The sun sets behind a ridge as seen Wednesday from Rabbit Ears Pass near Steamboat Springs. Keeping the horizon from being at the center of a photograph, thus focusing on either the sky or the ground, can help a photo’s composition. Foreground objects, such as two trees here, also can help add depth to a photograph.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

The sun sets behind a ridge as seen Wednesday from Rabbit Ears Pass near Steamboat Springs. Keeping the horizon from being at the center of a photograph, thus focusing on either the sky or the ground, can help a photo’s composition. Foreground objects, such as two trees here, also can help add depth to a photograph.

Learn to capture stunning photographs from Rabbit Ears Pass in Steamboat

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The view from U.S. Highway 40 on Rabbit Ears Pass is one few who drive it ever forget.

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A look south reveals Lake Catamount and the Flattops. The warm afternoon sun does great things for the view atop Rabbit Ears, so any time after 4 p.m. should yield better photographs.

— It’s the view that has dropped a million jaws.

It’s a 2,600-foot descent that makes brake pads squeal in pain from the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass to the base of the Yampa Valley. It puts fear in the hearts of flatlanders, but for anyone who’s lived in or around Steamboat Springs, nothing says home quite like those last few miles on U.S. Highway 40.

That view coaxes motorists to pull off the highway and snap a few pictures in an attempt to capture the spectacular panorama. As incredible as the sights can be, getting a photo that comes close to living up to the real thing is no easy task. Shooting one of the region’s most stunning views requires a little foresight.

The time is right

The view from Rabbit Ears Pass can be spectacular any time of day, but certain times are better than others for photographers.

■ The ideal time of day for photos is from 5 p.m. until sunset, which this time of year is a little after 8 p.m. “The light gets warmer. It’s just a more pleasing, more dramatic light,” veteran Yampa Valley photographer Rod Hanna said.

■ Spring, summer and fall are the best seasons in which to shoot, each offering its own advantages. The abundant water holding in the valley during spring can add a cool effect to photos from the pass. The angle of the sun and the changing aspen leaves makes autumn a particularly good time to try.

Load up the right equipment

These days, amateur photographers use everything from the latest digital SLR to the most basic cellphone camera for the shots. Having the right equipment makes the difference between a forgettable snapshot and one that becomes your computer background.

■ A tripod can be priceless. It allows for a steadier shot on a long exposure and makes capturing the same shot at different exposures possible. “Virtually everything I do in landscape photography is on a tripod,” Hanna said.

■ Both wide angle and longer lenses can be useful, too. The Yampa Valley is so wide that it’s often hard to size up, even with a good wide-angle lens. Use an object like a tree in the foreground of your photos to help add depth. A longer lens, meanwhile, can cut down on the clutter. Hanna said he usually turns to a wider lens but advised against trying to capture it all. “Less is more,” he said.

Getting the shot

■ Which direction will yield the best shots depends on the time of day. From about 5 to 7 p.m., the sun lights up the southern end of the valley nicely, making for great shots of Lake Catamount and the Flat Tops. As the sun approaches the horizon, shots to the south become too dark. Look west instead for great views of the sunset.

■ The best sunsets come on partly cloudy days, though only when the clouds are lined up along the western horizon. “You’re really looking for broken clouds on the horizon that the sun will poke through or, once it has set, reflect back up on and light your landscape,” Hanna said.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or e-mail jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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