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A guide to photographing fall colors in Boulder County’s mountains and beyond

Leaf peeping: The original social distancing

  • Dave and Diane Gross snap photos of the changing aspen trees at Mud Lake on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, off Colo. 72 in Boulder County, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • The morning sun illuminates aspen leaves on the blue bird loop trail on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, in Caribou Ranch Open Space in Boulder County, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • Mason King, 2, laughs as he tosses pebbles into Mud Lake while his mother Hannah King watches and his father Josh King looks in the trees for more suitable pebbles on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, on the Mud Lake trail in Boulder County, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • A cyclist rides by a group of people stopped on the side of Colo. 72 to view the changing aspen trees on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, in Boulder County, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • A newly fallen aspen leaf sits on top of a growing pile on the blue bird loop trail in the Caribou Ranch Open Space on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, off Colo. 72 in Boulder County, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • Eileen Hayes and Steven Stjepko Sesnic pause for a moment at an opening in the trees in front of Mud Lake on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, off Colo. 72 in Boulder County, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • Dave and Diane Gross take a selfie while hiking around Mud Lake on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, off Colo. 72 in Boulder County, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • Newly fallen leaves coat the ground in a young aspen grove in Caribou Ranch Open Space on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, off Colo. 72 in Boulder County, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • Tessa Peterson, right, and CJ Masterson take photos of a large aspen grove on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, off Colo. 72 in Boulder County, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • An old wooden fence slowly falls apart in front of an aspen grove on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, off Colo. 72 in Boulder County, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • Estes Park residents, from left, Berl Clark, Carol Clark and Carol Linnig hike down the blue bird loop trail on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, in Caribou Ranch Open Space in Boulder County, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • A moving truck drives North on Colo. 72 on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, in Boulder County, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

  • A massive aspen grove can be see on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, off Colo. 72 in Boulder County, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

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Every fall as temperatures cool, the color of foliage heats up in the Boulder County mountains. Thousands of Front Range leaf peepers will make the annual trek into the hills in search of photo gold.

This year, things may look a little different. You may encounter greater numbers of people who are getting outdoors after being quarantined during the COVID-19 pandemic. To stay safe, be sure follow all county guidelines for social distancing and wear a mask around others.

If you have been to any art festival, you may have noticed that aspen leaves are a popular subject for landscape photographers. Maroon Bells, Kenosha Pass and Crested Butte often fill the frames of many mantel pieces, but you don’t have to go far to find interesting scenes. Colo. 72, also known as Peak to Peak Highway, between Nederland and Allenspark is a popular destination close to Boulder and Longmont. Groves of aspen trees line the valleys and roads, creating veins of yellow in stark contrast to the dark green pine trees.

Those beautiful colors can inspire the shutterbug in all of us. As art is subjective, what makes a good photo can be difficult to describe. Don’t let that deter you from trying to make a memorable photo this fall. If you find yourself wanting to create your own frame-worthy masterpieces when you head to the mountains, here’s some help to get you started.

    • The best camera is the one you have with you. Use whatever you are comfortable with — a DSLR, a point-and-shoot or your smartphone camera. For creative purposes, it helps to have some control over shutter speed, ISO and aperture, but most modern cameras have a fully automatic setting that works as well.
    • It is OK to use your phone. There are many iOS and Android apps that give you creative control over the camera in your phone. It also is easier to edit and share when all of the photos are stored on your phone.
    • Don’t fight the light. You should plan to photograph in the hour after sunrise or before sunset. Directional light will provide depth and contrast to the scene. The colors of the aspen leaves will appear brighter against the surrounding trees. Shadows will add drama and can simplify a complicated subject.
    • Take a hike. If you are able, get out of the car and away from the road. A short hike into the forest will provide opportunities for different perspectives and allows you to leave the crowds behind, especially important during a pandemic. Be respectful of private land owners and observe property signs. There are thousands of acres of publicly accessible U.S. Forest Service lands to explore in Colorado.
    • Fill the frame. Work from the edges of the viewfinder into the center of the image. Pay attention to the foreground and background. Zooming in or getting closer to the subject will help eliminate distractions. Place all of the elements you want to see inside the frame and leave out the others.
    • Keep it simple. Fitting every leaf, tree, mountain and stream into a photo can be difficult. Think about what you want to show someone and what you find interesting. One photo may not describe an entire scene. Focus on the small details and then work toward a larger landscape.
    • Look around. Some of the most interesting photos may be under your feet. Stand up, sit down and even lie down while looking at the scene. Shoot wide angle, telephoto and macro photos for variety.
    • Have fun. Most of the photos on social media are curated. The successful photos you see are often the results of many failures. With the invention of digital photography, we have the ability to immediately review a photo. Use this as a tool to experiment with different angles or techniques to improve your photos. You may not be the next John Fielder or Ansel Adams, but as long as you leave with something you are happy with, it’s a successful trip.

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