A Bad Year

It was a bad year. Historically bad.

Mt. Sneffels First Snow
Mt. Sneffels First Snow

After arriving in the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado to photograph fall colors for 10 days, we agreed with the general consensus of other photographers.

Autumn Tapestry
Autumn Tapestry

Almost every aspen tree was its summer green rather than its autumn yellow (or orange or red), and some trees had even started losing leaves before turning color due to an early season cold snap. Coupled with the late colors was an even worse forecast - clear and sunny, for nearly a week out, with relentless high winds just for fun. This wasn't the trip we had envisioned!

Aspen Afternoon
Aspen Afternoon

Normally we would have bailed and driven somewhere else to try and salvage the trip, but the US government shutdown limited many of our "nearby" options, and we were on this trip to photograph fall color. A glimmer of hope in the form of a stormy forecast late in the week also kept us hanging around. Meanwhile, we had to try and make the best of the conditions that were present.

Seasons Merge II
Seasons Merge II

While the aspen trees and weather were bad, everything else was great. The mountains all had a fresh coat of snow, and every plant that was not an aspen tree (including the ubiquitous scrub oak) was in peak color.

Stormy Dallas Divide
Stormy Dallas Divide

These conditions meant that many of the photographs we had hoped to capture, including stormy skies with bright orange and yellow aspens, colorful sunset and sunrise skies, and even aspen forest intimates with wet, cloudy, and overcast weather were not going to happen, at least not for a week. So we had to get creative, and we did, with varying degrees of success, trying every compositional permutation that did not include a sky that we could conceive.

Autumn Tapestry III
Autumn Tapestry III

Fortunately, at the end of the week, as the colors were finally starting to turn, the afternoon storm that was forecast came to fruition. We were able to scramble around to three different locations and take advantage of the stormy light and the first clouds we had seen in a week.

 Backlit Aspens

Backlit Aspens

The overnight forecast called for one inch of snow, and 95% cloud cover. The forecast was wrong, but for once, it was wrong in our favor.  There was 3" of snow and about 20% cloud cover when we woke up for sunrise in the morning, and we spent the rest of the day trying to photograph the snow before it melted in the (you guessed it) bright sunshine.

For a 10 day trip we had about 6 hours of clouds. The average conditions were very bad, but the peak conditions, for those 6 hours, were fantastic. And like the thrilled photo workshop from England that we met earlier in the week reminded us jaded natives, photographing fall in Colorado, even in a bad year, is still pretty damn good.

Stormy Sneffels
Stormy Sneffels

Note: All images in this blog post were from this bad year!