 pm

      Thanks Jay! Yes, we had a severe drought in early summer, but that was followed by a wet July monsoon season. Whatever the cause, this year ended up being a great year for the aspen colors, and yes, they were early by a week or two. You still would have been able to find good color, but if it’s any consolation, the week prior to your planned dates would have been the best, with the color and the weather. During your dates there’s been pretty much nothing but blue skies… which is ok, but we had some more interesting weather the week before. It’s always a crap-shoot… typically I would still recommend the dates you chose. The last week of September and first week of October are pretty much sure bets any year.

  27. 67
    ) Nishant Rana
    October 10, 2012 at 2:49 am

    Hi Jack,

    Firstly Thank you for sharing the valuable information through your article. I loved all of your work displayed here. It is a great help for all people like me who are still learning the craft. I live in India and thank fully like USA, we too have all kind of terrains here. Just wanted to ask that have you ever tried to cover the Indian mountains (Himalayas). I do not have much of gear as i started few months back only. I’m using Nikon D7000 with Kit lens 18-105mm,f/3.5-5.6. What other lens you suggest i should have which can be of my use for Mountain photography as well as Street photography. I’m looking for a career in the field of landscape and street photography.

    • October 10, 2012 at 7:54 am

      Hi Nishant, thank you for your comments! I would love to visit India and the Himalayas! That is by biggest dream, and I hope to get there not this next summer but the one after that. (So many places to see, so little time!)

      I am not very familiar with Nikon’s lens offerings, so I can’t give you good advise about that. I’ve heard great things about the 14-24mm wideangle lens, but it’s probably very expensive and heavy. I bet that Nasim, who runs this website, would know!

      • 75
        ) Nishant Rana
        October 11, 2012 at 12:30 am

        Thank you for reverting. I’ll surely seek help from Nasim. Whenever you come to India, do not forget to check the Spiti, Poo, Sangla, Leh, and saach pass (One of the most dangerous pass in India, Open only for 5 months during summer) areas in Himachal Pradesh (one of Indian State). These are the best and least explored areas in Himalayas.

  28. 69
    ) Attia
    October 10, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Jack,
    I have had this page open on my Mac for days now because I wanted to look some more at your amazing photos. Today, I had the chance to look at your website too. What more can I say other than – WOW! Your work is hauntingly beautiful. I love mountains and to see them the way you see them is pure inspiration. I will bookmark your website and come back again and again! Nasim – guest posts are a great idea!

    • October 10, 2012 at 11:48 pm

      Thank you Attia, I appreciate your compliments!

  29. October 10, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Great post, Jack! Of course, you know I completely agree with everything you wrote. While I find a smaller percentage of my portfolio are grand scenics than you, I still go through exactly the same process. Being in places I’ve mapped out that are off the beaten track also makes the intimate and detail oriented images I shoot easier, and more enjoyable, to find.

    • October 10, 2012 at 11:52 pm

      Thanks Floris! Yes I can tell from your photos and blog posts that we’re on the same page! Although I seem to give a priority to pursuing the grand landscape shots, I’m trying more and more to keep my eyes open for the more intimate/abstract images as well… very fun too…

  30. October 11, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    Jack thank you so much for this article I especially appreciated you letting us know how you obtained your amazing shots. Knowing what a great photographer did to get the great shot as far as set up is concerned is immensely helpful to those of us learning the great art of photography. Your advice has inspired me to get out and take creative landscape photographs.
    Best Regards,
    Jaosn

  31. 78
    ) Steve Tucker
    October 12, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    Jack

    Thanks for taking the trouble to create such an excellent and comprehensive post.
    Whilst I don’t need much inspiring right now as I am becoming more and more motivated with my landscape you have certainly made me stop and check my approach and take on board much of what you have said.
    For me just being out in the Landscape at those special times and getting a fleeting glimpse of another world makes it all worthwhile and as my technique and results improve I am finding I need to ditch this job and spend more time traveling and seeing these places with my camera.
    All I need now is to find a way to make a crust from it, dream on……..

    Many thanks
    Steve

  32. 79
    ) Rafael
    October 15, 2012 at 6:17 am

    Hi!

    Very nice post. Great tips and advices, filled with great images.

    Been wondering around a bit looking for ideas and spots to take some landscape shots around my place. Your article has just refreshed my view and gave room for some insights.

    Thank you. :)

  33. 80
    ) JB
    October 15, 2012 at 9:24 am

    Mr. Brauer,

    The advice you so eloquently shared is such a blessing to me. With the boom of DSLRs here in the Philippines, many of the sites have been ‘shot to death’ as you have cleverly put. I’ve been motivated to do my homework before taking a trip to shoot, and to take in the sheer pleasure of exploring and walking away from the ‘tripod holes’ (I love that!) to capture more than just a static landscape, but a moment in time.

    God bless you!

    JB

    P.S. Sir Nasim, what a great idea for you to feature guest posts by seasoned landscape photographers… Those of us who have so much more to learn really appreciate it! God bless you too!

  34. 81
    ) Vivek
    October 16, 2012 at 12:29 am

    Hey Jack!

    Great article and wonderfully explained! Thanks a ton, beginners like me benefit hugely from such articles. Thanks to Nasim as well for having invited the right person for this write-up.

    I need little tip. I have a D90 and 18-55 for taking wide frames. Unless i buy a wide zoom or hire one, I would, in all probabilities, shooting with 18-55 while I am trekking to Mount Kanchendzonga (highest peak in India) next month. I am wondering what goes wrong when I try to shoot at narrow aperture and still end up getting parts of frame out of focus. In other words, I need my entire frame in focus, even if I am working at little low light (i know my 18-55 wudnt give me so much). I have a 50mm along with 70-300, just fyi…but I guess, for wide shots, I would have to depend on my humble 18-55 unless i get my hands on a wider zoom low aperture glass :)

    Please comment…

    Thanks,
    Vivek

  35. October 22, 2012 at 9:14 am

    I’ve been to that park in Croatia, simply an amazing place! Your image is so much better than what I’ve been able to get there :)

    Here are some of my images from there:
    http://500px.com/photo/6384099
    http://500px.com/photo/6178978
    http://500px.com/photo/6181319 (this one’s hand held! :))

  36. 83
    ) Raghuram
    April 15, 2013 at 3:52 am

    Jack, you are the God of these grandscapes! In your efforts and pictures, I see a kind of rare purity, totally lacking in today’s populist photographic endeavors (including my own!). Your advice about striking it out on our own on uncharted paths to get unique images that speak for themselves, is spot on and a timely reminder to wake up and say hi to nature. Thank you for those amazing pics.

    Nasim, thanks for introducing me to Jack and his pics. Cheers. You run a wonderful site, devoid of hyperbole!

  37. 84
    ) mountaingirl
    November 21, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    Thank you for sharing these beautiful examples and inspiring words. I do need to disagree with your statement that the most iconic mountain is the Matterhorn, sorry:( To me it is Mt Everest. We had the experience of our lives being able to photograph this beauty from the North Side and I have to say it brought tears to my eyes.
    Although all of your photos are a great inspiration, and are stunning, Mt Everest is the mother of all mountains. I now have a 3ft by 4ft photo in my home of this mountain and it still takes my breath away.
    Thank you for all post, I will surely learned a lot from your experiences :)
    cheers!
    mountaingirl.

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