Colorado's Million Dollar Highway Photography Workshop - October 2019, Aperture Academy

Colorado's Million Dollar Highway Photography Workshop - October 2019

I love Fall! The crisp, cool mornings and evenings, getting to wear my favorite comfy sweaters, and endless steaming mugs of my favorite latte. And of course, the COLOR!! Those vivid, bright yellows and deep, rich reds, often dotted with vibrant and gorgeous greens are enough to bring anyone a feeling of peace and calm. And for many photographs the pursuit of the perfect Fall color image is the ultimate adventure, and latest Aperture Academy Workshop aimed to do just that.

In Southwestern Colorado, just outside the town of Durango is an area surrounded by beautiful landscapes covered in fall color and to get there you follow Highway 550, otherwise known as the Million Dollar Highway. While it's not exactly known how the road got that name, it's quite possibly because it weaves through a landscape that is rich with wonderful history and amazing photographic opportunity. And this was our ultimate destination.

On the evening of Friday, October 4, Stephen, Monique, and I met up with the group of students who would be on this adventure with us for introductions and orientation. We saw many familiar friends and lots of new faces. After everyone made their introductions, Stephen gave us a quick overview of the plan for the next few days, covering the possible locations we would be stopping and what we could look forward to as far as color. After some final questions, we sent everyone off to rest up as we would be starting early the next day.

Saturday morning, bright and early, we got everyone and their gear loaded into our van, lovingly known as ApCab, and we were on our way down Highway 550 to the town of Ouray that would serve as our base of operations for the rest of the workshop.

It didn't take long before we would be seeing indications of the amazing colors that await us. We made our first stop right along the Highway. We could see the deep canyons below and bright spots of yellow Aspen across the way. Stephen and I helped students find angles and compositions that best captured their vision.

This was also a nice opportunity to get their equipment dialed in. We got some great shots and this was only the first stop! We piled everyone back in ApCab and continued on to Ouray. Our next stop was an old mill set back into the mountain. This was an opportunity to use some longer lenses to bring that old west scenery a little closer and see some great details in the old, weathered wood.

Back in the van, we were once again underway, but stopped at a couple of other particularly scenic spots, to take advantage of the color opportunities. Soon, we arrived in the town of Ouray which would be our home for the next few days. Everyone headed into town for lunch and then we got checked in to our rooms to take a break before our evening adventure.

After everyone had a chance to get settled in, we loaded back in Apcab and headed out for our second round of the day. Our destination was Last Dollar Road. Last Dollar road is a long and winding road taking you past aspen groves, rustic ranch lands and the Dallas Divide. We made several stops along the road to catch the light as it lit up the vast expanse of the mountain range. We continued along the road to Last Dollar Ranch with its classic wooden fencing and gateway. Our students shot the area from several angles using the fencing to frame the landscapes and tall golden grass. Soon enough, our light started to fade, so we piled back in the van to head back into town and rest up for the next day, excited to see what it would bring.

We decided to start a bit earlier Sunday morning, before sunrise, but with good reason. We drove up the road to overlook the little town of Ouray that is nestled in a box canyon. We set up our students to get views of the sleepy little town and capture the sparkling lights of its main street. As the sun started to rise, you could see the mountains surrounding the town come into view, and we worked with students to adjust their settings to accommodate the changing conditions. The resulting photos were post card quality. After a few more shots, we headed back into town to warm up and grab some breakfast. It was going to be a long day, and we needed to re-fuel.

After breakfast, we loaded back in the van once again and we were on our way to the town of Telluride. But first, we took our group to shoot Canyon Creek. As its name implies, it is a creek that runs along the bottom of a steep and sharp canyon. We set up students to shoot the creek and canyon (and a few cabins long the river) from several angles, once again using longer lenses to take advantage of the expanse and zoom in on different compositions. Since we are in a canyon, the sun hasn't quite peeked over the ridge, so we have nice even light for scenes. We encourage students to get down low and take advantage of the rocks and grass as foreground.

As the sun rises, it gets a little more challenging to even out the light between the bright sky and the darker canyon, so we decide to continue on our way to Telluride, and back in AbCab we go.

Telluride is a beautiful little town tucked way up in the mountains at an elevation of about 13,000ft. We arrive in town and let students have a couple of hours to explore and have some lunch. There is also a gondola that takes you up the hill to the base of the ski area and are treated to amazing and breathtaking views of the surroundings rich with color.

While we aren't technically on a schedule, we do keep an eye on the conditions and light because we want to make sure we put our students in the best possible locations for the best possible photographs. So after a few hours, we pile back in the van, and head out for our final location to shoot.

We make our way to Oak Creek Pass, and there will be several spots along this route to stop. First up, we pull over near a beautiful grove of Aspens and this spot is perfect to shoot some abstracts using the contrasts between the yellow leaves and white bark for some interesting images that look like water-color paintings. Next, we stop at an overlook that gives us a perfect view of the ridge in the distance with the mountainside covered in the golds, reds, and greens we were looking for. Our final stop along the road was probably one of the best of the trip. The sun was beginning to set and it cast a red glow against the mountain ridge, giving it an otherworldly feel. We set up students in a couple of different locations, and everyone came away with some amazing work. Each stop offered something unique and beautiful to photograph and the fall color did not disappoint!

After our light had faded, we piled back in the van to head back to Ouray in search of dinner, then back to the hotel for the night. It was a long day, but everyone had a great time.

On Monday morning we loaded everyone and their gear back in the ApCab to head back to Durango. We made one final stop at a large pond seated at the base of a red and gold covered hillside. The water was still and calm and allowed us some great shots of the hillside colors reflected in the pond. Then back to Durango where we spent some time reviewing student images and making some recommendations in post-processing. Judging by what we saw, the workshop was a success and the capture of Fall Color was more than accomplished.

All too soon, it was time to say goodbye. Wishing everyone well, we sent our students on their way, another fantastic Aperture Academy workshop in the books!.

Until next time,

Stephen, Monique, DeAnna, and the rest of the Aperture Academy family

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