Welcome to the From The High Country blog. Here, you can read about life in the mountains of Colorado and see some of my latest work.
As I type, the sun is shining in between snow flurries on a late March morning, and I've already tidied my yard after several very warm (for the time of year) weeks. Fresh snow could fall and settle at any time between now and May, but the coldest days have almost certainly passed.
Lake City is a small town, and in winter the population drops to around 400 people. Tourist-oriented businesses close, and the residents are especially appreciative of businesses such as the Packer Saloon and the Mountaineer Theatre through the quiet months.
In town, the streets are deserted, but there are many signs of life in the wilderness nearby. Freshly fallen snow is useful for tracking our furry residents. From mice to mountain lions, each species leaves distinctive tracks. This year I've been surprised at the high mountain locations that I've encountered moose prints, but each set of tracks always tells an interesting story.
Winter activities here include skiing (both downhill and cross-country), ice climbing and (my favorite) snowshoeing. On snowshoes, I can go everywhere I would usually go in summer, even though it may take twice as long!
The wilderness takes on a very different look when snow blankets everything. While the mountain summits are still easily recognizable, narrow forest trails can be difficult to find, and the backcountry adventurer must have a good sense of direction! Wilderness rewards those who make the extra effort with some stunning views.
During the quiet days of winter, and when I'm not shoveling snow or exploring, I work on design projects for the coming year. The beginning of 2017 has been no exception, and my biggest From The High Country project ever has just been sent away for production! Lake City Landscapes is my most ambitious book yet, and features a hand-picked selection of my personal favorites. It's now available for pre-order. I'll tell you more about this and other new products in a separate update later this spring.
Earlier this week, I hiked up to 11,000 ft in the forest and was pleased to find the snowpack is still quite deep, even though my yard in the valley is turning green already. Snow lies in patches at 9,000 ft, and the familiar scents of juniper and coniferous trees drift through the forests up to nearly 10,000 ft. Most terrain above that is still firmly in the grip of winter, but that will change over the next few weeks.
At the end of each year I get a chance to review my output for the previous 12 months. I ensure I've archived everything correctly, and I take some time to plan for new projects involving the best of my images. As the end of 2016 rapidly approaches, I thought I'd look back at some of my recent work and share some back stories.
Taken 11 months ago, this shot happened as I stood on a partially frozen Lake Fork of the Gunnison River as snow fell on a silent mountain town. The leaves and the visitors are missing, but in winter the local scenes take on an entirely different appearance.
Bighorn sheep are a symbol of wilderness here in Colorado. While they can be spotted at any time of the year, I find that the snow puts us on more even terms when I'm trying to get a good view of them. In addition to regular wildlife shots, I like to treat their portraits as I would those of any human. This ewe was quite curious about the crouched figure and clicking noises.
Although spring may have officially arrived, the big thaw of lakes and rivers is a slow process. Eventually, temperatures begin to rise and snowfall becomes less frequent. The mountain summits are the last to clear, and as they do so, the streams come back to life. After a long winter, spring is eagerly anticipated by everyone.
Summer weather makes all of the high country more accessible, and a colorful landscape not only makes for a great photograph but a fun spot for lunch and relaxation after long days of snowshoeing just a few weeks earlier.
As many of you know, moose-watching is one of my favorite things to do. My first spring-time sighting is always a highlight for me, and I always take far too many exposures. This time, I spotted a bull at the edge of a creek as he walked into a clearing.
Summer and fall are busy times, even in small towns. The forests offer limitless hikes, and visitors come looking for a chance to relax with friends and family. Many families like to capture memories of their visits, so they hire me to help out. I enjoy hearing about family traditions and stories of Lake City long before I arrived.
There aren't many people around where I spend much of my time, so it is fun to return to the valleys and spend a few hours with new friends sometimes. A change of style keeps me sharp as a photographer, and I have a chance to control aspects of the shot that aren't possible in wilderness.
When shooting outdoor portraits, I'm at the mercy of weather and seasonal changes. Sometimes I make the best of things, but occasionally I have nature's best backgrounds to work with.
This year was particularly unusual in that I spent a month as the set photographer for a movie production (read more here). It offered many challenges along the way, and I'm certainly a better photographer because of it.
Night photography involving people requires split second timing with both settings and shots, but getting that shot is a satisfying feeling!
As the movie making came to an end, the fall colors began to appear. I headed back into the mountains to experience every possible minute of the displays.
