Can You Belize It?

In November, 2015 I visited the beautiful country of Belize in Central America bordering the Yucatan Peninsula and the Caribbean Sea. I spent most of my time on the island of Ambergris Caye, in the town of San Pedro (the inspiration of the hit Madonna song “La Isla Bonita”), as well as traveling on a fun excursion to the Mayan ruins at Lamanai on the country’s inland north side. Here are ten of my favorite photos from the trip!

San Pedro, Belize, Aerial

San Pedro, Belize, Aerial

This is a view of San Pedro taken through the window of a Tropic Air flight at the end of my trip as I was departing the island. It shows breaker waves hitting the offshore reef, viewed on the top of the photo, which is the second largest barrier reef in the world and the largest in North America. What a wonderful treasure to snorkel, dive and explore! The hotel I stayed at, The Villas at Banyan Bay, is visible as the green rooftops pictured on near the top left.

Spider Monkey, New River, Belize

Spider Monkey, New River, Belize

The spider monkey pictured was the star of the show during a tour of the New River (River Nuevo) on the north end of the country. A guide from the Seaduced by Belize tour provided the banana and the monkey was happy to provide many portrait opportunities in exchange. Soon after taking this photo, we docked at the Lamanai Archaeological Reserve and had a traditional Belizean lunch of rice, beans and chicken. One of my fellow travelers wondered if there was a way he could spice up his lunch a bit and, without hesitation, our tour guide jumped into the bushes around our picnic area then emerged with a naturally-grown habanero pepper in his hands. The pepper, plucked from a plant that was perhaps first cultivated by the Maya occupants of Lamanai centuries ago, provided one of the most delightful mixes of spiciness and sweetness I have ever tasted, and this lunch was one I will never forget.

Mask Temple, Lamanai, Belize

Mask Temple, Lamanai, Belize

This is the Mask Temple at Lamanai (which roughly translates to “land of the submerged crocodile” in Mayan language) and an amazing ruin. The faces are fiberglass coverings installed recently to preserve the originals from the wear and tear of the elements – and scratches from the nails of iguanas climbing on them, believe it or not.

Belize Rainbow, San Pedro

Belize Rainbow, San Pedro

It’s not easy to hold a camera steady when you’re on a speedboat. Here was my best attempt, taken while heading back to San Pedro after the Lamanai excursion. There was a vivid rainbow right before sunset, and then a squall that drenched the whole boat with rain about a minute after this shot was taken.

Garifuna Day, San Pedro, Belize

Garifuna Day, San Pedro, Belize

I stumbled upon a procession of royalty one morning while walking the streets of San Pedro. The celebrants pictured, including a newly-crowned queen and her court, were observing Garifuna Day which marks the arrival of a fantastic culture of Afro-Caribbean settlers to Belize. The story of their people is amazing. Survivors of wrecked slave ships and runaway slaves from elsewhere in the Americas escaped to the Caribbean Islands where they were embraced by native peoples like the Arawak and Carib. Their descendants became known as the Garifuna. They created their own unique language and traditions while traveling across the region in search of a homeland, and in front of pursuing imperialist powers. The Garifuna found refuge on the shores of several Central American countries including Belize, which now recognizes a national holiday to herald their arrival and settlement.

Belikin, the official beer of Belize.

Belikin, the official beer of Belize.

Belize is a former colony once known as British Honduras. Britain, as well as Canada and the United States, still trains some of its elite troops for combat in jungle environments at Ladyville on the edges of Belize City. The special forces training site possibly not coincidentally is very close to the country’s favorite brewery Belikin. As a result, the brewery is one of the most secure spots in the country. It’s a worthwhile enterprise, I must say as a a discerning connoisseur of lagers and resident of the Colorado Front Range, AKA the Napa Valley of beer. Belikin is a great brew worth protecting. This photo is from Estel’s by the Sea, a great restaurant for breakfast, and mixes the country’s strong Maya heritage with its preferred bottle of suds.

Ramon's Dock, San Pedro, Belize

Ramon’s Dock, San Pedro, Belize

Ah, Caribbean my old friend I miss you already. I worked at a newspaper in the British Virgin Islands on the other end of the sea years ago. It had been about a decade since I traveled to any country bordering the Caribbean before this trip. I hope it doesn’t take nearly as long to go back to the region. This photo is from the photogenic dock at Ramon’s Resort on San Pedro and shows just how clear and colorful the Caribbean’s waters can be.

Palms, San Pedro, Belize

Palms, San Pedro, Belize

On the north side of San Pedro I found another, less-maintained, dock surrounded by seabirds gliding in the breeze, swaying palm trees and small motorboats moored to its simple timbers. This is just a tranquil glimpse of life on the San Pedro coast. The color in this photo was really striking.

