The photo books were pretty to look at, but they were never going to be enough for Lars Leber. He wanted something more. Something of his own.
"When I was a teenager, my parents traveled around but never took photos," he says. "They said we could buy the book; the photos would be better. But I wanted my own photos."
These days the alarm clock rings early in Leber household. He captures his best photos as the morning light paints a new landscape.
"I don't have any other artistic talents," Leber says. "I don't play any musical instruments, and I can't draw. But I feel like you need a creative outlet, and I found out I'm fairly decent at [photography]."
Leber's photos, and those of other area photographers, give residents a visual taste of this place we call home. But outdoor photography isn't always easy. Leber packs his equipment, camera, lenses and tripod into remote areas and prepares his shot in the dark. The weather must cooperate, and Colorado is famous for changing the game plan at the last second.
"I love to take sunrise photos, but not being a morning person, it is often frustrating," Leber says. "People don't see those days when you're out there freezing and you don't get any photos."
He enjoys the Garden of the Gods. Winter — despite the cold — is his favorite season for making photos. It's quite beautiful, and he practically has the place to himself. If he does see anyone, it's likely to be fellow photographers Joe Randall and Larry Marr.
Randall and his wife, Kimmie, discovered photography on their honeymoon road trip around Colorado 14 years ago. These days he is likely to point his lens at the night sky, capturing images that he can edit at home.
"My wife is the artist, and I have a technical background," Randall says. "So when I got into photography I could stretch the boundaries of the camera. It's a different view of the world."
Randall, Leber and Marr shoot HDR (high dynamic range) photos, capturing multiple exposures of the same image, and then combining them during editing. The process brings out texture in dark and lighter areas of a photo, providing rich and interesting images.
Some photo purists have criticized HDR and heavy-handed editing, favoring a photographer's skill with simple camera settings over digital manipulation. But artists always explore new frontiers, and technology will take them there.
"I do more editing than a lot of people — and that's a touchy subject," Randall says. "But my eye can see more than the camera, and I like to capture that."
Marr, who discovered photography in 2010 when he won a camera in a contest sponsored by the Denver Broncos (and then was invited to take photos at a game), says he prefers a natural-looking photo. The digital age, however, has allowed him to experiment: "You can go outside the box."
There are multiple photo editing programs available, such as Photoshop and Photomatix. But even with new toys, the essence of outdoor photography remains ... outdoors. It lives in the vision of the artist who finds inspiration in remote backcountry locations. And you don't get there by manipulating photos on a home computer.
Marr often hits the trail to find better photographs, and says he has lost 28 pounds hiking in Colorado's mountains. Leber loves backpacking and says the perfect trip includes photography and fishing. Randall has discovered that he wants to capture images of places he backpacked years ago.
Leber advises newbies that it's "more important to be out at the right time than it is to have expensive equipment." Photographers love the morning and evening, when the light creates values and contrasts.
For his part, Randall encourages beginners to learn the manual settings on their cameras. "You have to learn how to get the lighting right," he says.
Marr agrees: "Don't let the camera intimidate you. That's where you get into the experimentation."
After that, just give yourself permission to see.
"It's surprising how you can be in a place that is very ugly," Randall says, "but still find something pretty by looking at it the right way."