Fall is my very favorite season – always has been and always will be.  The weather is incredible, the colors unbelievable.  Fall seems to linger a little longer than Spring, especially in the Midwest.  Winter seems to hang on to its icy grip a little longer than it should, then there’s a few short precious weeks of mild temps, ubiquitous blooms that don’t last nearly long enough, then BAM! Spring is done and Summer’s heat and humidity sets in far too soon.  It seems to me that Fall begins gradually, with temps slowly slacking off, and days filled with intense blue skies, followed by cool, crisp evenings.  Life’s hectic pace seems to slow down just a bit as the leaves change and slowly fall to the ground.
This year I’ve experienced Fall in a whole new way in my new home at Grand Junction, Colorado.  Up until this week, this Fall was unusual – unusually warm.  Temps were about 15 degrees above normal, and the leaves were much slower to change, making it possible to savor Fall’s beauty a little longer.  That was just fine by me!  I was fortunate to arrive in beautiful Colorado just shortly before Fall’s show began, and I enjoyed the spectacle.  We went up to the Grand Mesa a couple of times to enjoy the color, which was incredible in its own rite.  The ride up the Land’s End Road was a sight to see, with mountainsides full of color and a waterfall at the top to boot!

Mesa Magic!


Waterfall on Land's End Road


The first weekend of October, I attended a photo workshop at Ouray led by Bret Edge and Todd Caudle, two mighty fine, talented (and fun) photographer dudes.  They both have top-notch images, and are willing to share their photographic knowledge with others in a friendly, nurturing environment.  They won’t take you out, dump you off, and head off to spend the rest of the time shooting their own images, leaving you wondering what the hell you paid for.  (Believe it or not, I saw another workshop group at Dallas Divide and it seemed to me the “leader” wasn’t helping his participants at all.  Nope, his tripod was planted in the prime photo spot with him parked behind the lens while several of his students were looking rather like deer in the headlights.  Sad, but true…)  Bret and Todd will not do this, and I highly recommend their workshops.

 Unfortunately, since I just started a new job, I was unable to attend the Friday session, when everyone headed out to Owl Creek Pass and Silverjack Reservoir.  I’m disappointed I didn’t get to see these two very photogenic spots, but that gives me motivation to head down there next year on my own.  I was able to attend both the Saturday and Sunday sessions.  Saturday began on the Silver Pick Rd. near Telluride.  We shot from the Wilson Mesa, back toward Wilson Peak.  Todd told us this was the peak that is featured on the Coor’s beer labels.  Knowing Todd and his bizarre sense of humor, I’m still not sure if he was telling me the truth or just pulling my leg…  At any rate, the peak was nothing short of awesome, especially once the alpenglow hit its face.  I really enjoyed playing with different compositions and different focal lengths at this spot. 

Wilson Peak, with sunrise alpenglow

I was really intrigued by the sweeping patterns on the mountainside created by the alternating layers of conifers and aspens, and used my 70-200 mm lens to isolate and create this abstract view.

Fun with the telephoto lens

I also kept an eye open to my surroundings and discovered a neat old fence post and abandoned building, both “with character.”  If you’re familiar with my photography, you know that I love old barns and buildings, so finding this was a treat, especially when it was surrounded by all those beautiful aspens!  There were some cattle further down the road, mooing loudly.  I almost felt like I was back in Kansas (except of course for the mountains in every direction!)

For luck

Cozy cabin


We spent the rest of the morning shooting on the Silver Pick Rd. in various locations, and Todd explained to me how best to capture a sunburst.  I’ve never been very successful with sunbursts, but I think he finally pointed me in the right direction.  This backlit aspen grove was the perfect spot to try out the technique, since I could block some of the sun with the trees.  Use of a very small aperature (and tripod) is the key.  Also, don’t use filters.  They cause light diffraction and may ruin the effect you’re trying to achieve.

Backlit aspens glow on a beautiful fall day

Todd also told us to be sure to “look down” because photo opps are often literally under our feet.  Since I tend to shoot a lot of macro shots anyway, I usually try to do this.  I walked around the aspen grove a little and found this lovely little scene.  What drew me in was the combination of glowing aspen leaves, the vibrant red leaf and the texture of the fallen branch.  I tried to be lazy and get by without my tripod for this shot, but it didn’t work so had to break it out because I wanted this shot.