Transportation in San Pedro, Belize

Transportation in San Pedro, Belize

Here’s how you get around Ambergris Caye and San Pedro, Belize-style. Yes, golf carts. There are a few vans and other larger automobiles on the island. Their numbers are growing but they are discouraged by a majority of the local populace, with good reason. San Pedro’s narrow streets and laid-back commute are welcome in a world where traffic jams are commonplace even in places of comparable size. I hope this doesn’t change any time soon, the carts currently cruising San Pedro’s cobblestone avenues are charming.

San Pedro, Belize, Soccer

San Pedro, Belize, Soccer

This might be my absolute favorite image from Belize. I was strolling along a San Pedro beach on the Caribbean coast, in front of Estel’s Dine by the Sea where the above Belikin-bearing Maya mural photo was taken, when I saw a Belizean boy playing alone with a soccer ball. Just a few minutes later he was approached by an expatriate boy who asked if he could play with the soccer ball too. The immediate reply was: “yes.” With no concern for skin color, language or nationality, the pair of boys began kicking the ball around the beach as if they had been schoolyard buddies for years. All of this occurred with the aquamarine waves of the Caribbean lapping gently against the shore in the background. It’s one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever observed or photographed. The Caribbean has always been a place where very different cultures have collided, often violently. However, the meeting of cultures doesn’t have to lead to conflict. Through the shared experience of sport, these two found an instant, positive common bond. There’s a tremendous amount of hope in the thought that a simple soccer ball can bridge the distances between two people in any given location, worldwide.

Favorite 15 Photos of 2015

During the New Year’s holiday, it’s a tradition among shutterbugs who are members of online communities like Rocky Mountain Nature Photographers and Front Range Wildlife Photographers to share lists of their personal favorite images from the previous year. Thank you to all of the friends and family, new and old, who have made this year’s rather diverse list possible for me. This is especially dedicated to you. Here are my favorite 15 photos of 2015, plus five more, making the list equal 20. Hmm, 20,15, get it? Enjoy!

Dallas Divide, San Juan Mountains

Dallas Divide, San Juan Mountains

The San Juan Range near Ridgway, Colorado rarely disappoints when it comes to fall colors. Even though I arrived late to the party (the start of the second week in October) there was plenty of autumn goodness to capture with my camera in 2015. This was the only morning I had any clouds to work with at sunrise during my shoots in the region, however. When I took this photo, I was surprised to have had this particular overlook to myself. Of course, about a minute later two large vans pulled over, parked, and an outpouring of photographers from a workshop scattered around me to set up their tripods. For five minutes the group frantically clicked their shutters as the clouds turned from the pink color you see here to a deep yellow. Then, just as the sun rose from over the peaks to the east, the group packed up their gear and sped away, leaving me again alone to photograph the light beginning to shine on the aspen trees below the mountains – which also produced some shots as amazing as this one that the dozen or so workshop attendees would have also witnessed if they had just spent a little more time at the location.

Downtown Denver from above Interstate 25

Downtown Denver from above Interstate 25

Even since I was a child, I’ve always been fascinated with the tall buildings of downtown Denver. I got to work on a photo essay about the city’s skyscrapers this year which led me to research some of the best spots to see and photograph the skyline. This bridge over the Interstate isn’t exactly a secret (some photographically-inclined visitors strategically cut holes to poke lenses through from a chain-link fence lining the bridge) but it does provide one of my favorite views from north of downtown to look toward the central business district, and use a long exposure to blur automobile headlights and taillights. It was also a lucky circumstance to have a game going on at Coors Field that night which provided more light.

Dean Coombs, Publisher of the Saguache Crescent

Dean Coombs, Publisher of the Saguache Crescent

The Saguache Crescent, a weekly newspaper in the San Luis Valley, might be the world’s last publication printed with antique Linotype machines. For those who aren’t print media nerds like me and don’t know what Linotype is, check out this video to get a sense of how it works. It’s a labor-intensive process to put out a paper to say the least, as CBS Sunday Morning also found out, but the residents of Saguache sure appreciate getting their local news paired with breakfast at the 4th Street Diner & Bakery. Getting to spend a morning watching publisher Dean Coombs work on the machines his family has used for generations was a rewarding experience… especially when I think I have tough deadlines to deal with.

