Freeze frame: Tips, inspiration for winter photography in Routt County | SteamboatToday.com
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Freeze frame: Tips, inspiration for winter photography in Routt County

Scott Franz
The setting sun illuminates snow-covered trees on Buffalo Pass. This photo took a lot of patience and required some scouting and snowshoes. I trekked off Soda Creek trail and up a hill and waited about 20 minutes until sunset. I like how the sun hit the very top of that large evergreen tree.
Scott Franz

Photo tips

Rod Hanna’s winter photography tips

•Here in Steamboat one of my favorite winter subjects is the Yampa River because in many places it isn't frozen over due to the tailwaters coming out of the Catamount dam or from several hot springs running into the river. I also like to hike the packed Blackmer Drive trail behind Howelsen Hill for views of the town, Mount Werner, and Sleeping Giant, especially for sunsets.

•Watch your exposure---the sun glancing off of the snow can give you a false reading so that the whole scene is too dark. Better to take a reading off of the trees or blue sky to get a better overall exposure.

•Hold the camera steady or use a tripod. Especially in cold weather and with gloves on it's harder to hold the camera still to get crisp shots.

•Watch your step—looking at a potential scene while walking rather than where you’re stepping can lead to slipping on black ice, something I’ve painfully experienced.

John F. Russell’s winter photography tips

•Carry a lens cloth in your pocket or camera bag and use it to wipe moisture, and or, condensation off your lens when needed. Never blow on your lens in freezing temperatures.

•Purchase a pair of ultra thin or fingerless gloves with hopes of finding a balance between keeping your hands warm and handling the controls of your camera.

•Keep extra batteries for your camera, and flash in an inside pocket of your coat. Carry an extra camera battery or two because they will die quickly in cold temperatures.

Matt Stensland’s winter photography tip

•Don’t keep your camera in your car. Taking a cold camera to a warm environment causes condensation to build up on the camera. In some cases, the moisture can build up inside the camera itself and damage electric components.

Places to go

Head north:

•If it isn’t too cloudy, some of the best alpenglow sunsets can be captured in North Routt County in the town of Hahn’s Peak. The iconic peak glows a firey pink in the final minutes of the sunset, and clouds above the mountains surrounding Steamboat Lake are often brilliant. It’s also possible to take Routt County Road 64 around Steamboat Lake and capture the Fetcher Barn in front of the Zirkels.

Head east:

•One of my new favorite places to shoot during winter is the Soda Creek Trail on Buffalo Pass. The trail starts near the entrance of the Dry Lake campground. Bring snowshoes or cross-country skis on this one.

A short hike along the trail gets you to a big wide-open meadow with great views. Also a great place to capture alpenglow at sunset, as you can make it back to the car before it gets too dark.

Stay in town:

The Skyline Trail is another great spot to take landscape photos during the winter. The trail follows Fish Creek near the Mount Werner Water plant near the Sanctuary neighborhood. I’ve taken photos of elk herds from a distance off of the upper part of this trail.

•The Uranium Mine trail is a great snowshoe trek with a great view of Fish Creek Falls. Park in the first parking lot and the trail begins on the left on the way up to the main parking lot. (There is a parking fee). It’s also fun to do this one when it’s snowing, when more abstract shots of the waterfall can be captured.

•For out of town visitors, the Yampa River Core Trail is a prime spot to take photos in the winter. There’s a lot of scenery along the river, and the trail is plowed.

Head to the country:

Snow covered horses, tractors, barns and hay bails await photographers out on Routt County Roads. Be mindful of road conditions and where you park

Somewhere between my third and fourth attempt to free my Nissan Xterra from a deep snow ditch along Routt County Road 14 last week, it sank in.

Winter photography is tough.

I found myself in this ditch because I was attempting to park far enough off the road to take a picture of a snow-covered tractor.

It was the second time in three years a friendly GEICO agent has had to dispatch a tow truck to free me from a bad parking job on a quest for that great winter shot. (The first being a slip into the ditch while chasing down a photo of a hot air balloon.)

Chelsea, the friendly agent, was even kind enough to ask if I had least “captured the moment.”

Parking isn’t the only challenge for winter photography.

Batteries die more quickly in the cold.

