The Yampa Valley has rolling hills, the rugged mountains of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness, the dramatic landscapes of the Flat Top Wilderness and Rabbit Ears Pass. Where do you begin when you want a photograph to remember the Yampa Valley by?
1. Photography is all about light and shadow
Know where the light is coming from and what time of day your subject will be best lit. For example, the Moore Barn is lit up late afternoon. The mineral springs downtown catch the morning light. The Diamond Cabin out near Stagecoach is an afternoon photographing. Rabbit Ears has an abundance of opportunities for morning photography. Note morning sun has more red in it, while late afternoon has a warmer gold hue and don’t forget that clouds make everything more dramatic.
2. Walk the table
The best advice I ever had from a friend was playing pool. He told me to walk the entire table before I took a shot, to make sure I understood all the possible angles. When you are photographing a subject, walk around the subject. Observe how the light hits your subject from different angles. Sometimes a silhouette is just as compelling as the direct light on the face of the subject.
3. Don’t be afraid to get down low
When you are photographing animals, you want to get on their level. If you are photographing wild flowers, how does the photograph change when you are standing, squatting, or on your belly? Play with different angles and heights as you photograph.
4. Forget about the big picture
Despite Steamboat’s sweeping landscapes, there is a lot of beauty to be captured in the smaller details. As you are out and about, notice the hoarfrost on the tree branches, or the shadows a grove of aspens casts when the sun is low in the sky. Notice pinecones, or single wildflowers, a bird or a butterfly. Sometimes a perfectly round bead of dew on a plant can be just as dramatic as a sweeping landscape.
5. Tell a Story
The pictures that are worth a thousand words are those that tell a story. If, for example, you are photographing a cabin, what do you want to say about that cabin? Do you want to highlight the roof that is caving in? Do you want to make the cabin appear small in a broader landscape of fields and sky? Is there a fleck of blue paint around the windowsill that reveals something about the people that lived there? Think about what you want people to think about when they see your image.
6. Know your strengths
What do you love to take pictures of? When you photograph subjects you love, that passion is conveyed in the pictures you take. If you love photographing your children or your dog, then take your kids or your dog in a field of grass or wildflowers. If you love solitude, go alone somewhere that makes you smile. Don’t try to force yourself to photograph something you aren’t excited about. Although you may come out with a technically good image, the lack of passion will show.
7. A picture a day
Just as a writer should write every day to improve, so should a photographer take at least one image a day. Two exercises I enjoy include photographing the same subject day after day at different times of day and from different angles and making sure I always have a camera with me when I walk each day, making myself take at least one picture on that walk. The more you do it, the more little details appear.
Capturing the photograph takes time and patience. From scouting a location, to waiting for the right light conditions, or even season, takes time. You might end up photographing the same scene fifty times before you get the scene you have been waiting for. If you are photographing wildlife, patience will be your best friend. Don’t be afraid to hire a guide to help you find wildlife, or to take you to some hidden local places to see something a little more off the beaten path.
Capturing an image is just the beginning. For a professional quality photograph, take the time to crop your image, adjust the light or play with filters. iPhones have great apps for photographers. For computers try Lightroom or Photoshop. There are plenty of on-line tutorials and classes to help your image look its best. Remember, Ansel Adams enhanced his photos in the darkroom in the same way we use a computer to help enhance photos today.
10. Don’t be afraid to share but don’t share too much!
When you capture a series of incredible photographs, you are going to want to share them. Choose 2-5 of your best photographs to share each day so people don’t get overwhelmed.
Most importantly, enjoy your time in the Yampa Valley. Each season has something unique to capture - from wildflowers to fall colors, winter snow to aspen leaves first unfurling. Study other photographer’s work and try to emulate them. This isn’t copying, it’s training your eye and starting to unravel the details that make a picture memorable.