Go and Do: Winter photowalks with Post Independent visual journalist Chelsea Self | PostIndependent.com

Go and Do: Winter photowalks with Post Independent visual journalist Chelsea Self

‘Don’t be afraid to take your camera out of auto mode’

The steep red cliffs of Red Mountain soak up the early morning sunshine on a bluebird sky day in Glenwood Springs.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

The Roaring Fork Valley is renowned for its breathtaking viewscapes, drawing shutterbugs from around the world.

It can be daunting — pitting an amateur’s favorite snaps against the professionals flooding daily into Colorado’s wild places — but, according to Post Independent visual journalist Chelsea Self, the trick is simply to put one foot in front of the other and follow your lens.

When did you pick up your first camera, and at what point did you realize that’s what you wanted to do with your career?

I started getting into photography when I was pretty young. My mom was a photographer, so I was always playing around with her cameras. I started visualizing it as a career when I was in high school and was given the opportunity to shadow a Tulsa World newspaper photographer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for a few months. I instantly fell in love with the job.

As a newspaper photographer, your work focuses on the here and now. So how often do you go out and take photos for your personal collection?

I generally appreciate taking the weekends off from being behind the camera. That being said, I still thoroughly enjoy taking photos while out hiking or enjoying the outdoors. And I have a hard time turning off the switch in my head that says “that’s a good photo.” I’m also a shameless pet photographer and have more photos of my dog and cat than I should admit.

What are some of your favorite wintertime subjects?

I love Red Mountain in the winter — the red cliffs and green pines with a fresh coating of snow always makes for a great photo. I also enjoy stumbling upon the bighorn sheep that frequent Glenwood Springs near the Hotel Colorado. Another favorite wintertime subject is the Colorado River running through South Canyon.

Is there a time of day you prefer for shooting?

Winter is hard because the days are so short. But just before sunset or during sunrise are the best times to take landscapes. Oddly enough, however, portraits in the middle of the day can actually turn out great if you utilize the snow. The light reflects off the snow and fills in dark shadows caused by direct, overhead sunlight.

It’s tempting to stay in the warm car, roll down the window and snap scenic landscapes from the road. What are people missing when they stay on the oft-trodden path?

They miss the experience and the moments that you wouldn’t see from a car. For example, an ermine peeking their head from a hollowed log or scampering lightly over a snowy field hunting for mice. It’s more rewarding to see the photos you captured knowing you trekked through the snow and faced the elements.

A lone robin soaks in as much sun as possible on a very chilly morning near Glenwood.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Do photo enthusiasts need to travel miles into the wildlands for great winter shots or are there some hidden gems near Glenwood Springs?

Not at all. One of my favorite things about Garfield County is all the ranches and old barns you can easily find. Just make sure not to trespass onto private land, unless you were given permission from the land owner. Peach and Grass valleys are two of my favorite spots to find that real Western Colorado feel. Peach Valley Road is located just north of U.S. Highway 6 between Silt and New Castle and can be accessed by Seventh Street in Silt. Grass Valley Road is located north of Peach Valley and can be accessed from County Road 325 from Rifle or County Road 245 from New Castle. Park at Harvey Gap reservoir or any safe pullout.

Snow blankets the scenery along Grass Valley north of Silt.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

The Grizzly Creek Trail is another favorite location of mine, and luckily the lower portion of the trail was just reopened for hiking.

Grizzly Creek Trail is located 5 miles East of Glenwood Springs off of Interstate 70 at Mile Marker 121.

Snow is beautiful, but what are some other aspects of winter that set it apart as a photographic season?

Winter in Colorado can often mean heavy snow one minute and sunshine the next. You can get great photos of sunshine in town and snow or clouds hovering over the surrounding hills in the background. It makes for a great moody photo with plenty of lighting variations.

Low hanging clouds drape over the mountains surrounding Glenwood after a heavy snowstorm hit the area.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Could you give our readers a few tips for snapping print-worthy winter photos?

Use the weather to your advantage. Quietly falling snow can add a serene feel to a photo. The day just after a big snowstorm often brings super clear skies and reveals beautifully snow-covered trees and cliffs. Look for those moments.

A woman walks down Ninth Street during a heavy snowstorm in downtown Glenwood.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Don’t be afraid to take the back roads. You can find a lot of picturesque ranchland, wildlife and snow-covered slopes.

Take your camera snowshoeing or cross-country skiing with you. One of the great things about snowshoeing is you can really head back into the undisturbed and quiet areas.

Lastly, what are the common pitfalls aspiring photographers should avoid while out and about around Garfield County?

Get away from the handy smartphone and take your camera with you when you go exploring for winter scenes. It will be that much more rewarding when you get a good image you can be proud of.

Pay attention to the entire frame and watch for anything unwanted in the background or behind the subject.

Don’t be afraid to take vertical photos.

Experiment with both color and grayscale images.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to take your camera out of auto mode, experiment with the settings on your camera and look for unique angles. Having a great camera isn’t worthwhile if you aren’t using it to its full potential. Get out in the snow and enjoy winter’s beauty while it’s here.

Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at ifredregill@postindependent.com.

Visual Journalist Chelsea Self can be reached at 970-384-9108 or cself@postindependent.com

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