As you head out on the trails this year, you’ll likely take in some spectacular scenery. Whether you are venturing out on an easy trail or tackling something hard core, you’re bound to see spectacular mountain peaks, serene lakes, dilapidated mines, fields of wildflowers, and maybe even some wildlife. So don’t forget your camera!
Cora Belle Mine | Red Mountain Mining Area Trail | Ouray, CO
If you are like most, you always have your cellphone with you and you probably get a million shots of your vehicle and others climbing obstacles or lined up during lunch, but why not capture the beauty you find on the trails? Use this opportunity to take some shots, even if you are new to photography, as you never know when you will capture an amazing image. While you may not have time to set up a tripod and spend hours waiting for the perfect light, there’s always a lull in the action at some point, frequently at picturesque spots, to capture some beautiful photos.
1 – USE A DSLR CAMERA
While I know a cellphone is convenient, you just can’t beat the image a digital camera can produce, especially when printing in larger sizes… and you may capture an amazing image that would look fantastic on your wall! You can pick up a very capable DSLR camera for a few hundred dollars… way cheaper than most of those vehicle mods! Don’t feel like you have to break the bank… there’s nothing wrong with an entry level camera!
Using a DSLR also gives you flexibility to choose some (or all) of your settings to ensure your camera captures an image the way YOU want. I realize working with camera settings can be a bit overwhelming for beginners so take it at your own pace. Start on full auto and let the camera do all the work, then switch to a priority setting like aperture mode (I’ll touch on this in a minute) when you get a little more comfortable with your camera functions. Try shooting on full manual when you master shutter speed, iso, and aperture (the exposure triangle). Reading your camera manual will provide a ton of helpful information on settings and how they work!
Haypress Lake | Transfer Trail |Glenwood Springs, CO
2 – BE CREATIVE
Be creative with angle and point of view. While most of us jump out of our vehicle and take that straight on shot while standing, sometimes the best photo may be from the top of your bumper or sitting down. Don’t be afraid to play around with different perspectives and angles to create the best image! In addition, look for items of interest in the foreground to add depth and interest to your image. Many times this can be done with flowers or rocks. Or shoot through grasses or trees to add some depth.
“Lazy Lizard” | Lizard Lake | Crystal Mill Trail | Marble, CO
One of my favorite landscapes, captured while lying on the ground (in the mud).
3 – DON’T SHOOT DIRECTLY INTO THE SUN
That beautiful vista may be directly between you and the sun but shooting directly towards the sun will often wash out your photo and may produce sun flares. Don’t get me wrong, sun flares might be a cool element in some shots, but for landscapes they are distracting most of the time. Try to angle yourself a bit to avoid shooting directly towards the sunlight or shield your lens with a hood or your hand for better results if shooting towards the sun is a must. If there are passing clouds, you may want to wait until one is overhead.
While this image with a sunflare is interesting,
it is often distracting when trying to capture scenic images.
4 – USE THE “RULE OF THIRDS”
You may have heard of the rule of thirds and you have definitely seen it! Using the rule of thirds draws the viewer's eye into the composition, instead of just glancing at the center. Take a look at interesting photos or watch your favorite TV show and you are bound to see the rule of thirds in action.
Yankee Girl Mine | Red Mining Area Trail | Ouray, CO
This image I captured of Yankee Girl Mine demonstrates the use of the Rule of Thirds.
5 – CONSIDER DEPTH OF FIELD
Once you are familiar with your DSLR you may want to consider taking it off auto mode and shooting in aperture mode. This allows you to change your depth of field (or the plane that is in focus) in your image. Choose a small aperture (greater number) like 7.1 to keep more in focus when photographing expansive vistas. When shooting a beautiful flower, you may want to use a larger aperture like 2.8 or 4.0 to blur other elements behind the flower.
Hanging Thistle | Rocky Mountain Arsenal | Denver
This image demonstrates using a shallow depth of field (large aperture)
so the focus can remain completely on the flower (and the little ants crawling on it).
6 - TAKE CLOSE-UP SHOTS
Because we see so many amazing vistas on the trail, it’s difficult to remember to look for those lesser apparent things that are the great subject of a close-up shot. Keep your eye open and what you are bound to see are a ton of interesting things… whether it’s parts of an old mill, a pretty flower, interesting bark on a tree...
Close-Ups of Mill Parts at Diamond Mine | Mosquito Pass Trail | Leadville, CO
7 – PRINT SOME PHOTOS!
Once you’ve taken some beautiful photos consider printing, matting, and framing them for your walls so your friends and family can ogle over them as you recount your adventures on the trail. I recommend the following consumer labs for printing: Nations Photo Lab and Mpix.
Overwhelmed? Don’t be! Concentrate on just one or two of the above tips on your first outing. Then add an additional one on for each subsequent trail or as you feel comfortable. Practice and trial and error are some of the best ways to learn so play around with your photography and most of all, have fun with it!
My Favorite Trails for Photography
Red Mountain Mining Area – Ouray, CO
The northern section of this trail, paralleling the million dollar highway, is short and easy and not to be missed. Although the trail can be a bit confusing to navigate at times, it’s well worth pulling out a map to take in the beautiful views as you pass by picturesque mines like Yankee Girl, National Belle, Cora Belle, Longfellow, and Genessee.
National Belle Mine | Red Mountain Mining Area Trail | Ouray, CO
Crystal Mill / Lead King Basin – Marble, CO
Not only does this trail pass the iconic Crystal Mill and the town of Crystal, if you head out in the summer and continue on the Lead King Basin loop you will see some amazing wildflowers.
Crystal Mill | Crystal Mill/Lead King Basin Trail | Marble, CO
by Donna Y.
Donna is a portrait photographer who loves hitting the trail in her Jeep, camping, and capturing landscapes. Read Donna's full bio, and see more of her amazing photos.