Steamboat Art Museum

Colorado Nature Photography – Invitational Exhibit

“Many landscape photographs show little or no human activity and are created in the pursuit of a pure, unsullied depiction of nature devoid of human influence, instead featuring subjects such as strongly defined landforms, weather, and ambient light." 

Photo Gallery – Click To Enlarge

Colorado Nature Photography

05/30/2014 – 07/15/2014

A Golden Age for Nature Landscape Photography

The past 20 years have seen phenomenal growth in the pursuit of nature landscape photography, largely due to technology—the dawn of the digital age, as well as information and access due to the internet, and the availability of creative tools to capture and produce images of the natural world.

Photographer icons such as Ansel Adams, Eliott Porter, Galen Rowell, and David Muench for most of the 20th century had mostly pursued their craft with expensive cumbersome equipment, alone and far off the beaten path.  Their prints were either produced in elaborate darkrooms or at expensive color labs and thus available to few collectors.  Today’s nature photographer is blessed with high-tech tools and information and lots of fellow travelers while “chasing the light” to many of the earth’s remote places.  By contrast their prints are economically self-produced in their own studio or home and thus available to the many.  Even so, most landscape photographers today also have a day job and it’s only the very elite that can make it a full-time profession.

Here’s the quantum leap, really a revolution or paradigm shift, that happened all within a few years in the mid 1990’s. Computers, led by Apple, developed graphic interfaces that allowed for the processing of digital images. Scanning devices produced quality digital images from analog film. Adobe introduced Photoshop for the processing of images. Digital printing equipment was introduced along with pigment inks that allowed for the easy and affordable production of archival prints on a variety of substrates.  The internet became public, giving easy access to information and instruction. By early in the 21st century, digital cameras were advanced to the point that their output rivaled or exceeded the quality of film. Personal note: I made the switch to digital in 2003 and never looked back.

Landscape photography goes back to the dawn of photography in the latter part of the 19th century. According to Wikipedia, “Many landscape photographs show little or no human activity and are created in the pursuit of a pure, unsullied depiction of nature devoid of human influence, instead featuring subjects such as strongly defined landforms, weather, and ambient light.” So, what qualities does a person possess that would lead them to engage in this mostly lonely venture?

First, there is a passion for the natural world. It’s not unusual that the path to being a nature photographer starts with being a nature hiker. Many of the best locations are remote enough that only a strenuous hike gives access to the site. Which leads to the next quality—physical endurance. While some iconic sites are drive-to and others can be reached by high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicles, most are really off the grid. And, especially in Colorado, the sites are also at significant altitude.

One must also be inquisitive and have a willingness to share. There’s a saying among some of these photographers, “How do you know if you don’t go?” Happily, the proliferation of information on the internet makes the choice of where and when to go much easier. For instance, most of the photographers in this exhibit belong to an online forum called the Rocky Mountain Nature Photographers, where information about locations and conditions and image critique are readily shared.

Finally, there’s patience. Just getting to a great location isn’t enough to make a great image. Next, the light must be right and sometimes that means waiting for it for minutes or hours, even days.  It’s also not unusual for a landscape photographer to return to a great location year after year, hoping to be there for that magical moment. Then, there’s the photographer’s magical hours—that hour around sunrise and around sunset when the earth is bathed in warm light and magnificent photographs can be made. This means getting up in the dark to be in position before sunrise and getting back to shelter in the dark after being there till the last light of the day, which can be a lonely pursuit.

So, what distinguishes the talented from the many? Primarily it’s the vision, seeing light and form in a unique and isolated way that sets one’s images apart.

The late outdoors writer Charlie Meyers said it well: “It might be said that a skilled photographer views the world as a series of rectangles: Large and small, horizontal and vertical, the more varied, the better. Our artist instinctively recognizes that certain blocks contain articles of great interest or grand visual appeal. The knack comes in isolating these special slices of geometry from a broader, less appealing fabric, like finding rare gemstones among a pile of pebbles. Thus he focuses on precise forms that might be equated to the windows of a large building at night. Most remain dark, but a distinctive few are lighted, suggesting life, animation, special attraction. These are the images our photographer keeps, refines, then presents as visual memories to share with the multitudes. “

Following is a sampling of the work of a talented group of photographers who live in Colorado and have distinguished themselves with extraordinary vision and insight into the variety of the Colorado landscape. Their pursuit of our outdoors and dedication to “chasing the light” is clearly evident in this exhibit

Rod Hanna