Black Footed Ferret Recovery Center

Black Footed Ferret Recovery Center

Black Rhinos, Bengal Tigers, Mountain Gorillas and other species get a lot of deserved attention for their critically endangered status, but there are few creatures in the world as endangered as the black footed ferret, a denizen of the Great Plains right here in our own country. The good news is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as a partnership of museums, zoos, state wildlife agencies and private landowners have worked together in less than 30 years to breed 18 individual ferrets found in a Wyoming colony (before the 1981 discovery of the colony, the species was thought to be extinct) and begin reintroducing a growing population into the wild. It’s a miraculous story of survival. I had the good fortune to witness a release of ferrets at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge east of Denver last fall and visit the Recovery Center in Northern Colorado where ferrets are bred and trained to hunt in the wild. I hope to be visiting there again for more images this coming year.

Butterfly Pavilion

Butterfly Pavilion

Break out the 105mm macro lens. Yay! I visited the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster for a story about how Colorado residents can bring the weird bugs they find in their gardens to entomology experts who will help identify the insects or arachnids. Colorado Life Magazine published a photo of a tarantula in the palm of one of the expert’s hands but I also got the opportunity to just roam the Butterfly Pavilion for shots of children joyfully chasing butterflies or simple close-ups like this one.

Bent's Old Fort

Bent’s Old Fort

After spending the night in La Junta following an assignment, I got up early the next morning to visit Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site nearby. First light made the adobe walls of the reconstructed fort glow with a beautiful orange hue. Plus, the park service likes to park a photogenic array of carts and wagons just outside, which doesn’t hurt when it comes to adding drama to the photo.

Canada Geese at Fossil Creek Park, Fort Collins

Canada Geese at Fossil Creek Park, Fort Collins

In late winter and early spring I spent a few weekends messing around with a 400mm f/2.8 lens I bought on eBay. I was mostly testing its autofocus speed on wading and flying waterfowl, getting some photos of iridescently-feathered ducks during trips to local lakes. This one of common Canada Geese stood out because the varied phases required for the birds to make a water landing somehow harmoniously all appeared in a single photo (these are different geese, not a multiple exposure of one). As a bonus, the focus of the lens had locked on quickly during this test.

Charles Rockey, Manitou Springs

Charles Rockey, Manitou Springs

Artist Charles Rockey is one of the most interesting characters I met during my travels this year. There’s no guessing why he’s one of the most recognizable individuals in Manitou Springs. Even within the large mural inside the entrance to the city’s public library, you can catch a glimpse of a painting depicting him walking his dog. In his studio, I got the chance to peruse his new book Love Songs of Middle Time, which has taken more than a decade to produce and is a magnificent collection of artwork and prose. It fits the genre of the illuminated manuscripts of the middle ages more than anything printed in the modern era, but if you’re a lover of fantasy, fables or science fiction, you’d love his book. Manitou Springs has definitely influenced Rockey’s work and appears in impressionistic fashion in many of his paintings, like the one in the background of this portrait.

Estes Park Clouds

Estes Park Clouds

I’ve had an unusual daily commute over the past few years. Driving between Loveland and Estes Park exposes a motorist to construction zones to repair roads torn apart from the 2013 floods, bighorn sheep that like to lick salt from the middle of the highway and tourists who ride the brakes out of fear that every curve might send them careening into the Big Thompson River. Once in a while,  arriving to the gateway town of Rocky Mountain National Park pleasantly surprises. Here’s a photo of fog perfectly framing Fairchild Mountain and Sundance Buttress; one of those few and far between moments when enduring the voyage with white knuckles clenching my steering wheel actually seemed worth it.

Dillon Open Regatta

Dillon Open Regatta

The one day I was able to attend the Dillon Open Regatta in Summit County this year was cut short by an intense thunderstorm. Bummer, since all the sailors I talked to said the previous day had amazing weather with the perfect amount of wind and some dramatically competitive finishes. Despite that, I still got a really neat shot of racers maneuvering around a mark just before the darkening sky and swirling winds stopped the race a few minutes after this was taken.

Steamboat Springs Town Story

Fly Fishing on the Yampa River, Steamboat Springs

Timing, timing, timing. This year in Steamboat Springs I rode a gondola in a lightning storm, stayed at the shadiest hotel in town and was never able to connect with a ridiculously busy rancher who was a central part of the story I was working on. I also met a lot of cool people, especially the proprietors of the F.M. Light & Sons store and Howelsen Ice Arena. Here’s one of those cool moments. I noticed this fly fisherman while I was walking on a bridge over the Yampa River just before sunset. I watched and waited, taking a few photos along the way, to see if maybe, just maybe, he might catch something, even if the river wasn’t giving him much to work with.

