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15 Places and 15 Photo Tips To Capture the Perfect Colorado Photograph by John Fielder

By: John Fielder

My new book, Colorado Black on White, is multi-faceted. It is a picture book for sure, but included is also 30,000 words of text to accompany the 230 images. Much of the text was inspired by memories of the sensuousness of the place and the moment in which I was standing when I pressed the shutter button. However, I've also included many photography tips, as well as hints about how to find some of the extraordinary Colorado locations depicted. In this gallery collection, I've put together 15 Colorado places that you might want to visit yourself and accompanying photography pro tips, primarily focusing on composition. Directions to most of these places as well as more detailed destination information can be found in my travel guide, Best of Colorado, by checking the index section. Sponsored & Presented by: John Fielder.

1. County Road 62, Routt County, Colorado

The Elk River drains from the Mount Zirkel Wilderness north of Steamboat Springs, winding through a stunning valley surrounded by mountains. County Road 62 circumnavigates the iconic Steamboat Lake State Park and is plowed in the winter, making for the perfect photography destination.

Photography Pro Tip: Look for the aspen groves along the road, and at sunset, make a sunstar by shooting into the sun. Block two-thirds of the sun, and you will eliminate those colored hexagonal lens flares that ruin the image. At the same time, the leafs of the shutter will make a star. What a moment! Better yet, come to my Winter Photography Workshop, and I will take you to this exact spot.

Photo credit, courtesy of: John Fielder

2. Wetterhorn Peak, Uncompahgre Wilderness

If you are an experienced backpacker, there’s no better place to really venture into the backcountry in Colorado than the Uncompahgre Wilderness near Lake City, Colorado. Uncompaghre Peak is the area’s namesake, but Wetternhorn Peak, sitting at 14,017 feet, is more spectacular. Access this destination from Lake City or Owl Creek Pass.

Photography Pro Tip: In the photograph, notice the depth in the scene achieved by composing another mountain in the foreground with Wetterhorn behind; and the lighting enhances the depth. We humans perceive depth with two eyes, but one-eyed (lens) cameras portray only length and width. Designs like this make three dimensional images out of a two dimensional process.

Photo credit, courtesy of: John Fielder

3. Mount Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

This shot is of Mount Sneffels, an impressive 14,000-foot peak near Telluride, Colorado in the southwest corner of the state. I made this image along the road that winds around Wilson Mesa, one of Colorado’s most beautiful ranching valleys. You’ll see the signs for the turnoff about five miles west of the State Highway 145 traffic circle near Telluride.

Photography Pro Tip: This photograph is an example of a unique moment in time defined by clouds and the serac-like snow formations. Sunsets and sunrises, rainbows, and capricious weather all make moments. The faster you compose, meter, and focus, the more moments you will capture. Speed, not patience, is everything sometimes.

Photo credit, courtesy of: John Fielder

4. Mountain Goat, Gore Range, Colorado

Believe it or not, mountain goats are not native to Colorado, but they sure are beautiful. Unfortunately, they compete with bighorn sheep (a native species) and make it tough for the sheep to survive in constrained ecosystems. This billy goat lives in the Gore Range in the Eagles Nest Wilderness. Goats can be seen in every drainage of this magnificent wilderness near Vail, and many of the access trails start in the town of Vail itself.

Photography Pro Tip: Don’t always feel you must include “the whole thing” in your photographs. Sometimes isolating parts of something make a bolder statement.

Photo credit, courtesy of: John Fielder

Buy John Fielder’s new book, Colorado Black on White, by clicking here.

5. Elk, Summit County

This image of a bull elk was made from my patio in Summit County. I live where the elk hang out during hunting season. They seem to be genetically programmed to know where and when the hunters are doing their thing on public lands, and head for private property!

Photography Pro Tip: Notice the “selected” focus. Landscape photographers typically shoot with small apertures (i.e., f22) in order to keep everything in focus from foreground to background, whereas in wildlife photography, we often want the eye to go more quickly to the main subject. This is accomplished by shooting with a larger aperture (i.e., f8) in order to blur everything but the subject, or in this case, the elk.

Photo credit, courtesy of: John Fielder

6. Elk River Valley, County Road 62

Wintertime in the Elk River Valley around Steamboat Lake State Park is simply stunning. Snow blankets the vast ranch meadows on the way to CR62, making for quiet, dramatic landscape scenery. I love photographing fence posts peeking through the deep snow. They are very graphic in both black and white and color, and I was lucky to find coyote tracks in the snow.

Photography Pro Tips: I deliberately “placed” the tracks on the left in my design in order to create asymmetry. Effectively, I am using the rule of thirds. They also serve as a “lead-in” line, which draws the viewer’s eye from bottom left to top right. When you move the viewer’s eye around the image, you create classic “artistic tension.”

Photo credit, courtesy of: John Fielder

7. Deer, Summit County, Colorado

This image was also made near my home in Summit County. It is a classic “moment.”

Photography Pro Tip: Notice that you can see the snowflakes, and that they create a veil across the scene. You can do this, too, when large flakes float slowly through the air. Any shutter speed 1/125th of a second or faster will freeze the motion. I often preach that good photography is produced by a good eye, but just as important is being at the right place at the right time; and the more you go into nature, the more you will find yourself in these moments.

