Saturday, September 21, 2002
Steamboat Springs Turn off the football game; prime time for fall colors begins today and continues into the first week in October.
Despite the summer drought, the aspens appear to be in good condition, and this is a good, but fleeting opportunity to capture photographs of the brilliant leaves.
One of the best ways to enjoy an aspen grove is to stride into its middle and lie down on your back to watch the leaves blow off their branches and spin earthward.
You can photograph them that way with a wide angle lens. But I find the most pleasing compositions are made from a distance, with a telephoto or zoom lens fixed on a tripod.
The telephoto allows you to place distant ridges and mountains tops in the frame along with bands of color. And the tripod with a big zoom lens on it encourages the crafting of deliberate compositions.
Buffalo Pass, 10 miles northeast of Steamboat, is an obvious destination for photographing the fall aspens. It offers views of ridges layered on top of one another. And there are different tints of leaves to be encountered as you drive up the switchbacks. If you can, try to sneak out in the late afternoon at midweek. The weekends can be a zoo, with parades of cars that make it difficult to pull out safely and take photographs.
One of the special qualities of aspen leaves is that in addition to reflecting the golden light of autumn, they seem to transmit the light, enhancing the glow. For that reason, I like to photograph the leaves with slide film. Unlike color prints, slides transmit light and seem to capture the color more faithfully.
If we are graced with a snowfall while the colors are still peaking, blow off work and head out first thing in the morning to the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass.
This event only happens about once in five years. You want to be at one of the big pullouts on the way up the pass before the snow melts.
As you climb Rabbit Ears you can look out at the evergreen trees on the flanks of Mount Baldy. The deep green of our native spruce isn't typically photogenic because the mass of trees comes out looking almost black.
The time to photograph them is when they are dusted or coated with snow. A sprinkling of yellow and orange aspen completes the scene. The compositions are endless as you swing your tripod and zoom in for a tighter crop. Take more film than you plan to shoot.
Another possibility this fall is to drive south into the Flat Tops for the big views from Ripple Creek Pass.
From there, it should be possible this autumn to include brilliant aspens in the scene as you point your lens toward Himes Peak where the Big Fish Fire burned in August.
Autumn may persist well into November as it did last year, but fall color season will disappear with the first windy storm from the north.