Back in early October, at the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, a group of Nikonians enjoyed the 14th Nikonians Annual Photographic Adventure Trip (ANPAT). We followed the carefully scouted directions by Rick Walker (walkerr) and ANPAT Leader Eric Bowles (ericbowles).
For those not familiar with Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s a beautiful alpine location near Estes Park, Colorado, only about an hour and a half driving time from downtown Denver. From the YMCA at the Rockies where we stayed, you need to drive out to get into Hwy 66 and US-36 W to then take Bear Lake Road until you find S Moraine Park Road. It takes about 30 minutes to get there.
For a basic landscape shooting kit I had my Nikon D700 body with MB-D10 grip, the 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S, 28-70mm f/2.8D AF-S, and 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D AF VR Nikkor lenses. I also had my Gitzo Series 4, transformed into a MAGICA 4.4 for optimized stability, a set of slide-in Hitech graduated neutral density few filters for the 28-70, and other miscellaneous accessories such as an MC-30A remote release. Everything other than the tripod was tucked away in a Gura Gear Bataflae 26L backpack, a nice, medium-sized airplane carry-on compliant bag that I find very comfortable for hiking. In a smaller Tamrac shoulder bag I carry the LEE SW-150 filter holder and filters for the 14-24mm lens. While traveling it also fits my plane tickets and passport.
Moraine Park – Choosing a spot and a composition
We were in darkness when we started walking, using our headlamps with a red filter to navigate around. We arrived in plenty of time at the valley, just as planned. It was still dark at that point, so we had to be careful moving around as the ground was uneven and there was a stream area just to our left with plenty of opportunities to get our feet wet if we weren’t careful. I always prefer to initially sort out possible shooting locations and angles without a camera in my hand, but I did not ditch the backpack and tripod while determining where I wanted to shoot; it was so dark I could not find it easily when ready to shoot.
There were several things I had in mind while finalizing my primary shooting location and sorting out potential compositions:
- I wanted to have a balance of subjects in the foreground, middle ground and background to build depth into the photo.
- It looked like we could have at least a patch of water in the frame with a nice reflection of the clouds. And…
- I didn’t want too many distracting elements competing with each other within the frame.
Here’s a quick shot of the first spot we stopped:
Yes, it was dark! However the light in the general direction looked promising.
I was also a little concerned about the clouds. The wind looked strong up there and the necessary long exposure could render them very blurred. To increase the ISO as much as possible without introducing much noise was needed. It was also obvious the sun was going to rise right behind that mountain, making the dynamic range very likely to be beyond the capabilities of the D700; so the decision was made to use a 4-stops neutral density graduated filter. Very quickly, Preston Moochnek (Massulo), Bo Stahlbrandt (bgs) and I started to move further south looking for a better spot. We were running out of time for sunrise, which was scheduled for 7:05 AM.
At the second spot, all we could tell was that we were not there yet for a nice composition, but hopefully closer. It was 6:43 already when I made this shot.
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