Photographing Vail’s season of color |

Photographing Vail’s season of color

Special to the Daily/Dennis Jones

The pungent, cloying fragrance of fall is seeping into Colorado’s vast stands of Aspen. Slight changes in color hint at the beauty to come. Vail’s most colorful season is beginning and this September promises to be glorious.

For those with cameras eager to photograph the annual spectacle, here are a few suggestions on how best get great photos and where to find good color.

As always, early morning or late evening are the best times. Horizontal light streams through the golden leaves, creating beautiful patterns of light and shadow.

Back-lit leaves, where the sun illuminates the leaves from behind, provide the most intense color. Contrast this with the clear, blue skies of autumn or the dark forests of evergreens and it’s hard to go wrong.

One problem though, is that you’ll be shooting in the direction of the sun. If sunlight hits the lens, your image degrades drastically. This is easily solved with a lens hood or by shading the lens with your hand or a hat. Working on a tripod makes this easier and slows you down, forcing you to think about your composition.

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When shooting mountainsides, a polarizing filter enhances the colors. Turning the front element of the filter polarizes the light, removing reflections from leaves and allowing their true color to shine.

I love to wander deep inside the groves, looking for details: a branch of color juxtaposed with the black and white trunks; a single tree of intense color against the blackness of a hill in shadow; a young evergreen seemingly decorated like a Christmas tree by fallen leaves; an individual leaf posed upon a lichen-covered rock. There’s nothing wrong with putting it there yourself.

And don’t forget to look up. Find an opening in the canopy and use a wide angle lens to capture the golden crowns against the blue sky.

We also have the deep reds and purples of the Northeast, though not in such abundance. These you’ll find in the understory. Collect the best colored leaves and create a lovely composition on a moss rock or a weathered log.

A few of my favorite Aspen groves are easily accessible. Those along the East Vail recreation path are dense and beautiful. Here you’ll also find great shots of Gore Creek with the Gore Range behind.

The extensive groves along Buck Creek, behind the Walking Mountains Science Center off Mountain Star Road in Avon have provided me many beautiful images.

The easy Stone Creek trail in Eagle-Vail passes through some wonderful Aspen trees. Follow Eagle Drive as it curves past the golf clubhouse. The trailhead is at the second switchback beyond.

You can usually find great color along Highway 24 to Leadville. There are many small stands along the road around Gilman and a large grove 4 to 5 miles beyond Tennessee Pass. Camp Hale also has some great color.

One of my favorites is the East Lake Creek Trail. Just follow West Lake Creek Road to the end at the trailhead.

And after the Aspen have dropped their leaves, the Cottonwoods along the Eagle River come into their own with glorious color well into October.

If you want to prepare with some hands-on instruction, I’ll be leading the final photography workshop of the summer at the Vail Nature Center on Monday, September from 8 a.m. to noon. The workshop is open to all levels and you’re guaranteed to come away with easy tips that will immediately improve your photography. Call the Nature Center at 970-479-2291 to register. Space is limited.

Dennis Jones has been a professional photographer since the early ’80s. He is a master photographer and was named Colorado Photographer of the Year. He can be contacted at

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