High Country Fly Fishing

Fly Fishing at High Country Lake | Beebower Productions

The $1,250.00 radio made a loud plopping noise as it splashed into the lake.  It slowly dropped three feet down in icy water before hitting the bottom of the chilly lake.  Everyone froze.  The main line of communication between Dad and his model just sank.

They needed that radio.  Someone needed to fish that thing out of the lake.  The model drew the short straw.  Surprisingly, despite the polar bear plunge, the radio worked perfectly.  That proved Dad’s motto:  it paid to get the best.

Dad’s idea for a serene fly-fishing shot started off with a splash.  But his due diligence the day before saved the shoot.   Dad’s location scouting led him to this high country lake that sat at about 11,000 feet elevation.  It was perfect:  scenic, stocked with trout and the sun hit it just right at sunrise.  He even worked out everyone’s position so the next morning would be a breeze.

To get in place for the sunrise shot, though, required hiking in at 0-dark-thirty.  Dad, his model and an assistant hiked in the bitter cold and pitch black to this lake at Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico. They battled attacking tree branches, uneven mountainous terrain and October temperatures hovering around 25 degrees. 

The trio lugged camera bags, tripods, a fog machine and, of course, fly fishing gear.  Once they reached the lake, the crew scrambled to their pre-assigned locations.  The assistant with the fog machine made it to the back of the lake.  The model waded out into the lake and promptly dropped the radio.  Dad set up his tripod and camera in the foreground.  Once the radio had been retrieved, they were ready.  But darkness and thick clouds enveloped them.  It was “a hurry up and wait” scenario.

While he waited, Dad contemplated the overcast skies.  One of two things could happen.  The clouds could completely sock in around the lake, ruining his chances for a stunning sunrise and requiring another early morning hike.  Or the clouds could part like a scene from a Biblical masterpiece letting warm rays of sun saturate the model and surrounding landscape in glowing colors.  He feared the first and hoped for the latter.

God must have been smiling on Dad that morning.  Just before the sun rose, the clouds parted, giving the rays of sun somewhere to go.  The shoot was on!   The model cast his line. The assistant ran the fog machine.  Dad worked the scene from about three different points, wanting to make sure he got the best shot.

The fishing line played an integral part in the shot.  Dad purposely chose a yellow line on the rod because it snapped out from the background.  But for maximum effectiveness, the model had to make sure the line reached far into the lake.  The model snapped the line over and over again for 40 minutes.  Dad shot and shot and shot as the line traveled various distances.  Finally he felt satisfied that he had captured the moment.

Back at the studio Dad used Photoshop to really make the yellow line jump out of the scene.  The impact of the line depended on the amount of light hitting it and the distance it traveled.  The winning photo needed a bit of touching up. 

Part of the line glowed yellow because plenty of light hit it.  The other part of the line needed tweaking in Photoshop because it was in the shadows.  But after hours of work, everything finally came together to create the serene fishing scene Dad imagined.

If you enjoyed our fish story, check out these fishing images from our Old West gallery as well as our Wildlife gallery.

Fly Fishing on Blue Lake | Beebower Productions

Madison River Fly Fishing | Beebower Productions

Ice Fishing | Beebower Productions

Fish in Net | Beebower Productions

Big Bass | Beebower Productions

10 Fall Color Tips

Packhorse Rider in the Fog | Beebower Productions

Every year fall’s rich color palate creates a stampede of photographers looking for “the” shot. Over the years Dad and I learned a few lessons that helped us track down amazing fall displays.  Save yourself some time and use these tips to create a memorable fall photo shoot.

Location, location, location! 

As with any photo, location really makes a difference.  Parts of the country stand out as fall color hot spots.   Well before fall rolls around, we do a lot of research before we even think of picking up the camera. 

First we study the potential locales, both well-known spots and off-the-beaten path. California’s Sierra Nevadas, Colorado’s San Juans, Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and the entire state of Vermont, to name a few, offer wonderful autumn hues. 

Our research includes photography-specific information such as key spots to photograph, permit applications, sun positions, weather patterns and hiking guides.  We also scope out hotels, restaurants and transportation.

Timing Is Everything

We pare location intel with websites and social media for leaf color reports.  Even if you know where to go for fall color, timing really is everything.

Just because the leaves in the San Juan Mountains hit peak color the first week in October last year, doesn’t mean they will this year.  Temperature, soil moisture and sunlight influence fall foliage displays.  An early frost, a drought or even a windstorm can change or curtail autumn’s pageantry.

Thanks to the Internet many areas provide fall foliage reports in real time.  Several I find useful include:



Shenandoah National Park’s facebook page




Don’t over look local connections like chambers of commerce or message boards from that area.  All of these sources help us to pick the perfect time to shoot while capturing the maximum amount of stunning color.