Paint Mines Interpretive Park

Paint Mines Interpretive Park

This is probably my favorite place to photograph the Paint Mines, a still relatively undiscovered geological formation in El Paso County. It gives an expansive view of the weird hoodoos, unlikely carved from the earth under this prairie east of Colorado Springs. There’s even a bench to rest your legs and drop your pack of camera gear here. It’s fitting that the lead hiker was wearing a tie-dye shirt when I took the shot. Wondrous color. Just watch out for the horned lizards that squirt blood from their eyes.

San Luis

San Luis

While working on a story about San Luis, the oldest town in Colorado (it says so on the mountain), I woke up just before sunrise one morning to get a photo of La Vega, a communal pasture that dates back the Spanish Land Grant days, on the outskirts of town. I stopped at this spot where Culebra Creek makes a striking snake-like curve. When the sun started to eclipse the summits of the Sangre de Cristo Range, east of where I was standing and began lighting the foreground grasses, a cattle herd loped into the area almost on cue. One of the cows appropriately made it into the corner of the lower right frame of this image.

Trinidad, Highway of Legends

Trinidad, Highway of Legends

Trinidad is the terminus for the Highway of Legends Scenic and Historic Byway. It’s an extremely interesting Colorado town where Bat Masterson once patrolled the streets and bootleggers built underground tunnels to transport booze undetected. Even though the actual road that is part of the designated byway is barely seen here, and Interstate 25 dominates the view, I wanted to get a new version of the iconic overlook of Trinidad with Fishers Peak in the background for a scenic byway story. The variegated cloud cover and sunset on that particular evening provided serendipitous stripes of light highlighting Trinidad’s downtown and the summit of the peak, to my delight.

Rocky Ford Grilled Watermelon Recipe

Rocky Ford Grilled Watermelon Recipe

Rocky Ford in Southeastern Colorado is famous for its yearly watermelon crop and plentifully-stocked highway fruit stands. To accompany a Colorado Life Magazine story we published about the town and its agricultural heritage, we included a section of recipes contributed by local residents. With the generous help of some family members at home, I visualized a recipe of grilled watermelon slices with a honey and lime zest drizzle for a very colorful photo shoot evoking the feeling of being at a summertime picnic.

Crested Butte

Crested Butte

I’ve been to Crested Butte many times in my travels. It’s always been one of my must-do locations for wildflowers and fall foliage. Going there this year was different though, since I was instead visiting to attend the Governor’s Tourism Conference and photograph the town’s distinctive historic downtown (something I hadn’t done much of on my previous trips there). Recently, I’ve been putting a bigger focus on street photography in my work, and it’s a fun challenge since this adds a need to practice composing images quickly (and with a little bit of cloak-and-dagger to prevent your subjects from changing their natural routines) to get a shot with the right timing. The light and shadow on the bicyclist and Mount Crested Butte in the distance made this one of my favorites from the visit and I began to use more street photography in assignments at towns like Telluride and Morrison this year. It also helps to illustrate the fact that in some Colorado towns like Crested Butte you’re more likely to get run over by a Schwinn than a Chevy.

Pawnee Buttes Aerial

Pawnee Buttes Aerial

It’s not easy to appreciate the true vastness of the plains unless you see them from the air. When seen from above, the Pawnee Buttes in Weld County are accented by windmills, grazing cattle, sprawling fence lines and a wind turbine farm. It was good to have an opportunity to fly over this place, especially in a year where early summer rains kept the grass green.

Brown Palace Hotel, Denver

Brown Palace Hotel, Denver

Reflections are a great tool for photography. I admired how the reflections from the windows of adjacent buildings cast their glare on the historic Brown Palace Hotel in downtown Denver. This image was part of the skyscraper photo essay I worked on this year. It wasn’t published due to a very similar photo printing in the previous issue, but it still just has something about it that draws me in.

Woods Lake, near Telluride

Woods Lake, near Telluride

Even though I make trips to the San Juan Mountains yearly, this is a specific spot I hadn’t visited for ten years. After photographing this image on a crisp autumn 2015 afternoon to support a story about Telluride, I definitely wondered why. I don’t think my photos from before came close to the glorious reflection and accents of puffy clouds I saw this time. What took me so long to get back to this location west of Wilson Mesa? Perhaps the other more extravagant viewpoints of the beautiful region seduced me on previous visits? I’m not sure, but this photo is a good reminder to remember places that I, perhaps, have missed.

Lake Dillon near Frisco

Lake Dillon near Frisco

I spent a December Saturday in Frisco filling myself with Christmas cheer while photographing Wassail Days and the Ugly Sweater Challenge. After a significant snowfall, the next morning I photographed sledders, tubers and cross-country skiers at Frisco’s Adventure Park then headed home on Interstate 70. I didn’t plan on it, but I had to stop on the scenic overlook above Lake Dillon to get a photo of the newly-fallen snow still clinging to the needles of the foreground conifers and the majestic white peaks of the Front Range beyond.

