Dream Lake at Midnight (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange.

~Inception

Dream Lake at Midnight (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Dream Lake at Midnight (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Over the winter I spent a long night out taking pictures on a windy and freezing night in Rocky Mountain National Park. I shivered most of the night and at times couldn’t feel my fingers or my toes but damn it was pretty. There is really something about the stars that brings a peace over me. I don’t know what it is but it has a real calming affect on my soul.

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Frozen Dream Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park)

I hiked up to Dream Lake for sunrise to take in one of my favorite spots in all of Rocky Mountain National Park. Dream Lake is one of those spots that looks good in any type of light but my favorite time of day is sunrise because you usually have it all to yourself as you work the scene looking for interesting angles. However, as I took this shot and worked my way up the left bank several other photographers showed up a bit tardy to the party. By the time they got their gear all setup they had missed a lot of interesting light and color on the mountains in the distance.

Frozen Dream Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Frozen Dream Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park)

We are over in Paris for the week so my posting will be more sporadic than usual. So far the weather hasn’t been too cooperative for outdoor photos but we are in Paris so who cares – I’m sure I’ll come back with plenty of nice shots to share on the blog.

Starry Night over Dream Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park)

On a perfectly clear night in Rocky Mountain National Park I hiked to my favorite location in the entire park – Dream Lake. Lying about a mile and a half from the Bear Lake trailhead it is a relatively easy hike but in the depths of winter it takes a little more effort with several feet of snow to deal with. Luckily for me the snowfall has been light and the trail was well compacted so I was able to hike up to the lake fairly easily (although I did experience altitude sickness the next day for the first time – not very pleasant) to catch the starry night over Dream Lake.

Starry Night over Dream Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Starry Night over Dream Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park)

My new camera – Nikon D750 – allows me to more easily capture starry nights because it performs better in low light situations. I haven’t shot a ton of photography at night but I learned alot during this last session about what makes a good starry night photograph:

1) Shoot with the widest angle lens you have (I used the Nikon 16 – 35 mm)
2) Shoot at the lowest aperture possible (My lens was only a f/4.0 – typically you should use something f/2.8 or below but I don’t own one and they tend to cost alot more)
Note: If your lens has any type of ‘vibration reduction’ you’ll want to turn that off
3) Unless you want to have movement in the stars you will want to keep the exposure time to less than 20 seconds; Star trails are cool too but not if they are unintentionally
4) Shoot at a high ISO level (I started at 800 and eventually moved to 6400 in order to get the exposure less than 20 seconds)
5) Use a sturdy tripod because the camera will be sitting there for a while so you won’t be able to handhold it
6) If your camera has a remote – you’ll want to use it in order to minimize camera shake; Also, if your camera has ‘mirror lockup’ mode or ‘delayed exposure’ you can use that to move the mirror out of the way and limit camera shake

This image is really clean and I shot it at ISO 6400 with an exposure time of 17 seconds. I used Nik Software Define 2 to rid the photograph of some minor noise and then did some additional processing in Adobe Lightroom to make the stars pop. The moon was rising right behind Hallet’s Peak so it makes the light slightly more concentrated behind the mountain as if it is being spotlighted.

Dream Lake at Sunrise – Rocky Mountain National Park

One of my favorite places to hike in Rocky Mountain National Park is the Dream Lake area. It is relatively easy to access as the hike is only a few miles but the views of Hallett’s Peak are spectacular. The best time to be in this spot is at sunrise on a relatively clear day when the first rays of light are hitting the peak. It is so quiet and peaceful – in fact despite being fairly popular around midday – I’ve never had to battle anyone for position in the early morning hours. Unlike Glacier National Park though there isn’t a coffee shop directly nearby so you have to be sure to get your coffee the day before. Usually I wind up packing a few pre-made bottles of Starbucks, a bagel and some fruit so I can have a snack while sitting around this area for an hour or two before hiking back down to the car.