The wildlife were my companions as I returned to solitude. This is one of my favorite moose shots, taken just before sunset on a warm and peaceful afternoon.
After weddings, family portraits, real estate photos and movie stills, I rounded off the year with an evening as photographer and videographer for the headline act at the local wine and music festival - Wylie CrazyHorse Jones. Once again, I was able to turn to my ever-expanding skill set to get the shots.
Live music photography shares many similarities with movie sets. Once you're familiar with how things work and where the good shooting positions are, it's all about anticipating the shot. I'm very pleased to have had such a broad range of opportunities in my time as a photographer, but this year has been particularly memorable.
When the music's over, turn out the lights. The Winefest brought an end to the tourist season, and I was left to wander the mountains once more.
If you put in the effort, the mountains often reward the explorer with magnificent views. Those times when fall and winter meet are brief and infrequent, but always unforgettable.
Weather and lighting can turn a good scene into an amazing one, albeit one that only lasts for a few minutes.
In the time between fall and the heavy snows of winter, the forests can seem ghostly after the aspen leaves have fallen, but there is always beauty in the wilderness. I hiked for a few hours to get this view and enjoyed every second of it.
When winter arrived, there was one last display of color on offer. Three consecutive days of fiery sunsets (once again, only lasting a few minutes) were a fine distraction while the snow was thin and temperatures fluctuated.
Rocky Mountain winters are not for everyone, but for those who make the effort there is still much to see. Even a snowstorm at 11,000ft is a beautiful sight.
That brings us to the end of another year. If you'd like to see more, you can view my galleries here. You can pick your favorite seasonal gallery, subject specific gallery, or search for your favorites. Until Jan 31st, 2017, I'm offering two introductory coupon codes - 5202017 for $5 off a purchase of $20 or more, or 10502017 for $10 off a purchase of $50 or more!
I have a few projects planned for the next year, so look out for details as they become available. Your opinions are highly valued, and you can help me by spending just a couple of minutes answering a few questions here.
Have a safe and happy 2017. Thanks for reading!
I've said many times that if the day comes when I feel I have nothing left to learn, I'll quit. I think that's the same for any art form. When I get a chance to do something different, it helps to keep me in a constant state of learning and growth.
A couple of years ago, I was approached by two filmmakers from the Front Range. They sent me a script and asked me to provide location scouting services, so I put together a list of potential filming locations and we met to inspect each one on several occasions. They began as great clients and we ended as friends.
We kept in touch sporadically, but it still came as a surprise when I was contacted by a production coordinator and asked to act as still photographer for the movie. When a movie is shot, a still photographer's job is usually to capture images of both cast and crew while principal photography is underway. Cast shots should include in-character and relaxed views. It's also the still photographer's job to be nearly invisible. He or she should be able to get the shots without impeding anyone else on the set. I applied my wildlife experience and telephoto lenses to create literally thousands of photographs, and at the end of each day (or night), I would send the best to the production company.
I've chosen a small set of images that contain no spoilers (meaning no cast and no important locations or events) to create a short photo essay about film making in the high country of Western Colorado.
An efficient production crew is a well-oiled machine. Each part works with the others to create the finished product.
Down-time is unpredictable and brief, so candid portrait opportunities only last a second or two.
From the periphery, it was easier to spot those personal, deep in thought moments (director of photography pictured).
The number of smiles I captured really speaks to the camaraderie found on that set.
Crew members unflinchingly did whatever was necessary to get the right shot.
Sara later turned the tables and got a candid portrait of me one night (kudos).
While years of planning led to this point, each scene still has to work with the forest environment and ever-changing lighting conditions.
Just because you're in the woods, it doesn't mean you can't look good.
When working on a horror movie, the additional challenge of night shoots is to be expected.
Weeks of night shoots were accompanied by unseasonably cold and damp weather, which only brought the crew closer.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
I usually work alone, so it was particularly interesting to watch a camera crew at work.
Shooting stills at night with dense forests, harsh lights, smoke and moving people is challenging to say the least, but I could sometimes turn those conditions to my advantage.
Those same challenging conditions made for some atmospheric scenes.
During breaks, the empty forest had a peaceful (or eerie, depending on your perspective) appearance.
Is this a horror movie, or European art-house cinema?
A surrealist scene on set.
Every crew member carried their own responsibilities.
I don't think I've ever worked in a group where so many became friends in a few short weeks.
I didn't have a chance to get to know some people, but I was glad to work alongside so many professionals.
Busted. As hard as I tried to stay out of sight, sometimes there was nowhere to hide.