Happy New Year 2016

Hardin_DSC7892-WEB

Happy New Year! I took this just after midnight, early today under the D&F Tower in downtown Denver. A cheery group was celebrating on the 16th Street Mall even though the temperatures were in the single digits. Here’s hoping 16 will be a lucky number and 2016 will be a good year for everyone.

11 (not 50) shades of gray

The original version of this photo of Longs Peak was in color, but the harsh midday sun created an unflattering bright blue cast. Converting the image to black and white brought out interesting patterns and many shades of gray.

The original version of this photo of Longs Peak was in color, but the harsh midday sun created an unflattering bright blue cast. Converting the image to black and white brought out interesting patterns and many shades of gray.

Once upon a time, processing a photograph was a complicated but pleasurable affair in a darkroom.

Those of us who are lucky enough to have witnessed the transition of darkroom to digital imaging are amazed at how much things changed in a few short years. Today we have cameras that fit inside our pocket, connected to phones that allow us to share our photos with millions of people in a matter of seconds.

While we might appreciate the instant gratification of seeing how our photos came out on an LCD screen and tapping an Instagram filter to create a vintage appearance for them spontaneously, instead of waiting even one anxious hour at a photo lab, some of us retain fond memories of a much more sensuous relationship with our photos.

We used to load film onto a reel by touch in total darkness, then soaked and shook it with chemicals in a cylindrical tank every few minutes. Under the red glow of safelights, we placed the developed negatives in enlargers to expose our prints, carefully dodging and burning by hand to brighten and darken selected sections of the images.

We dropped prints in Dektol to watch the images seem to mystically materialize from the blank paper, then we preserved them for the ages in a swirl of stop bath and fixer solutions. We had to wait some more for the prints to dry before we could hang them on a wall.

Taking all these steps to develop a single photo may seem like cruel and unusual punishment to anyone used to the convenience of digital technology, but thinking of this process actually makes me nostalgic for the midwinter days when I practiced photography in high school and developed black-and-white film in a darkroom. That darkroom wasn’t only useful as a secluded spot in which to make out with girls, as high schoolers will do, it became a place to train my eyes to notice how the striking textures of icy rivers, frosty windswept grasses and bare hibernating trees could be interpreted artistically in an image.

Photographers are taught to seek the colorful light of the “magic” or “golden” hours, one hour before sunset or after sunrise, when scenes glow in warm shades of pink, maroon or orange. It’s easy to take photos in these conditions if you get up early or stay up late enough.

However, midday light, with the sun directly overhead, is usually harsh and cold. This is the time when most people take pictures, and because of the sun’s high angle, these photos often have a large contrast between very bright and dark subjects. This can be detrimental for color photography, washing out the vividness of hues, but beneficial for black and white.

Photographer Ansel Adams not only saw the deep contrast of highlight and shadow but suggested there were shades of gray hidden in between. He called this the Zone System, identifying 11 distinct shades from pure white through a scale of grays to pure black. For modern digital photographers, it’s useful to think about the way subtle tones of a particular color can translate into a wide range of grays.

This type of previsualization helped me envision the photo to the right. I captured curling tufts of windblown snow around the summit of Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park at 11:30 a.m. on a blustery February day. I took the original photograph in color but saw it was dominated by an unflattering bright blue cast.

By converting the image to grayscale with a computer program like Adobe Photoshop, I knew I could divert a viewer’s attention away from the nearly-noon monochromatic look and direct it toward the attractive shapes of the billowing clouds, the rocky faces of the mountain and the checkered patterns of snow fields, which all possessed specific zones of gray.
The legacy of the darkroom lives on. Some enthusiasts still develop photos in physical darkrooms, but most of us now work in more practical digital versions despite our sentimental yearnings for the good old days.

Whether we develop with chemicals or on a computer monitor, looking back at black-and-white techniques can help us savor the unique tones and textures available in what might otherwise seem like the bleakest of seasons.

The Season of Light Painting

Profile Rock, Poudre Canyon, Colorado

Profile Rock, Poudre Canyon, Colorado

This Peak Pixels column first appeared in the November/December 2015 edition of Colorado Life Magazine. Order your copy here: https://store.coloradolifemagazine.com/november-december-2015-p168.php?retain_errors=Y&retain_notices=Y

’Tis the season to celebrate holiday tree trimmings, mountaintop star illuminations and glowing parades of light. Daylight is scarce as the winter solstice approaches in Colorado, so why not take advantage of these long, dark nights and the festive displays around us? When we supply our own light to brighten up the night, resulting photographs develop in unexpected, creative ways.

