Maroon Bells; The Perfect Place For Landscape Photos

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If a perfect place for landscape photography were to be built, what amenities would be included? Most photographers would want mountains, lakes, an assortment of trees, a U-shaped valley, a stream, easy access, protected land, a trail system, eastern or western exposure, wildflowers, a different look for each season, a beaver dam, driftwood, boulders, blue sky, high clouds, fog, snow, mild summer and fall temperatures, a meadow, environmentally-friendly restrooms, a campground, a picnic area, and friendly people. This place does not have to be built...it already exists! The Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness, in the White River National Forest, has all of the listed amenities plus it is located only 10 miles from Aspen, Colorado, and can be reached by car, bicycle, or bus.

© 2006, Mike Norton, All Rights Reserved

Photographing in a popular area, such as the Maroon Bells in the fall, poses many challenges. Sunlight filling the valley, tourists, and other photographers all led to the composition of this image. During the fall, the sun has to rise over a 12,000-foot tall ridge before light illuminates the trees below the mountain peaks. This happens about 9:30am, the same time the tourist buses start arriving. For the mid-morning image shown here I left the lakeshore and the other photographers for a location in the meadow. By positioning the tripod close to the ground I was able to hide the lakeshore, the other photographers, and the arriving tourists behind the tall grasses of the meadow. The use of a normal lens allowed the six aspen trees to frame the main subject while breaking up the large shadow on the left side of the image. The boulder was included to emphasize the color of the mountains; the downed tree was included to show how the native wildlife affects the forest. I also left enough area between the lakeshore and the downed tree to preserve the option of displaying a panoramic image.

The exposure was determined by a comparison of spot meter readings taken from three objects in the image. The meter reading from the blue sky, over the top of the Maroon Bells, matched the meter reading from the yellow aspen leaves at the base of the Maroon Bells, which matched the meter reading from the Sleeping Sexton, the ridge to the right of the Maroon Bells.

Landscape Tips
I find that by keeping people and modern objects out of the composition, my images have more of a timeless quality to them. Clothing and automobile styles change yearly, automatically dating an image. Even people or automobiles rendered small in an image can distract interest from the main subject.

Try a different camera angle when unwanted objects cannot be physically removed from the composition. A high or low angle might hide the unwanted object. By placing the camera low to the ground the tall grass, about 3 ft high, concealed 25-30 people wandering around in the meadow.

Getting There
The Maroon Bells are located at the end of Maroon Creek Road southwest of Aspen, Colorado. From the town of Aspen travel west on State Highway 82. Turn left at the traffic circle, or roundabout, onto Maroon Creek Road. Maroon Creek Road ends at a parking lot. Park and follow the trail to the lake, meadow, or mountains.

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