Colorado Aspens | Beebower Productions

Stormy Weather

Once we find an ideal location and know when to hit the road, the fun begins.  You might think shooting at sunrise and sunset produce great results.  They do, but don’t overlook cloudy, stormy or foggy situations. 

An overcast day works like a giant soft box, allowing details that would normally fall in the shadows to be seen.  It extends your shooting time from just a couple of hours to all day. 

A stormy or rainy day helps to super saturate those fall tones.  Water drops on leaves also can make an interesting close up.

Fog helps create an air of surreal mystery and really makes the colors pop.  Dad made good use of fog in the photo at the top of this blog. 

So don’t overlook those less than stellar weather days.

Fall Meets Winter | Beebower Productions

Use the Light

Backlight or sidelight shining through a leaf really makes the color pop.  It also shows off the veins and texture of the leaves. 

If you’re not convinced this duo creates zing in fall photography, slowly walk around a tree and observe the light.  Backlit and side lit leaves will glow with color while front light flattens the color.

Golden Aspen | Beebower Productions

Leaves and Other Stuff

Don’t limit your photographs to just trees.  Include the surrounding landscape. Mountains help give context to the size of the color displays.  Lakes, rivers and ponds create beautiful reflections of that autumn color. 

Additionally a myopic focus on trees might cause you to miss the smaller shrubs and grasses that are also changing color.  Don’t overlook including those in your photograph.  They provide layers of interest for your photo.

Lundy Beaver Pond | Beebower Productions

Change Your Perspective

To create a unique image, change your perspective.  Look up.  Look down.  Don’t just fill the frame with row after row of trees shot at eye level. 

Dad created a memorable image by getting down on the ground and shooting up into these aspens with a wide-angle lens.  The tree trunks lead the viewers’ eyes straight to the explosion of color at the top of the trees.

Glowing Aspens | Beebower Productions

Isolate Colors and Details

Fall photos don’t have to be all about the trees or shot strictly with a wide-angle lens.  Use a longer lens to create an intimate image.  Isolating the leaves and the colors can be very effective.  The lack of color in these leaves allows the one colored leaf to really pop when shot with a 70mm lens.

The Remains of Fall | Beebower Productions

Use Complementary Colors

Artists often use the concept of the Color Wheel to create striking images.  The wheel literally shows primary colors on one side and their complementary colors on the opposite side of the circle.  For example, orange complements blue.  Green complements red.

How does that help in foliage photos?  The complementary colors give the photo contrast, creating energy in the picture.  In this photo, the blue of the sky and the orange colors of the aspens stimulate the viewer’s senses.

Fall Aspens | Beebower Productions

Use a Polarizing Filter

A polarizing filter helps with the reflective nature of leaves.  A waxy coating called the cuticle covers the surface of most leaves.  The coating helps plants retain water and protects it from infections.  But when sunlight hits the leaves, the wax creates a reflection.  Photographers see one of two things, sometimes both:  glare or dulled color. 

Polarizing filters cut through the glare, allowing the true colors of the leaves to really pop.  They also remove glare from water, another element you might be dealing with on your fall photo adventure.

Dad and I love the Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer.  Not only does it remove the glare, it adds a punch of warm color to the scene.

Fall Aspens and Cowboy | Beebower Productions

Use a Tripod

Most of the time shooting during the day doesn’t require a tripod.  But every once in a while it does.    

Using a filter, any filter, cuts the light reaching your camera.  That affects the exposure, often slowing down the shutter speed.  If you’re shooting water with your fall foliage, that slower exposure can look fantastic.  Depending on the water’s rate of movement and the length of the time the shutter stays open, the water can look silky to foamy.

In any case, a tripod and camera pared with a cable release help make sure you don’t ruin a great photo because of human error like camera shake.

Little Sur River | Beebower Productions

So there you have it, our 10 best tips for capturing fall color.  We hope you enjoy your fall foliage adventure.  Let us know what you learn along the way.

Serengeti of the Sea

Dolphin Ride Along | Beebower Productions

Everyone held his or her breath as the giant creature surfaced within arms reach.  The whale’s enormous size dwarfed our boat.  That caused a few of us to imagine how easily this whole trip could go sideways.

But we forgot all about the danger when the whale suddenly exhaled through its blowhole.  A fine, stenchy mist hit us.  We’d just experienced whale breath up close and personal!

As suddenly as it had appeared, the whale gracefully slipped below the water, glided under the boat and emerged on the other side.   Crisis averted.

That humpback whale encounter started my obsession with the wildlife of Monterey Bay in California.  The crew at Sanctuary Cruises in Moss Landing fed my wildlife addiction.

I took my first trip with the Sanctuary crew during a cold, windy spring day.  I hoped to see a whale.  But I soon discovered humpback whales were just the tip of the iceberg in this oasis.

