This is the second part of our trip log to San Juan Mountains. You can see the first one right here. For the second part of the trip, Lola unfortunately could not join me (she was too busy shooting important events) and I was fortunate to have Sergey accompany me on another photo tour to southeast of Colorado.
Let me start off with my favorite image of the second part of the trip that I captured at Maroon Bells in Aspen (image as is, no post-processing):
Can you believe I captured this at 12:30 AM at night? After I took some shots at night during our trip to Mesa Verde, I could not wait to get another clear night to take some pictures. This time, we were at Maroon Bells – the perfect photography spot. We arrived at around 12 AM in the morning and it was so cold outside, that Sergey refused to get out of the car to take pictures. Plus, he thought that it would be a waste of time and energy to try to shoot at night and he was certain that none of the pictures would come out good. I told him about the images I took at Mesa Verde at night, and he finally agreed to come with me to the lake to take a few pictures.
As soon as he saw the first image on his camera, he could not believe his eyes. The moonlight was so bright that all fall colors were visible and the perfect reflection also added to the scenery. Sergey was shooting with his Canon 60D DSLR and I was shooting with my Nikon D3s. Neither Sergey nor I felt like standing in front of our cameras for hours to capture star trails, so we mostly took 15-30 second exposures in order to get the stars look like stars instead of a bunch of lines. Typically, even a 30 second exposure for an ultra-wide angle lens is too long (the above image was shot @ 30s), so I generally try to stay between 10-20 seconds. The speed of the lens also plays a huge role when doing night photography – fast-aperture prime lenses with good wide open performance typically yield the best results. Unfortunately, I did not have any fast primes with me, so I had to shoot with my 24-70mm that is not very good at the edges when shooting wide open. To get slightly better corner results, I stopped it down to f/3.2 @ 28mm focal length.
That night was also the night when I messed up an important setting on my camera – image quality. Since I had my gloves on, I kept on moving ISO from one value to another on the back of the camera and accidentally hit the “Quality” button (which is near the ISO button) and moved the rear dial. This is my first complaint about the D3s – why did Nikon decide to put the Quality setting right next to ISO?! It is not one of those settings that you would normally touch… At that point, I had no idea that I changed anything on the camera and I kept on shooting…
As I have stated in some of my posts from before, Maroon Bells attracts hundreds of photographers from all over the world. Here is a typical non-busy morning at Maroon Bells. On a good day, photographers stand shoulder by shoulder, tripod into tripod. Sergey and I once almost left because we could not find a spot.
When you shoot RAW and all of a sudden end up in the 8-bit JPEG/TIFF realm, you suddenly realize how important it is to shoot RAW instead of JPEG. The dark part of the image on the left is practically impossible to recover…
Aspens were beautiful as always. One thing about the sun in the frame, you have to be careful about how you place it in your frame. Often times, if you put the sun at a certain angle, lots of flare and ghosting will completely ruin your images. Another thing to watch out for, is filters – either use high quality filters or remove them completely, since they could add more flare/ghosts to your images.
I have never hiked to Clear Lake, which is right under the Maroon Bells basin. It is only 2 miles away from the parking lot (moderate hike), but certainly worth a visit – except not in the fall. As you can see, the lake was almost dry with not much to see around it. I did not bother taking pictures except this one just to show what it looks like at this time of the year:
After a somewhat tiring hike to the Clear Lake, we ate lunch and then headed out to Dallas Divide near Ridgway, CO. We arrived there at around sunset and only managed to take a couple of pictures of Mount Sneffels. The peaks this time had some snow on them, but the haze was horrible. I used a polarizing filter to get rid of the haze, but obviously could not completely get rid of it:
Our next morning was certainly unproductive, since we had no idea where we needed to be at sunrise. We drove around by ranches and took pictures:
Again, these were captured in 8-bit TIFF, so they are basically as-is, directly out of the camera.
More mountains with fences:
And plenty of roads:
As we drove around taking pictures, I found a field with lots of odd-looking flowers:
Not sure what it is, does anyone know?
Our next stop was at an old mine that is accessible by a 4×4 road. It was an easy drive that gave us some opportunities to take pictures of the mine with the fall colors:
As we started taking pictures, my camera showed that I ran out of memory. I could not understand what was going on, since I knew that I did not take so many pictures to fill up two 16 GB cards. I then looked at the camera settings and realized that I had been shooting TIFF all this time…how stupid of me! Out of around 1,200 images I shot with Sergey, around 1,000+ were in TIFF format. What a waste! I obviously switched back to RAW, but it was already too late.
Thankfully, I do have some good images that were taken well and do not need to be touched in Lightroom or Photoshop. However, it is still crazy that I did not even bother looking at the camera settings for two days, thinking that I was shooting RAW all that time…
I took a couple of images of the above building with the background peak and scenery, but it was too boring. I then saw some guy walk towards the building, so I patiently waited and then took a shot.
Here is the Yankee Girl Mine up close:
Don’t remember the name of this building, but it was on our way out:
After our night photography success at Maroon Bells, Sergey did not mind to take some more pictures at night. We returned to one of the lakes we took pictures of during the day and set up our cameras on tripods. Milky Way was beautiful as always, with the snowy mountains and vegetation getting plenty of light from the Moon:
I obviously could not resist to take some more pictures of the Milky Way, so I pointed the camera up and took the following picture:
This time, I went for 10 seconds at f/2.8 (wide open on the 24-70mm) and bumped up the ISO to 3200 to capture the stars without any trails. Aghh…if only I had the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G with me! I could have certainly created better pictures at lower ISO levels…
Next morning, I was caught by surprise. As I got out of the car to start setting up my camera, I looked down the canyon and saw something furry and brown. It turned out to be a bear cub! He is obviously not that little anymore (probably 2nd year), but he certainly did express some interest in checking out what I was doing. I had my 24-70mm mounted on the camera and my longer lens (70-200mm) was in the car. I ran towards the car and told Sergey about what I saw. I then mounted the 70-200mm on my D3s and took some pictures of this fur-ball:
He looked at us a couple of times, then proceeded to his business with consuming plants and fruits:
After eating some of his breakfast, he disappeared into the woods.
My theme was definitely fences this time, so I found some and took more pictures with mountains:
Before leaving, we returned to the same spot where Sergey and I took pictures of the Milky Way at night. The sky was still cloudless, but I still like the way the below image came out:
We then hiked some more and found a small lake in a private area:
Lots of aspens with fall colors awaited us again:
So I took another shot with the sun in the frame. By the way, when you include the sun in your frame and you do not know how to shoot in manual mode (or do not want to), the simple trick is to switch your camera metering to spot metering, then point your AF point to a darker part of the frame that you want to expose properly. If you do not do this, the image might come out too dark because of the bright sun.
And here is the last picture I took before we took off back to Denver:
Stay tuned for a trip log from Yellowstone!