Fall color is still quite good in many places but the first snows have hit the ground in other places, so I am posting this image from Great Sands Dunes in Colorado.

I was out there years ago and it was freezing cold after this winter storm came through. It did not dump a lot of snow, just a dusting in fact, but it was cold.

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I have a lot of fall color photography from the last 35 years. Great groups of aspens on a mountainside, full frame images of hillsides in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, aspen lined canyons in the Oregon desert, and much more from many places.

On my last trip to the Great Smoky Mountains teaching a photography workshop with my friend Lewis Kemper during fall color, it was a warm, wet fall and the big landscapes weren’t that great.

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Take a look at this photo. Imagine for a moment, that it is all yellow aspens from foreground to background. In this bright, sunny, flat light, there would be little scene depth in the photo.

Scene depth are elements in a photo that give a sense of depth or distance from foreground to background and is achieved in several ways. Lighting is one and can emphasize scene depth, especially when you have varied brightness levels in the scene like a darker foreground and brighter background.

Size relationship is another way to give a sense of depth to the scene. This is usually a subject or subjects that have varying sizes and can be something like a large rock or clump of flowers in the foreground looming large, while the background appears distant.

The San Juan Mountains are a rugged mountain range in the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Colorado. The area is highly mineralized (the Colorado Mineral Belt) and figured in the gold and silver mining industry of early Colorado. Major towns, all old mining camps, include Creede, Lake City, Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride. Large scale mining is now uneconomical in the region, although independent prospectors still work claims throughout the range. The last large scale holdouts were the Standard Metals operation on Red Mountain Pass which operated until late in the 20th century and the ill-fated Summitville mine on the eastern slope of the San Juans.

Then in situations like this image, where the brightness level is pretty equal throughout the image, you dont get much of a sense of scene depth. So instead, I used color stacking of different colors to to give a sense of depth to the image.

There really was not much else to add unless I want to burn and dodge and simulate varied tonal values, but it might look to fake. So I opted for a different approach.

In Photoshop, I selected the orange/red values and then added that selection to a Hue/Sat adjustment layer, and darkened the oranges and reds. Then I did the same for the greens while leaving yellows alone.

In a way you could look at this approach similar to burning and dodging because I adjusted selected tones to changed the contrast, all with the goal of creating scene depth.

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I have been here to this overlook at Dallas Divide in Colorado many times and it is amazing….and usually crowded in fall.

During my visits the weather has been ‘perfect’ and other times sunny. What I mean is that one time the sky was so clear, it was hot, and it just was not that great compared to this visit when a storm was passing through and even leaving a dusting of snow on the mountains.

I love photographing in crappy weather! Some of my best or maybe favorite images happened when the weather sucked.

When it is overcast or even raining, specular highlights created by the sun give way to diffused highlights from the overcast. Scene contrast is lowered and colors become more vibrant.

Dallas Divide (el. 8,970 feet is a high mountain pass in Colorado located on State Highway 62 about 12 miles west of the town of Ridgway. The pass is a saddle between the San Juan Mountains to the south and the Uncompahgre Plateau to the north and divides the Uncompahgre River watershed from the San Miguel River watershed and Ouray County from San Miguel County. The pass takes its name from Dallas Creek which drains the basin on the north side of Mount Sneffels into the Uncompahgre River. The pass overlooks the Sneffels Range. A toll road was first constructed over Dallas Divide in 1880 linking the town of Dallas near Ridgway with Telluride. In 1890 the Rio Grande Southern Railroad was built over the divide from Ridgway to Telluride.

Photographing this image made me realize that fall color that we all love and cherish photographing, is not all about trees.

While I was photographing the amazing aspens in Colorado, I found amazing color closer to the ground.

These plant species, as best as I recall, were not more than 5-6″ across from left side the right side and literally were ground cover.

I dont know what they are but it look to me that they were having their own fall color transformation. The icing on the cake so to speak, literally, is that light coating of frost that added the edges and some white sparkles to the leaves.

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Years ago, I taught a workshop in Grand Staircase Escalante NM and when we were done I headed north on Hwy 24 over Boulder Mountain. It was fall and the Dixie NF has some great fall color all over the mountains here.

I was doing the ‘pedal to the metal’ after the workshop as I had places to get to, but when I saw this my first thought was WOW! As I drove past I thought I should stop ASAP even though I wasn’t really expecting to do any shooting. That thought passed in about 4 seconds and I spun the car around at my first opportunity.

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In celebration of fall here is another image of Multnomah Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge from a few years ago. This image was successful as a stock photo, even earning a calendar cover. 

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Fall is in full swing in many areas of the west here and reports I am seeing is it looks pretty good. Two days ago I ventured across Oregon’s Santiam Pass and while the color was great near pass levels, it was barely started in lower elevations at 2000′.  So this is an image from a trip a few years ago, one of my last trips using the 4×5 view camera before selling it all. 

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This month I am thrilled, of course, to have a feature article in Outdoor Photographer magazine. It is my second lengthy article in the last year and while I am proud to be published, I thought I would address the idea of writing as an outdoor and nature photographer.

Professional photography is challenging as far as making a living and for many photographers, there is some truth to something I often say: “all money is good money.” While this may not be the same reasoning for all photographers, many are on the constant lookout for new revenue streams.

In my online course:  How to Be a Professional Outdoor and Nature Photographer, I mention in one lecture that writing can be a excellent gateway to more profitable ventures. What does that mean?

As you know, half the effort of creating an image happens in post processing. While this is a necessary task it can also be an exciting process of watching an image transform. many times I started out with an idea in mind and in the end, I was nowhere close to what I envisioned. 

This final image is an example of just that. I was up at McKenzie Pass hoping for a normal but great sunset. On the way there I saw the horrible haze of thick smoke from the many forest fires in the NW.  Initially I was disappointed but as I started to look around ideas hit me and I started shooting.

The sun was several hours until it set and was a bright orange ball against the smoky sky. That gave me the idea to shoot one of the dead tree snag in the lava fields with a long lens and get a huge red ball of the sun. The problem was I could not frame that shot due to the shape of the land. I just could not get back far enough.