Fall Bouquet

After lunch in scenic Telluride and a critique session of our photos, we were off to chase more beautiful scenery.  We went to Mystic Falls, where there were not one – but two! – amazing waterfalls.  The larger fall is hidden from view by the first, and is reached by taking a very short, easy hike across the stream and onto the ridge off to the side.  I love to shoot falling water, be it large falls like these or small little gurgling cascades.  From this location, I was able to do both! Unfortunately, I’m afraid of heights and to shoot the main fall involved standing on a small, sloped area above a high cliff, so I didn’t tarry long in this spot, beautiful as it was.  Exposure was a bit difficult at this spot, and I used my Singh-ray Vari-ND filter to allow me to use longer shutter speeds to smooth out the water.  It took several attempts before I got one that wasn’t either over- or under-exposed.  And then there was that flare thing…  Someday I’ll learn to use my lens hood!

Mystic Falls (the main fall)


Backlit aspens highlight the lower Mystic Falls


Here I focused on a small cascade, rather than the entire fall.  I spotted the bright leaves in the water, and thought they added interest to the icy water.

Fall leaves adorn an icy cascade


Our last stop of the day was the Alta Lakes area.  They told us the area right around the lake didn’t contain great fall color, but we could focus instead on reflection images.  The area didn’t disappoint, as the lake turned into a glassy mirror!  I did use my Singh-ray 3 stop GND filter here, to help tame the contrast between the dark foreground and the bright sky.  This filter is one of the most useful ones I own, and I wonder how I ever tried to create images like this before I learned how to use it.

Sunset at Alta Lakes area

My one wish was that we could have stopped at the neat old ghost town on the way up to the lake area.  I was itching to shoot some of those really cool old buildings, but Bret and Todd pressed on with purpose.  Oh well, I’ll just have to go back sometime…

The next morning’s shoot was at the Dallas Divide area.  I didn’t enjoy this shoot as much as the previous morning, because it was colder and windier.  I cursed myself for not getting tripod leg covers.  Nothing is colder than a metal tripod in the winter.  Definitely going to get those puppies covered before Winter fully sets in.  I will probably use my cheapo method described in my previous post, “My Winter Shooting Tips.”  The Dallas Divide was indeed beautiful and I see why there are so many images shot at this area.  

Divine Dallas Divide


Again, I experimented with different focal lengths and compositions.  I found this small stand of aspens that had already shed their fall garments amidst a little “island” of vibrant scrubby bushes and trees and used my “big boy” (70-200 mm) lens to focus in on this little scene.

Bare aspens stand alone in an island of vibrant brush

Far too soon, the workshop was over.  I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with some fellow photogs and picking up a few tips along the way.  After having lunch in Ouray, my husband and I headed up toward Yankee Boy Basin, which my husband had ridden up the previous day on his mountain bike.  Yes, he’s crazy!  We didn’t make it quite all the way up there, as the weather was starting to turn so we decided to head back home.  Now that I’m only a couple hours away, I’m anxious for next summer’s wildflower bonanza to start in the YB Basin area.  I know for sure I’ll be headed there at some point during Summer.

The great thing about living in GJ is that once the aspens in high elevations have shed their bright garb, the cottonwoods and other trees in the Valley start turning.  Round Two!!  I headed up to the Colorado National Monument this weekend because the sun was playing peek-a-boo with the clouds and I thought there might be some photo possibilities.  At the Fallen Rock overlook, to my delight I found some brilliant cottonwoods arranged in a pleasing “S” curve in the wash below.  I waited until the trees were spotlighted and the lighting on the canyon walls was right before I shot this.  While waiting, I enjoyed the peace and solitude of the Monument as I pretty much had the place all to myself.

Fall - lower elevation style

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there will still be some color out there this weekend.  The Mesa received its first snowfall this week, and the wind has been howling after the passage of a cold front.  Wish me luck so I can savor the last bits of Fall!

P.S.  I know I’ve been rather lax lately on blog posts, but the moving process and my new job has kept me away from photography much more than I want.  I’m hoping things are starting to settle down somewhat, so check back soon for another post.

What’s your favorite season to shoot and why?  I’d love to hear your thoughts so please post a comment if you have time. Thanks!