The origin of the word “photography” comes from a combination of Greek words meaning “light” and “drawing.” We usually think of photography as the practice of holding a camera as steady as we can, clicking the shutter button and capturing a scene with whatever existing ambient light is available.

However, photography is capable of much more. We can make artistic exposures by literally drawing or “painting” with light as many of history’s renowned photographers, including Life magazine contributor Gjon Mili, have done. Mili was an innovator of strobe lighting techniques learned by working side-by-side with electronic flash pioneer Harold Edgerton at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. You might recognize Edgerton’s trademark high-speed flash images of bullets cutting through playing cards.

In contrast, Mili was interested in how flash could be used in combination with slow shutter speeds. He visited Pablo Picasso in 1949 and showed the famous artist long-exposure photographs he took that accentuated the graceful, whirling arcs of ice skaters who had lights attached to their skates. In the photographs, Mili also used a flash to freeze a single moment of the skaters’ performances, thus lighting their entire bodies in beautiful combination with the swirls of skate movements recorded by the several-seconds-long exposures.

Immediately inspired, Picasso started making images in the air with a small flashlight in a dark room. Picasso and Mili created a series of light drawings together, the most celebrated of which is called “Picasso Draws a Centaur.”

CC-150910_Hardin_DSC5490The photos of Picasso drawing with his flashlight illustrate the technique of using a moving light source that is front of the camera, which I mimicked in the above self-portrait. I used a Stylus penlight to write “Colorado” in the air, making sure that the letters were backwards from my view but would look correct to the camera. Like Mili, I used a flash to freeze one moment. Imaginative photographers aren’t limited to flashlights. Many use extensive toolboxes of items, including bicycle wheels lined with Christmas lights, party glow sticks, sparking steel wool set ablaze by nine-volt batteries, even toy light sabers for various colorful effects that look like magic in photos.

Another technique is illuminating a subject in a dark situation with a light source that is completely off-camera, behind the lens. No flash is necessary. This technique is great for detailed still life images lit by penlights, portraits lit by larger LED flashlights or landscapes lit by powerful spotlights, though the subject must stay completely still. Colorado resident Dave Black (daveblackphotography.com) is one of my inspirations for experimenting with this style. At a recent workshop, I watched Black demonstrate the technique of light painting Western-themed still life setups of cowboy hats, lassos and six-shooters with a penlight. He also shined spotlights to expose weathered barns under rugged Rocky Mountain backdrops.

In the photo at the top, I used a portable Brinkman spotlight from behind the camera to paint the face of Profile Rock on the Cache La Poudre-North Park Scenic and Historic Byway west of Fort Collins. This was a tricky process, as I had a short window between sunset and the rise of a full moon to make the photo. I opened the shutter using the “bulb” setting with a remote release cord, pointed the spotlight at the profile for 30 seconds, then spent another 30 seconds shining the light along the trees before closing the shutter. Fortunately, haze in the atmosphere between where I was standing along the highway and the rock face created an interesting, cloudy halo.

Light painting also can be achieved by moving the camera itself around while the shutter is open, streaking the holiday lights adorning our city boulevards or turning country homes into blurry, abstract photos that would make Jackson Pollock proud. With some lenses, we can even turn the zoom ring during the exposure to achieve a radial blur effect that looks like we are travelling in a Star Wars hyperspace.

This winter, don’t despair even when it seems there is no light to be found. The holiday season gives photographers the opportunity to try the many available styles of light painting. We never have to be left out in the dark.

Photos and s’mores aplenty in Loveland

Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, Loveland, Colorado

Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, Loveland, Colorado

This column originally appeared in the July/August 2015 edition of Colorado Life Magazine. Order your copy here: https://store.coloradolifemagazine.com/july-august-2015-p152.php?retain_errors=Y&retain_notices=Y

Sometimes photographers’ fear of working with large groups are justified. Photo shoots rarely end up being as easy as you expect, and for all your careful planning, your success often hinges on your ability to adapt and improvise. That was the case when the staff of Colorado Life Magazine partnered with Colorado’s Sweetheart City to help produce the 2015 Loveland Visitors Guide.

Loveland’s Visitor Service Coordinator Cindy Mackin proposed we do a photo shoot at Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch for the guide’s cover. Many photographers would be skittish about having to direct a large group of models that included children wearing cowboy hats shading their faces on a sunny afternoon while riding horseback over winding mountainous trails.