Whale Tail | Beebower Productions

Cruising the Sanctuary

Captain Mike and his marine biologist partner Doris picked the perfect spot for their business.  Because of that giant canyon just off shore, the waters outside of Moss Landing team with wildlife.  Much to my surprise the wildlife often heads into the busy harbor to hang out.

Sea lions, sea otters and harbor seals gracefully glided around the vessels.   Some even climbed aboard tethered boats and took over the docks, much to the dismay of the humans.  Cormorants, pelicans and sea gulls perched on dock pilings or soared deftly around boats.   I never expected to see such an abundance of wildlife around an active marina.  But the animals didn’t seem to mind the people at all.

After viewing the amazing array of creatures in the harbor we motored out to the bay.  While Doris explained about the unique world under our boat, Captain Mike headed to an area where humpbacks had been spotted.

I, meanwhile, discovered my sea legs.  Sort of.  OK.  Fine.  I had no sea legs. Spring on Monterey Bay brought choppy water.  For a landlubber such as myself, balancing the camera gear and remaining upright provided a challenge.  But thanks to a tip from the captain, I braced myself against the cabin’s outer walls.  That gave me stability to photograph without going overboard or looking like an idiot.

Sea Otter | Beebower Productions

We hadn’t gone very far when we came across a dramatic showdown between a sea otter munching a crab and a very persistent sea gull that wanted the crab.  After several aggressive dive-bombing attempts by the bird, the sea otter disappeared underwater, crab and all, leaving the frustrated bird behind.

Then the real show began.

Let me stop and say that Captain Mike and Doris know their stuff.  It’s obvious that they love their work.  That’s why I love Sanctuary Cruises.   Mike regularly gets tips from other boaters who see wildlife around the bay, so there’s always something to photograph.  Plus he goes out of his way to make sure photographers get the best possible shooting situations. I wasn’t too surprised to learn Mike also is a photographer.  So he knows what to look for.

Because Doris understands the animals, she excells at predicting what they will do next.  That allows the photographers to anticipate the action and increases our odds of capturing a great shot.

3 Lunge Feeders | Beebower Productions

And now back to the story.   After tooling further out in the bay, hunting humpback whales popped up around our boat.  Not just one or two but five or six!  They rocketed straight up out of the water lunge feeding, a practice of rounding up and chasing their prey to the surface with their mouths wide open while scooping up a meal.  Lunge feeding events often involve fringe feeders like the birds swarming the area.  It was an amazing display of ocean prowess by a huge but graceful animal.

We stayed with these giant animals for about 40 minutes before heading back to the harbor.  Like a fish on the line, my first experience on Monterey Bay hooked me.  Over the next year I’d see common and Rissos dolphins, blue whales, harbor seals, elephant seals and albatrosses in addition to the humpbacks.  Each trip gave me new things to photograph even if that included the slightly stinky whale breath.

Ghost Ship | Beebower Productions

Sea Lions on Buoy | Beebower Productions

If You Go

    • Sanctuary trips are a bargain.  They charge $55 for adults and $45 for kids on the 3 to 3 ½ hour trip.  If your kids get antsy quickly, they also offer a 2-hour trip.
    • Dress warmly and in layers, even in the summer.  Fog often rolls into the bay making it chilly.  In addition to dressing in layers, I always took a pair of thin gloves so I could manipulate the camera without freezing.
    • Wear as much waterproof clothing as you can.  Large waves, sea spray and fog can soak your clothing by the end of a three-hour trip.
    • Take suntan lotion and a hat.  Even on an overcast day glare off water can cause sunburn.  Polarized sunglasses are also helpful.
    • If you decide to wear a hat, make sure you have a way to secure it.  The wind swept more than one person’s hat into the ocean on my trips.
    • Rent the anti-nausea bracelet.  It really works.  NASA developed the bracelet for astronauts but it works great for seasickness.  The $7 rental fee is totally worth it.  If you choose not to rent the bracelet, take seasickness medication before boarding the boat.  The bay can be very rough at certain times of the year.
    • Eat a light breakfast.  When you’re bobbing like a cork on the ocean, your stomach will thank you.  Enough said.
    • You can bring food aboard or get some from the snack bar on the boat.  I never either did because I didn’t want to chance seasickness.
    • Wear flat, rubber-soled shoes.  The deck is often wet and slippery. 
    • Pare down your gear.  There’s not much room for bulky bags plus you don’t want to worry about a bag going overboard.  Leave the tripod and monopod at home.  I’d suggest a camera with a long lens you can handhold, say a 100-400mm zoom, and another body with a medium zoom in case animals show up close to the boat.  Stuff extra batteries, camera cards and a lens cleaning cloth in your pockets.

Sea Lions | Beebower Productions

Swimming Sea Lion Trio | Beebower Productions

Whale Tail | Beebower Productions

The Pelicans | Beebower Productions

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