Living The High Life

Today’s title could mean a lot of things, some good, some not so good. What it means to me, is being a photographer up high in the mountains. It requires a certain way of “seeing” things, and a certain way of doing things.

Any of you who have been with me for a while, know that I live for mood and atmosphere.   Every place and any place has a feeling or an atmosphere to it. Some of my favorite places to be a nature photographer, include the red rock “high deserts” of the southwest, the northern forests, and along the coasts of small and large lakes, rivers and oceans. My very favorite place to actually  be is in the mountains. The higher the better. They “ain’t bad” for pictures either.

All of today’s images were created by me, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

One of the most challenging subjects to photograph are mountain rivers when you are physically not down by the river, but rather you are high in the mountains.

The Gunnison River runs through the bottom of the Black Canyon of The Gunnison in Colorado.  I have made images from the bottom along the river, but that fails to put the river, the canyon, and the mountains in context.

The image below “describes” where this river lives. At some points the distance from mountain top to the river is a mile.

None of the pictures of the river that you see below, was create from some sort of tourist overlook.

The photo below fills that description of the river and the canyon that I wrote of previously. It did so without striking terror into my heart, as I was near an edge, but safely away from a place where I might fall.

As spooky as this image is, I felt fairly secure. My biggest worry was my camera and tripod. One little bump from my knee and there it  it goes. I can be clumsy.

Now we’re talking. My hands are as sweaty looking at the photo as they were when I made it.

I will admit, like any photographer, I was once again even more worried about my equipment than I was about myself. No railings to be found,  and the land I stood on was at the precipice of disaster.

Catching the essence of a place can be important, and is worth a little risk.

Hiking and making pictures at high elevations has some other issues than simply falling off a mountain.

Oxygen is scarce high up. I found that I hiked quite well at elevations up to ten thousand feet. I always managed okay to twelve thousand, and began to struggle at fourteen. I was also a smoker during some of this time.

The hike  is worth it because the light up high is beautiful.

This image is a straightforward composition of the natural beauty that lives up there. I wanted to share what I saw which was the overlapping of hillsides and the peak. 

Even in late July, there is some snow left up there.

I was at about twelve thousand five hundred feet when I made this image. So was my car, as that’s how high the road was. Once again I was fascinated with the overlapping of hills and peaks and this time, I managed to include some foreground.

I love creating abstractions of reality, but I had no desire to do so here. What God gave us is better than anything I can do.

When the early light travels from the east and hit’s a mountain top, then the color of that mountain travels back through the atmosphere to the viewer/photographer, that light can be powerful in the “feelings” it emits.  A double journey.

I wish I was there right now.

The previous images of mountains in today’s article, were created by simply finding a naturally beautiful scene, and using my cameras to create images that helped viewers to see and “feel” what was there. My favorite thing to do, is to work a little harder and find a spot where I can stretch out the mountainscape and share my personal view.

The image below was made in the morning light from along Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mt. N.P.. It required a little more compositional work to get what I wanted here.. If it doesn’t look that way, well that’s a good thing. It should be made to look easy.

Wildlife photography is just as much is a part of being a mountain photographer as is landscape photography.

White-tailed Prairie dogs, tend to live at fairly high elevations, but not actually way up in the mountains. They do however, seem to live up higher than the Black-tailed Prairie Dogs.

These two young “dogs” were in a colony at about eight thousand feet. They were cooperative subjects and I spent an hour or so with them on three different days.

Yellow-bellied Marmots (closely related to Groundhogs) do live up high. This guy was in a colony at over twelve thousand feet in elevation. I have shared many times the images I made of the youngsters of this group, playing and playing. I did photograph the grown-ups as well, and you see one below. Getting the sun on the correct side is always an issue, but always worth the effort.

North American Badgers live across a large area of America at all elevations. They are however secretive and not actually seen that often.

This one was photographed near Walden Colorado at approximately nine thousand feet in the sky.

There are birds that prefer mountain life and the Clarke’s Nutcracker (first bird) and the Stellar’s Jay are among them.

These birds were photographed just outside Estes Park, Colorado and I would guess we were at about nine thousand feet.

Shallow depth of field, caused by the need for higher shutter speeds, can mean we need pinpoint focus to get anything sharp. With that said, sometimes working a tiny focus area can help render busy backgrounds at least soft enough to not interfere with the clarity of the subject. My backgrounds were busy here, but they at least only caused a minor annoyance or interference with our focus on the birds.

There are no small amount of ways to “get high” in the world we live in. I would suggest the natural way of actually going up high in elevation.  Especially if you are a photographer. There will be struggles up there, sometimes in the drive up, and other times in the pursuit of imagery.  They are worth it.

May God Bless,

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