Dream Lake at Sunrise – Rocky Mountain National Park

Dream Lake at Sunrise - Rocky Mountain National Park

Started booking my August business meetings today and I’ll be heading out to Denver for a Friday meeting. The past few meetings have been in the middle of the week so I’ve been unable to leverage a weekend trip to Rocky Mountain National Park – I think I jinxed myself last year when I bought the Annual Pass instead of the single week one. It was only $20 – $30 more expensive and I figured I’d be back at least three or four times before it ran out….however, this will be my first trip back since last November.

Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

I’m flying to Denver today – normally I’d be really excited because I’d be trying to stretch this into a weekend of hiking and photographing Rocky Mountain National Park. Unfortunately, I have to go right from Denver to Dallas for another meeting the following day and will be unable to spend anytime in the mountains. Work is really putting a damper on my hiking schedule :). I’m thinking of making a trip out to Yellowstone/Grand Tetons in September this year in route to Calgary….hoping I can make that happen. It’s been 10+ years since I’ve been there and I’m getting antsy!

Sunrise on Emerald Lake

Sunrise on Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

I took this photo in August last year when my wife and I headed out to Rocky Mountain National Park for a four day weekend. The trail to Emerald Lake is fairly short (1.75 miles each way) but it is a steady climb for the first mile or so to reach Dream Lake. Dream Lake is also another great place to stop for sunrise and given my experience both locations should be relatively clear of other photographers that early in the morning. I’ve been to plenty of other national parks where the popular spots for landscape photography are jam packed but for some reason this place and Dream Lake never seem to have any other people there. There is a waterfall coming off the mountain across the lake (hard to see in this photo) but you get to hear the sound of the crashing water which adds to the atmosphere as well.

After the sun has come up I like to take my time hiking back as there are a few mini-waterfalls and rocks shaded from the low sun that make interesting compositions in the early morning light.

Rocky Mountains

“Try to imagine a life without timekeeping. You probably can’t. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car. You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie. Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are not late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays. Man alone measures time. Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out.”

― Mitch Albom, The Time Keeper

Mitch Albom came out with a new book this week called The First Phone Call from Heaven. It tells the story of a town of people that starts getting phone calls from the afterlife and the joy in hearing that persons voice one last time. Enjoy the times you have and make sure you are living every day to the fullest because you can never be sure when your clock may be punched. I’m going to start reading it this weekend and I’m sure – like all the Mitch Albom books I’ve read I’ll highlight a number of passages that are significant to me. The one above was one that hit me because the fear of death paralyzes me at times and at other times it makes me go faster so that I can fit more into a day – but what is the quality of that day. When we rush through things and just tick the box what have we really accomplished?

Photo of the Day – Hallett Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park

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The mountains settle me – they have since I was 25 and made my first trip to Montana. There is just something about the significance of them and the fact that they’ve been around for millions of years that makes the whole tick the box thing just seem foolish. I’m planning our upcoming trip to Belize in April and trying to build in more ‘down’ time for my wife and I. It’s a struggle for me since I do still have this innate desire to see everything but I know for a fact the memories I make are much sweeter when I slow down and breath a little bit.

Winter in the Rockies

I flew last year on September 11th as well but unlike last year I wasn’t at the airport for the moment of silence that all of them have. However, flying on this date is unlike any other – it is quieter, more somber (probably as it should be) – and much less busy. My flight from LA to Chicago which is normally packed is essentially empty. Sure it is a Wednesday but I typically don’t have rows around me empty as I did when I just looked to change seats. Maybe people purposely avoid flying on this date – I didn’t do it by choice – but I can’t imagine that other business travelers somehow can avoid this date completely.

Photo of the Day – Winter in the Rockies

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Winter comes early in the Rockies – when I’m in Rocky Mountain National Park in November this is probably how the Dream Lake area will look. The lake may not be completely frozen yet but the tops of the mountain will be snow covered. I’m off to Glacier National Park in ten days. It will be my first trip back to Montana since I went to Yellowstone/Grand Tetons shortly after college. Admittedly, the grizzlies scare me quite a bit so I will not be hiking (solo) before sunrise like I typically do in RMNP where bear sightings are a very rare thing (and black bears at that). However, I’ll still be out at sunrise for pictures and staying out past sunset to get that beautiful light. I’ll just make sure to stay a little closer to civilization while doing it…..just in case.