The scenic beauty surrounding Steamboat Springs provides professional photographers with an inspirational setting to create images they hope will last for generations.
In spring and summer, melting snow and rushing water give birth to fields of wildflowers. Residents and visitors flock to popular hiking trails in late June and July to wade through hillsides awash in colorful wildflowers such as Indian paintbrush, columbine and silver lupine.
Be it meadows on Rabbit Ears and Buffalo passes or a quick jaunt through the Yampa River Botanic Park in downtown Steamboat Springs, there are plenty of prime locations for such flower-gazing.
But just because you have a new digital camera and a wealth of subject material doesn't mean you'll return home with photos worthy of your living room wall. Perhaps with help from local professional photographers Jim Steinberg, Larry Pierce and Don Tudor, you just might produce your own image that will last for generations.
Steinberg, Pierce and Tudor make livings creating breathtaking images of the Yampa Valley.
As the photographer for the Steamboat Ski Area, Larry Pierce's images have graced the pages - and covers - of nearly a dozen national magazines and plenty of metropolitan newspapers. His photographs of skiers and snowboarders in waist-deep powder are regular inclusions in publications such as Sports Illustrated, Ski and Skiing.
But while Pierce tends to concentrate on shooting outdoor sports and lifestyle photographs, his love of his craft has led him into the backcountry on numerous occasions to create stunning images of nature and wildflowers, in particular. Pierce, who makes his living creating images that come to life, offers the following advice to aspiring photographers.
- Location - Pierce has captured many striking photographs of flowers at the top of Rabbit Ears Pass, in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area and at other scenic locations in Routt County. However, he says one of the best places to start photographing in the summer is on the east side of downtown Steamboat Springs at the Yampa River Botanic Park.
It is there that photographers will find a wide variety of flower species and a peaceful setting to make and re-make images. But if you're determined to head out into the wilderness, Pierce says to pay attention to the seasonal peaks and valleys of the summer bloom season. Flowers near high mountain passes tend to be best in July, while flowers in the lower valleys tend to bloom in mid- to late spring.
- Light - Pierce says photographers should pay particular attention to the light. The best light generally is found in early morning or late evening. Using a reflector to bounce light back onto the photo subject also will help illuminate your pictures. Although many photographers refrain from shooting in midday light, Pierce says some of his best images have been shot then. Midday light, he says, is ideal for wider scenic shots of flowers, especially when combined with the bright blue Yampa Valley sky.
- Lens - Pierce suggests carrying more than one lens in your camera bag to give each flower photograph a unique perspective. Have a nice telephoto lens for close-ups and a wide-angle lens to capture - you guessed it - wider views. Specialty lenses such as macros can help photographers get close enough to flowers and other subjects to unveil a previously undiscovered world of detail, color and design.
Don Tudor moved to Steamboat Springs in 1969, and throughout the past seven years, he has built a reputation as one of the top nature photographers in the region. Today, he owns the Sleeping Giant Gallery in downtown Steamboat Springs, where he sells a variety of images that capture the Yampa Valley's heritage, lifestyle and natural wonders. He also spends a great deal of time shooting architectural and commercial photography, but his lifelong love of the outdoors dominates the art that hangs on the walls of his gallery.
- Light - Tudor says he prefers shooting in the early morning and late afternoon. He suggests scouting out different locations when the light is not good and then returning when it's ideal. Good light, Tudor says, should help the colors pop out of your photographs. When the light is not ideal, consider using something to diffuse it (such as a shower curtain or a photographic diffuser), or even try using a flash.
- Tripods - A tripod and a lens hood are basics in Tudor's camera bag. He encourages photographers to experiment with different shutter speeds and apertures when shooting flowers. The aperture affects the depth of field, and shutter speed can have a huge effect on the sharpness of the image - especially on windy days.
- Don't try to predict the future - So you found the perfect spot, and you're pretty sure the light is going to be perfect in the morning. But when you wake up, the sky is gray and the wind is blowing. Many people would hit the snooze button and go back to sleep, but Tudor reminds photographers to never assume they know what conditions will exist at their location. Furthermore, conditions can change quickly in Northwest Colorado. The sky might open up just enough to allow a single column of light to escape for a few seconds, providing a photographer the chance to capture that once-in-a-lifetime shot. It's a photo many photographers would have missed had they decided to stay in bed.
At Home, Spring 2007
For 32 years, Jim Steinberg's passion for photography has led him around the world - camera in tow - to record images on film. His propensity for leaving the beaten path, as well as his attention to light and other details, has helped him fill his downtown Steamboat gallery with hundreds of stunning images.
These days, Steinberg's work covers a variety of mediums, including large format, 35-millimeter and digital. Steinberg's experience has helped him develop a style that yields top-quality flower photographs, and he has some helpful tips for aspiring nature photographers.
- Picking the right subject - Steinberg says the most important thing to do when it comes to taking a good flower picture is to select your subject carefully. He never picks a flower or a field of flowers before they've reached their peak bloom. When you see a meadow full of flowers, look for the ones in their prime. Doing so will result in better colors and better photographs.
- Camera - Steinberg has created stunning images with his large-format camera, but even he admits that it often is too bulky and hard to work with for flower shots. Instead, he prefers his 35-millimeter and digital equipment. The smaller equipment allows him to move more freely to find the perfect angle to bring his image to life. Be creative - consider laying on your stomach in a field of lupines and daisies to create an image from a unique perspective.