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How to photograph fall colors in Colorado 

  • © Sean Cayton / All Rights Reserved
This is a great time of year to enjoy the outdoors. The Aspens are turning and our Indian Summer hasn’t quite given way to cold weather.

Last weekend we went on a hike to Pancake Rock with our friends Alison, her son Emmett, 9, and mother Ginny. Pancake Rock is a shortish hike on the backside of Pikes Peak. It’s quite popular, and it’s a wonderful hike to the top of treeline with views of the Collegiate Range and the Continental Divide.

We left early in the morning just as the sun was rising over the mountains. This is the best way, in my opinion, to photograph fall colors in Colorado. It shouldn’t be an exercise in photography as much as an added pleasure to something else like a hike with friends.

I see too many people along the roads driving and stopping and then driving some more trying to capture the changing Aspens. That might be fun for some, but I think to really enjoy it, you need to be outside and walking through the forest.

The added benefit to doing it this way is that you have the chance to stop and notice the landscape. It’s a subtle difference, but when you’re moving slowly it helps, I think, to make better pictures.

A couple of technical points. While it seems easy to do, changing Aspens can be a challenge to photograph. The conventional way I see it done is to photograph the Aspens with the sun behind your back. When the sun is high in the sky, it is almost always a stark and contrasty scene but offers little depth or nuance.

I prefer another way to photograph changing Aspens and that is by shooting into the sun on occasion. Overexposing the scene, staying in open shade to photograph and pointing the camera into the sun creates drama and amazing color with added depth.

Another neat way to photograph color is to include an element absent of color or by layering the photograph foreground-to-background. I love to do this on a trail, for instance, where the Aspens can frame a scene and your eye is drawn to a particular place in the picture.

When we reached the summit, we cooked pancakes of course! And a great time was had by all.

Creating memories like this is probably the most pleasing way for me to approach photography.

Really, it never gets old! Happy shooting.
Sean Cayton is a wedding photojournalist of 19 years and operates a successful, award-winning wedding photography studio in Colorado Springs. He's also an award-winning photojournalist. Sean is happily married to the love of his life (also his business partner) and is father to three beautiful children. When he’s not working, Sean can be found outside flying kites with his kids, hitting golf balls or casting a fly rod to hungry trout.


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