Sylvan Dale, which I knew well from growing up in Loveland, is a nearly 70-year-old landmark that we almost lost in the September 2013 floods. Owners and staff have had the monumental task of rebuilding the grounds and business. All I needed to do was show up and take some pretty pictures with a post-shoot payoff of campfire hot dogs and s’mores. “No problem,” I thought – sounded like fun.

After persuading family and friends to be our models, we scheduled the shoot for a mid-week evening. In true Colorado fashion, the weather intervened with a mix of rain and snow showers. We scrambled to reschedule another time when all of our models could attend while still meeting our deadline.

The next Sunday, I arrived at the ranch ahead of the models to meet Cindy, graphic designer John Metcalf and Susan Jessup, who co-owns Sylvan Dale with her brother, David, to survey the perfect locations for the photographs. We chose spots with curving gravel roads and wooden fences stretching toward a horizon of rolling sandstone buttes.

Precious daylight was burning as our models arrived, and we excitedly saddled them up in a carefully coordinated arrangement of ages, attire and horse colors. By the time we hit the trail, the sun had moved behind a cloud, and we discovered our pre-selected spots had distracting sagebrush we hadn’t noticed previously. The horses grew stubborn when taken in a direction they weren’t used to plodding. The riders had uncomfortable expressions because they were still getting used to their mounts. The photos I took just weren’t right. It was time to throw our plan out the window again.

Susan, who knows the terrain better than anyone, offered to lead the group back toward the barn over a narrow trail along a mountain ridge. The catch was that I would need to hoof it ahead of the group with only minutes to visualize my shots before the riders appeared.

John volunteered to run alongside to look for clearings where we could set up and alert me when the models approached. Just then, the sun emerged from behind the clouds, casting golden light on the background rock walls. The horses perked their ears as they traveled familiar trails. The riders were having fun and smiled from ear to ear. At the opposite side of the ridge, Cindy cracked up with laughter at the sight of John and me running to stay ahead of the horse string. Our cover photo resulted from this flurry of impromptu activity.

Photographers want to be in control. In our camera bags we pack flashes to manipulate lighting conditions, lenses to give us a range of possible compositions and all sorts of other technological tools that are supposed to help get us out of any jam we find ourselves in. When working with natural light that is at the mercy of the weather, animals that have minds of their own and wide open spaces where it’s difficult to shout directions to models, you realize quickly that no matter how hard you hold the reins you’re still just along for the ride. You might as well embrace unpredictability.

That’s how the people at Sylvan Dale have survived a natural disaster that would have disheartened less hardy folk. I’d like to think this is just one example of the resiliency of Coloradans, and Lovelanders in particular.

If you ride into Loveland during your summer travels, be sure to stop at the Visitors Center at 5400 Stone Creek Circle. Pick up your copy of the guide and extra copies of Colorado Life Magazine to share with the friendly residents you’re guaranteed to meet in my hometown.

You never know, you just might be invited for campfire s’mores at a ranch cookout.

Sights and Sounds: May 17, 2015

Bristlecone Pines, some of the oldest organisms on Earth, at the Base of Mount Bross near Kite Lake, Colorado.

Bristlecone Pines, some of the oldest organisms on Earth, at the Base of Mount Bross near Kite Lake, Colorado.

Sights and Sounds: May 17, 2015

Sometimes I travel. Sometimes I write. Sometimes I take photos. I’m always listening to music. Here’s what I’ve been listening to.

After the death of B.B. King, this week’s playlist is a bit of a downer, but here it is:

B.B. King – The Thrill Is Gone

RIP to the best bluesman there ever was. I had the privilege of seeing him at Fiddler’s Green/Coors Amphitheater, or whatever they were calling the venue, back in 2005, in a concert with Robert Cray and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. It was amazing. This has always been my favorite song of his.

Mumford and Sons – Snake Eyes

Mumford and Sons is back and this song reminds me of someone… It’s hard to get it out of my head.

Nothing More – Jenny

This is an incredibly powerful, personal account of mental illness in a family, from one of the best up-and-coming bands in hard rock. Everyone knows a Jenny. #iknowjenny.

Hands Like Houses – A Fire on a Hill

I love the lyrics: “I don’t know where to begin, begin again.” It’s kind of how I’ve been feeling for a very, very long time. Keep an eye on this band from Australia. They’re going to be big.

Primitive Radio Gods – Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand

It’s weird that this song magically played on my iPod while driving home on Thursday night. It contains a sample of B.B. King’s 1964 hit “How Blue Can You Get.” The lyrics “I’ve been downhearted baby, ever since the day we met.” were first recorded by Johnny Moore in 1949, perfectly played by B.B. and lent to this 90s one hit wonder which those of us who grew up in, well, any of those eras will never forget.