Lenses constantly fog up.

The light meter in your camera is thrown off by the snow.

Operating the dials of your camera can hurt your hands in the bitter cold.

And there are fewer hours of daylight.

But, as I’ve found again and again living in Steamboat, the payoff for winter shutterbugs is grand.

If, for example, you’re willing to brave a hike to the Mad Creek Barn in a heavy November snowstorm before the trail is closed for the elk, you’re in for a real treat.

The first time I did this, I was rewarded with untracked powder and a shot of the barn you don’t see very often.

Snow clings to the frame of the door and piles up inside.

It simply becomes a dream world for photographers.

I’ve also recently discovered a secret weapon to bolster my winter photography:

Snowshoes.

Why admire the alpenglow on the mountain from town, when you can take a snowshoe hike up the Soda Creek Trail on Buffalo Pass and get that shot dozens of other people in town aren’t getting?

I’ve also been able to find new angles I never would be able to get if I had only skis.

To help inspire a new generation of winter shutterbugs, I’ve decided to share some of my favorite winter captures, along with the stories behind them, as well as tips from local photographers.

Photo tips

Rod Hanna’s winter photography tips

•Here in Steamboat one of my favorite winter subjects is the Yampa River because in many places it isn’t frozen over due to the tailwaters coming out of the Catamount dam or from several hot springs running into the river. I also like to hike the packed Blackmer Drive trail behind Howelsen Hill for views of the town, Mount Werner, and Sleeping Giant, especially for sunsets.

•Watch your exposure—the sun glancing off of the snow can give you a false reading so that the whole scene is too dark. Better to take a reading off of the trees or blue sky to get a better overall exposure.

•Hold the camera steady or use a tripod. Especially in cold weather and with gloves on it’s harder to hold the camera still to get crisp shots.

•Watch your step—looking at a potential scene while walking rather than where you’re stepping can lead to slipping on black ice, something I’ve painfully experienced.

John F. Russell’s winter photography tips

•Carry a lens cloth in your pocket or camera bag and use it to wipe moisture, and or, condensation off your lens when needed. Never blow on your lens in freezing temperatures.

•Purchase a pair of ultra thin or fingerless gloves with hopes of finding a balance between keeping your hands warm and handling the controls of your camera.

•Keep extra batteries for your camera, and flash in an inside pocket of your coat. Carry an extra camera battery or two because they will die quickly in cold temperatures.

Matt Stensland’s winter photography tip

•Don’t keep your camera in your car. Taking a cold camera to a warm environment causes condensation to build up on the camera. In some cases, the moisture can build up inside the camera itself and damage electric components.

Places to go

Head north:

•If it isn’t too cloudy, some of the best alpenglow sunsets can be captured in North Routt County in the town of Hahn’s Peak. The iconic peak glows a firey pink in the final minutes of the sunset, and clouds above the mountains surrounding Steamboat Lake are often brilliant. It’s also possible to take Routt County Road 64 around Steamboat Lake and capture the Fetcher Barn in front of the Zirkels.

Head east:

•One of my new favorite places to shoot during winter is the Soda Creek Trail on Buffalo Pass. The trail starts near the entrance of the Dry Lake campground. Bring snowshoes or cross-country skis on this one.

A short hike along the trail gets you to a big wide-open meadow with great views. Also a great place to capture alpenglow at sunset, as you can make it back to the car before it gets too dark.

Stay in town:

The Skyline Trail is another great spot to take landscape photos during the winter. The trail follows Fish Creek near the Mount Werner Water plant near the Sanctuary neighborhood. I’ve taken photos of elk herds from a distance off of the upper part of this trail.

•The Uranium Mine trail is a great snowshoe trek with a great view of Fish Creek Falls. Park in the first parking lot and the trail begins on the left on the way up to the main parking lot. (There is a parking fee). It’s also fun to do this one when it’s snowing, when more abstract shots of the waterfall can be captured.

•For out of town visitors, the Yampa River Core Trail is a prime spot to take photos in the winter. There’s a lot of scenery along the river, and the trail is plowed.

Head to the country:

Snow covered horses, tractors, barns and hay bails await photographers out on Routt County Roads. Be mindful of road conditions and where you park


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