Photo credit, courtesy of: John Fielder

8. Upper Fetcher Ranch, Elk River Valley, Colorado

One of my favorite ranching valleys, the Elk River Valley. The wooden, handcrafted barns and fencing provide much needed contrast to the snow-covered Elkhead Mountains in the background.
Photography Pro Tip: Notice in my composition the use of “corner zones.” By designing the outhouse and the barn in the bottom left and top right, I effectively divide the image into thirds on both the horizontal and vertical axes. This is an asymmetrical image in so many ways. Are you experiencing how your eye, the viewer’s eye, is moved from place to place? How about those implied diagonal lines, too? And the depth in the scene? Powerful.

Photo credit, courtesy of: John Fielder

9. Cimarron River Road, Western Slope, Colorado

The Cimarron River Road departs south from U.S. Highway 50 between Gunnison and Montrose. It provides northern access to the Uncompahgre Wilderness and is also the back way over Owl Creek Pass to the town of Ridgway where John Wayne hung out during the filming of the original True Grit movie. It’s also where Ralph Lauren has his famous and most scenic of ranches.

Photography Pro Tip: Diagonal lines are important because they are antithetical to the constraining horizontal and vertical lines of the edges of your photograph. The diagonal fence provides relief from these constraints and creates artistic tension.

Photo credit, courtesy of: John Fielder

Learn more about John Fielder and his new book, Colorado Black on White, by clicking here.

10. Schmid Ranch, Wilson Mesa, Telluride, Colorado

Schmid Ranch is one of those classic, iconic Colorado destinations. Situated about 10 miles west of the town of Telluride, this ranch has been in operation since the Schmid family settled there in 1882. Today, the land is protected by a conservation easement, and it’s a popular wedding venue. Recently, it also served as the set for Quentin Tarantino’s film, “The Hateful Eight”.

Photography Pro Tip: How are you doing by now with design concepts? Do you see the diagonals? How about the three triangles? How about the relationship between the triangles? Are you getting a feel know for asymmetrical design and artistic tension? Come to my Telluride Autumn Color Photo Workshop, and we may have the opportunity to photograph at the ranch.

Photo credit, courtesy of: John Fielder

11. Muddy Creek, Forest Service Road 265, Gunnison County, Colorado

This ranch lies along Muddy Creek and Forest Service Road 265, one of my favorite aspen tree drives in the fall. Forest Service Road 265 departs State Highway 133 in Gunnison County. For information about FS Road 265, buy a discounted copy of my bestselling travel guide here now.

Photography Pro Tips: Notice that I start the fence in the bottom left corner. Lead-in lines that start in a corner create the most depth in an image. Lead-in lines are one of three ways to turn a two-dimensional process into a three-dimensional image.

Photo credit, courtesy of: John Fielder

12. Aspen Grove in Winter, Summit County, Colorado

This is another backyard image in Summit County. Check out Lower Cataract Lake near Green Mountain Reservoir for similar scenes.

Photography Pro Tips: Another way I create depth in a scene is by photographing at right angles to the sun at sunrise and sunset. The low-lying sun makes long linear shadows across the landscape, and shadows increase the sense of distance from foreground to background. Why do I keep insisting that you create depth in your scene? Because depth provides the viewer with a sense of place, as if one could lay out a picnic blanket and have a nice lunch in a lovely place.

Photo credit, courtesy of: John Fielder

13. Lower Cataract Lake, Summit County, Colorado

Other than aspen trees, my favorite plant to photography is the corn lily. If you head to Lower Cataract Lake in Summit County during the spring season (June, in the sub-alpine zone), you’ll find lots of corn lilies and other wildflowers poking through the defrosting earth.

Photography Pro Tip: Notice the striations in the leaves, the sensuous shape of the leaves themselves, and the pattern of the plants clustered en masse left to right and top to bottom. It’s no surprise that I call this a “pattern” image. I like to say to my students that “I don’t need no stinkin’ horizon” in order to make a successful landscape image. Come to my Summit County Spring Workshop, and we might just end up at Lower Cataract Lake to photograph these beauties.

Photo credit, courtesy of: John Fielder

14. Last Dollar Road, San Miguel County, Colorado

One of my favorite roads to drive in the fall is Last Dollar Road in San Miguel County. It is the 4-wheel drive shortcut from Ridgway to Telluride. I love aspen boles (trunks) with or without leaves on branches. The boles range from white to green to gray and are always reflective in both cloudy and direct light. They are also tall and usually parallel. Aspen tree groves make for an incredible graphic in a photograph.

Photography Pro Tip: What’s happening here? Notice that the boles are not parallel at all but rise in different directions. Always keep your visual radar on to find nature’s anomalies.

Photo credit, courtesy of: John Fielder

15. Cascade Creek, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Though I am a “realist” in my photography, that is, I prefer making images that appear the way the eye perceives the scene, sometimes I depart from this genre. Making “cotton candy” water is one of those times. This photograph is of Cascade Creek, aptly named, in the remote San Juan Mountains.

Photography Pro Tip: In cloudy light, or when the sun is behind the ridge at the end of the day, make long exposures of cascades and waterfalls to create this effect. The effect requires 1/4 second shutter speed or slower, therefore, you will need to set up your camera on a tripod and stopped all the way down to f22. If you still cannot attain a slow enough shutter speed, put a polarizing filter on your lens, further decreasing the shutter speed.

Photo credit, courtesy of: John Fielder

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