Fall 2013, Part I: The Non-Moronic Bells

Dark Bells : Prints Available

Maroon Lake and Bells, 45 minutes before sunrise.


Just got back from an eight day trip through Colorado and Wyoming to photograph this year’s fall colors. It has been a terrible year overall for fall foliage in the Rockies; too much rain followed by early wet snows have done a number on the leaves, which were late changing to begin with. But, I still had a good trip overall–drank lots of microbrews and ate lots of good food–certainly can’t complain too much. My next 3 or 4 blog entries will be dedicated to this trip; I don’t usually get out for a week’s time, so I’ve got a bunch of new photos to share.

First, stop, the infamous Maroon Bells in Aspen, Colorado. I met up with a couple of fellow Colorado photographer friends up there, including Todd Caudle and Art Escobado. We were hoping for some good clearing-storm conditions at the lake, site of the most photographed mountain in America. I later mentioned my time in Aspen to a photographer I ran into up in Wyoming, and he replied, “you mean the Moron Bells?” This was an inference that the hundreds of photographers who line up along the lakeside shoulder-to-shoulder every fall are moronic. I partly agree–with few exceptions it is moronic to join that crowd. The essence of landscape photography is to be artful–and art is synonymous with self-expression. One cannot express oneself in an individual way when one is lined up with hundreds of other photographers, all shooting the identical scene. It’s repetitive, and it gets boring. But, icons are icons for a reason, and I enjoy shooting the Bells. I just go out of my way to avoid the lakeside crowd, and forge my own way using any number of tricks I’ve learned over the last decade of my annual trips to Aspen. The shot above is an example. I never shoot from the near side of the lake, where the crowd forms. Sure, that has a ‘better’ view and enables one to shoot a ‘cleaner’ composition that abides by the ‘rules’ that get you more $ for your effort. But, I prefer a unique or more original view to a standard one that graces more postcards and calendars. So, for this shot that I took on the 24th, after the storm had completely cleared out, I used an approach that emphasized the contrast of the totally blue sky and fresh snow on the peaks. It’s a long exposure (10 seconds) and I left the dark areas intentionally dark to emphasize the contrast. I took the shot 45 minutes before sunrise, just as light was beginning to reveal the peaks.

Now, lets go back to the day before, the first day of fall as an early snowstorm was winding down in the mountains. I had hoped the storm might clear for sunrise, but it strengthened a bit at the last minute, and slowed down, so it was still snowing when I got to the lake. There was a good 4-5 inches of wet snow at the lake; more than I expected. Even a bit of slush on the road. Since the storm wasn’t clearing around the peaks, I concentrated on the Foggy conditions and contrast of aspen and snow.

Clashing Seasons : Prints Available

Maroon Bells area.


The clouds were really swirling around Sievers Mountain, to the northeast of the lake, so I took some shots of the crazy fog climbing the rugged peak.

Revealing Sievers : Prints Available

Sievers Mountain and fog during an early snowfall.


Finally, the clouds cleared a bit and I got my first glimpse of the famous 14,000+ foot peaks.

Clearing Bells : Prints Available

First day of Fall, 2013, Maroon Lake.

Art and I decided to hang around and extra day in hopes of some fog forming around the lake the next morning. With clearing skies and lots of moisture on the ground, it was certainly a possibility. But the winds ended up being too strong, and no fog formed. I decided to avoid the even huger crowds at the near side of the lake, and explore some more original compositions.
Here’s the peak at the point just after sunrise, when the best light and color was illuminating the Bells:

Morning Bells : Prints Available

Maroon Lake at sunrise, late September.


There was only one other photographer near me when I took that shot (200+ just up the lakeshore). But I knew the best light was done at the lake, so I escaped the crowds completely and drove up the road. I found a nice wide open filed completely blanketed in frost. It was a beautiful field, So I grabbed my gear and hiked out to the middle to get some shots of the Bells in early morning light.

Frosty Bells : Prints Available

Maroon Creek area, on a frosty morning in late September.

Not another photographer in sight. And I didn’t feel the least bit moronic. 🙂 Next up, in Part II: off to the Tetons and even more snow!!

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2 Responses to Fall 2013, Part I: The Non-Moronic Bells

  1. Patrick says:

    I was hanging out at Capitol Peak last week, trying to figure out how to compose a picture out of what I was seeing and for some reason started thinking of the Maroon Bells and how popular it is, and I had the blindingly obvious flash of insight – the reason it’s so popular is the place composed itself. All you have to do is stand on that lake shore and snap, no work involved, and you get a perfectly composed photo. It is a great shot, but also one that I think has lost some of its magic just by its popularity, so I’ve tended to avoid it, but good for you getting away from things a bit. I like the first photo, good take on the place.

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