Evening light fades with a few clouds, doesn’t seem too threatening so off to bed. Sometime in the night it starts with the wind rustling and sighing through the trees. Then there is a swishing and scampering across the camper roof as if an assemblage of mice were dancing, probably the wind scattering leaves. The gusts get stronger and other than the sound of wind the night becomes silent. First light comes late and seems subdued but we are in a high mountain valley surrounded by higher peaks, the sun always seems overdue. A look outside is at first a shock and then the giddy realization, snow! Just a few inches, 3 or 4 but enough to transform the fall beauty we came to photograph into something more magical. There is an adage that tells us that bad weather makes for good photography. Does it? As in all things it depends on what the subject is and what the photographer is trying to capture.
Here is a case to make the point, fall in Colorado can be a pretty spectacular time for a photographer. There are the impossibly blue skies, brilliantly golden aspen and the Rockies. Spectacular? You bet, but add a few (or a lot of) storm clouds, some rain and or snow, throw in a rainbow or two and you will be moving into a whole new assortment of superlatives.
Many places in the western half of Colorado can have outstanding fall color to go along with the expected scenery, but there are some places that can take your breath away no matter the season. Add the colors of fall and they become almost miraculous. Owl Creek Pass in southwestern Colorado is one of those places where the stunning becomes almost common.
Remember, when fall weather gets interesting in the mountains you have to be prepared for anything. The temperature can fall from balmy in the afternoon to near arctic by morning, and if you spend more than a day, as we do on a location, keeping a weather eye out is not just a suggestion. The upside is, with good attitude and 4 wheel drive, the bad weather becomes the best weather. Colors become saturated, clouds swirl across mountain peaks, shadows race across the terrain, shading and highlighting by turns.
This is tripod country, sure camera manufacturers have made great strides with vibration reduction or optical stabilization but the reality is if you are shooting landscapes, composing an image is much easier and precise with the camera on a stable foundation. Consider also that in many cases you would be shooting with a lens stopped down for depth of field considerations with the resultant slow shutter speed. If you are using a DSLR and don’t use a remote shutter release consider using the mirror up setting to reduce camera shake from mirror slap for sharper images. Another item that could be useful is a polarizer, good to saturate color, take the shine off of wet leaves or remove the glare from ice or water. Of course specular highlights may be just the thing to bring an image to life so the polarizer wouldn’t be needed.
Fingers may freeze but look, look at the colors! It’s not about how cold it may get or how deep the snow is, it’s fall and none of this will last. The sun will return, temperatures will rise, some of the snow will melt and leaves will fall so keep a weather eye out.