Deep in conversation (director, producer/AD and director of photography). One of my favorite shots.
Being a still photographer on a forest movie set at night was some of the most challenging work I've ever done. A thorough knowledge of camera settings, an eye for the shot, the foresight to be in the right places and of course the stamina to keep going for 10 hours are all essential skills. I'm certainly a better photographer than I was when I began on a warm August morning.
I'd like to thank Matt and Scott for having such faith in me and my work to hire me as both a location scout two years ago and as still photographer during principal photography. It was fascinating to see the locations come to life as set locations, and I was honored to document the production with my cameras. I'd also like to thank the crew for being accepting and welcoming towards this stranger on set. I'm glad I had the opportunity to work with so many good people.
It's been a while since I last shared something in this blog. I have plenty to catch up on, but I wanted to begin with a personal story. There is a connection to my work, but it might not be obvious until the end.
Many, many moons ago, when I was in primary/grade school, I had a friend called Darren. I didn't hang out with him as much as some over friends, but that was partially because Darren had a condition that made a lot of playground games difficult and dangerous for him. One of the few memories of him that I can recall clearly is having a great time at one of his birthday parties. Darren was a lively, funny, mischievous little kid. That aspect of him always stood out, especially since he had a very severe, painful form of psoriasis that must have been an incredible burden. He would often miss days or weeks of school from time in hospital, and yet I remember him being one of those people who is fun to be around. I'm sure he had a lot of sadness in him. Some kids must have teased him (that's what some kids do) about his condition, and it must have got to him sometimes, but I don't really remember that.
One day, Darren went into hospital and he didn't come back. He was ten years old.
His passing was not the first I'd experienced, but it was the first young person. I remember the church where his funeral was. I remember helping to plant a tree in his memory in the school playing field. I could comprehend what had happened, but it seemed incredibly unfair and that was probably the first time I felt mortal.
Children adapt well and we moved on with our lives, but I've thought of him now and then over the years. As I remember him now, that cheerfulness, even joie de vivre, in the face of adversity that he shared still stays with me. I don't have his personality (and perhaps adults can never recapture the joy of being a child), but I try to live up to the lesson that he inadvertently taught me. Bad things will happen in your life, and your attitude may not change those things, but it can make them pass more easily. The other lesson he taught me is perhaps more profound. There is no order and no system of fairness in matters of life and death. Only today is guaranteed.
He is one of the reasons I left a safe and secure desk job behind to be a 'starving artist' in the mountains. Spending time on a nameless mountain summit or sharing a patch of wilderness with an elusive wild animal is what makes me happy, and I feel I owe it to people like Darren to enjoy my time. The fact that I've become a decent photographer is the icing on the cake.
As I thought of Darren earlier this year, I searched for his name online and found nothing. Our primary school years came and went long before the internet was around. I like to be anonymous when I'm not working, but for some reason it seemed wrong that Darren didn't exist on the internet. I felt compelled to right that wrong. Darren Paul Mansfield, this one is for you.
Photography as a profession is a struggle between making art and making money. The two seem to have little connection at times! Many photographers find themselves performing work that they don't enjoy, but so far I've managed to avoid that. In late winter and early spring (the 'slow' time of year) I like to design new projects and make plans for the year ahead. Last year, I worked on my second self-published book! The design work began with an idea I had while hiking toward the end of the previous fall, and ended in spring as I sent the finished file for printing.
Next on this list is my range of postcards! Instead of some generic images from a faceless corporation, you can now make your friends envious or keep a reminder by your desk with a selection of my images in classic postcard format. Send them or keep them!
After postcards, the next step was note cards. My original set was so popular that I sold everything I had well before the end of 2015! This year, I expanded the range to 10 all-new designs. Each card comes with an envelope and is blank inside, so you can use them for just about any occasion - from a thank you to Christmas greetings.
Brand new for 2016 (and a limited edition), my Lake City mug is a colorful and useful to your From The High Country collection. As with all of my products, I use the best supplier in the US that I can find, and always endeavor to give good value to my customers.
Finally, I'd like to share the latest in a line of successful calendars! Featuring a range of my images from around Lake City, Gunnison and Creede, this is a year-round reminder of the high country. This calendar sells out each year, so don't wait until December to get your copy.
Learn more here. Ready to buy? Send me an email or look for them at either Sage and Timber or San Juan Delights in Lake City. Looking for a print instead? Contact me and I'll be happy to help you find the perfect view and print format.
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