Bus Lights at Fern Curve

The clouds were rolling in and the sun dropped behind the mountains when my photography workshop stopped in a parking lot just above “Fern Curve” in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Mother nature didn’t provide a sunset so we were on Plan B and then Plan C. It was starting to get dark when we began taking photos. As it gets darker there are some interesting color shifts I wanted the workshop participants to see and photograph.

Fern Curve photos in Adobe Bridge. Click for a larger version.

An hour later it was really dark. