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My passion is to explore and discover the beauty of this great country of ours, to capture it, and to share it with you. Often, there’s an interesting story to go along with the photos. On these pages, I share not just beautiful images and video clips, but “the stories behind the pictures.”
During my son’s 2012 summer vacation, we spent a few days exploring Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, Colorado. After my son went back home to Minnesota, I returned to Estes Park to explore the Colorado mountains for a few more days.
By that time, I had gotten into a routine of awaking about 5 a.m. and hitting the trail while it was still relatively quiet and cool. During the summer tourist season, the trailhead parking lots in Colorado’s scenic areas are filled before midmorning!
While I enjoy company while on a long trail, I found I also enjoyed the experience of being alone on the trail at dawn. The morning of August 2 was just such a day. There were few cars at the Glacier Gorge trailhead when I arrived, and shortly after I began my hike, I noticed a couple of bull elk strolling through the aspen groves and munching contentedly on mushrooms. As the trail angled upward, I lost sight of the elk and paused to sit on a rock to record the sounds of the awakening forest with the external microphone I’d attached to my camera.
When I returned to the trail, I saw spotted the elk briefly once again, and arrived at Alberta Falls a short while later. There were patchy clouds in the morning sky, which turned out to be great; it afforded me an opportunity to capture both still images and video at the falls in a wide variety of lighting conditions. After shooting from the west side of the gorge, with other hikers and photographers, I decided I really wanted to try shooting the falls from the east side.
Fording the creek is a little tricky. As of 2013, the Park Service had built no foot bridges near Alberta Falls. I considered taking a short hike above the falls to find a better place to ford the creek... but decided instead to skip the hike and to try rock-hopping below the falls. Unfortunately, I underestimated the weight of my backpack and overestimated my jumping skills.
I did make it across the creek, but not before stumbling into the drink about halfway across. With no other hikers within earshot, all the rude comments I blurted out were carried downstream by the swift waters as I clambered back onto my feet and finished my hop to the east bank.
My camera equipment didn’t get dunked—which was the important thing—but my clothes were wet. By the time that thought crossed my mind, I noticed a hooded sweatshirt hanging from the branch of a fir tree, not far from the creek; an item left behind during someone else’s adventure. Though faded and frayed, it was just my size, and was dry and warm. With gratitude, I pulled off my wet shirt and replaced it with the hoodie.
How can I share the experience of feeling all that water crash down to the rocks at my feet, sending a cool mist of spray in all directions? It was one of those “you had to be there” moments. But I liked the idea of digitally freezing a few tons of splashing water into a moment of time, so I took several pictures like the first one in this post.
By that time, it was midday. The light of the high sun isn’t usually desired by outdoor photographers, but it worked well for the image I wanted to convey to those who couldn’t be there. I was standing across from a natural channel cut into the granite by the rushing waters—a process which may have only taken moments from the water’s point of view, but thousands of years from our limited, linear experience of time. The channel resembled the curve of a waterslide, but for whatever reason none of the nearby hikers attempted to ride it down. While reflecting on that, I captured the second image displayed here, again using a high shutter speed.
Satisfied that I had done all I could from the east side of the waterfall, I scrambled up to the granite ledge I’d chosen to use as a clothes dryer, and put my shirt back on. I climbed up a little farther to survey the creek above Alberta Falls—which I ought to have done in the first place—and found three fallen tree trunks lying across the creek, forming as perfect a bridge as one could expect to see on a mountain trail. With a rueful chuckle, I crossed the bridge to the west side and made my way back down to the falls while making a mental note to exercise more patience in the future. Patience pays off! I was lucky that only my ego had been bruised on the boulders at the base of the falls that morning.
After a couple of hours of shooting the falls from every possible angle, the sun was fairly high and was shining brightly on the cascade. It’s often hard to take good photos of waterfalls surrounded by trees in direct sunlight, but I decided to try a series of half-second and one-second exposures, which typically give moving water a “flowing” effect. To avoid extreme overexposure in the sunlight, I mounted a dark neutral density filter on my lens.
By the time I packed up my gear and headed back down the trail, the cool mountain air had warmed up considerably, and park visitors were heading uphill in droves to view Alberta Falls. I was happy to have started my day before sunrise, and happier still to end it with some nice images of the waterfall!
After returning home, I edited the image captured with the neutral density filter (the last image displayed at the bottom of this post), and applied a software HDR filter to create a more “painterly” effect in the foreground. I left the background alone for the most part, but reduced the brightness of the sky enough to keep the viewer’s attention on the flowing water.
As for the hoodie... I brought it with me on many more hikes over the next four years. I didn’t mind that it was a bit tattered when I found it, but by 2016 I decided it had lived a good, long life and that I could replace it with a new one.