+5 More

Hellyeah – Hush

Red – Take Me Over

X Ambassadors – Renegades

Seether – Nobody Praying For Me

INXS – Don’t Change

Image(s) of the Month: June 2014 – Remembering the High Park Fire Two Years Later

HighParkFire-Tanker1-WEB

A tanker drops slurry forming a line to protect homes near Horsetooth Reservoir on June 11, 2012.

Two years ago, residents of Northern Colorado witnessed what was then the second-largest wildfire in Colorado history by area burned. The High Park Fire was first reported on June 9, 2012 and burned more than 87,284 acres before 100 percent containment was achieved 21 days later. At least 259 structures were destroyed, making it the most destructive fire in state history until that number was eclipsed by the Waldo Canyon fire only a week later and the Black Forest Fire in 2013. Knowing the fire would be covered by many newspaper and television crews, I wanted to photograph images that were less breaking news-oriented and perhaps more lasting and artistic; showing some of the deadly, yet strangely beautiful aspects of the blaze. Here’s a selection from those smoky days of the summer of 2012.

Onlookers watch air crews battle the blaze from the shores of Horsetooth Reservoir.

Onlookers watch air crews battle the blaze from the shores of Horsetooth Reservoir.

Thick smoke west of Loveland, south of Masonville, on the morning of June 12.

Thick smoke west of Loveland, south of Masonville, on the morning of June 12.

Horsetooth Mountain veiled in smoke as seen from the southwest near Loveland.

Horsetooth Mountain, barely visible through smoke. Taken from a location which usually provides a clear shot of these foothills, south of Fort Collins and west of Loveland on the morning of June 13.

The High Park Fire as seen from City Park in Fort Collins.

The High Park Fire as seen from City Park in Fort Collins on June 13.

Larimer County Sheriff's Deputies work at a Masonville roadblock.

Larimer County Sheriff’s Deputies work at a Masonville roadblock.

A sky crane looks like a minuscule ant working against a massive backdrop of wildfire smoke.

A sky crane looks like a minuscule ant working against a massive backdrop of wildfire smoke.

Smoke plumes seen from north of the High Park Fire area in Loveland.

Smoke plumes seen from north of the High Park Fire area in Loveland.

Smoke plumes captured at sunset on June 23, from Wellington, Colorado.

Smoke plumes captured at sunset on June 23, from Wellington, Colorado.

A tribute to firefighters is painted on a boulder near U.S. Highway 287 north of Fort Collins.

A tribute to firefighters is painted on a boulder near U.S. Highway 287 north of Fort Collins.

Image(s) of the Month: May 2014 – Steamboat Art Museum Show

Colorado Nature Photography Invitational

Colorado Nature Photography Invitational

It’s my honor to be sharing examples of my work with ten of the state’s finest photographers at the Colorado Nature Photography Invitational Exhibit and Sale at the Steamboat Art Museum in downtown Steamboat Springs. The selection of my five images that are appearing in the show is below. The opening reception is May 30, followed by a round table discussion the following Saturday and First Friday shows on June 6 and July 4 the show runs through July 15. My book Classic Colorado is also for sale at the museum’s gift shop. I want to especially thank Rod Hanna for putting the show together. It’s been a lot of fun working on it!

Viewing the Colorado Nature Photographers Invitation at the Steamboat Art Museum.

Viewing the Colorado Nature Photographers Invitation at the Steamboat Art Museum.

One of my images on the wall at the Steamboat Art Museum.

One of my images on the wall at the Steamboat Art Museum.

Sneffels Range by Joshua Hardin

Sneffels Range by Joshua Hardin.

Columbine cling to a rock face on Green Mountain near Stony Pass. As seen after sunset. San Juan Range near Silverton, Colorado.

Columbine cling to a rock face on Green Mountain near Stony Pass. As seen after sunset. San Juan Range near Silverton, Colorado.

Wispy Clouds Over Wilson

Wispy Clouds Over Wilson.

Moraine Park waves, RMNP.

Moraine Park waves, RMNP.

Wildflowers of Wescliffe.

Wildflowers of Wescliffe.

 

Image of the Month: April 2014

Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.

Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.

Spring in the Rockies is unpredictable to say the least. This image of the historic Stanley Hotel from mid-April, 2012 shows a snowy dusting over Lumpy Ridge and the Sundance Buttress in the background while aspen trees in the foreground glow green with new leaves. Examples of this clash of seasons can often be seen in the Colorado mountains during this time of year but in 2012 it was even more extreme. The leaves budded about two weeks earlier than normal, foretelling a very dry summer to come.