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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rocky Mountain High

With an analytical approach and a love for dramatic peaks and roaring rivers, Glenn Randall lives where he gets plenty of photographic opportunities every day of the year

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rocky mountain
Lone Eagle Peak reflected in Mirror Lake, Indian Peaks Wilderness
Okay, I admit it: I get tears in my eyes when I hear John Denver’s song “Rocky Mountain High.” My incurable romanticism, however, is balanced by my analytical approach to every image I photograph. The former urges me out of bed at 1 a.m. and up a 14,000-foot peak in the dark to shoot sunrise from the summit; the latter gives me the knowledge of map-reading, atmospheric optics, sunrise angles and digital capture necessary to pick the right fourteener, navigate in the dark and make compelling images once I get there. From the tallest fourteener to the tiniest wildflower, that combination of passion and analysis defines my approach to photographing Colorado.

For 16 years, I’ve been specializing primarily in Colorado wilderness landscapes. I’m a mountain person, and Colorado is the mountain state. The state has 54 peaks that reach 14,000 feet; another 59 top 13,800 feet. There are great photo ops in Rocky Mountain National Park and the Indian Peaks Wilderness, both within an hour-and-a-half drive of my home in Boulder. The diligent local photographer should always have the best photos of any nearby area, simply because he or she can scout the area in depth, and time the snowstorms, flowers and fall color perfectly. It may seem like more fun to go to a new area on every trip, but the pros know that it’s often repeat visits to an area that produce the best images.

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Maroon Peak from West Maroon Basin
Say “Colorado,” and most people think of mountains, but the state is actually more diverse than many visitors realize. Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park, near Montrose, preserves a tremendous slit in the earth carved by the Gunnison River over the past two million years. At Chasm View, the canyon is 1,800 feet deep and only 1,100 feet wide. Dinosaur National Monument in the northwestern corner of the state is justifiably famous for its dinosaur fossils, but it also contains the deep, sinuous sandstone canyons of the Green and Yampa rivers. Colorado National Monument, near Grand Junction, looks like it could be part of Moab’s backyard, and Great Sand Dunes National Park, near Alamosa, combines the highest dunes in North America with views of the 14,000-foot peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
From deep canyons to expansive fields to towering peaks, mountain ranges paired with visually enticing foregrounds make ideal landscapes, and Colorado has it all. Glenn Randall has made it his life’s work to explore his home state and to capture its peaks and valleys. Even after 16 years of shooting, his love of wilderness and his passion for photography get him out of bed and hiking while most of the world is sound asleep, constantly in pursuit of that single capture that makes 10 days camping in the field worth it.
Wherever I’m photographing in my home state, I’m always looking for “ERNIs” (exceptional renditions of natural icons). To be more precise, I’m looking for great foregrounds that integrate seamlessly, in a compositional sense, with great backgrounds, and where there’s potential for great light. Good flowers and interesting mountains can still lead to mediocre photos if the middle half of your frame is a boring talus slope. At the latitude of Colorado, the angle of sunrise and sunset varies by more than 60 degrees from summer solstice to winter solstice. No matter how good your composition, if you’re looking straight north in midsummer, when the sun rises at 60 degrees and sets at 300 degrees and everything is backlit at both sunrise and sunset, you’re starting out with two strikes against you. If you’re looking straight south in midsummer, your subject potentially gets great light at both sunrise and sunset.


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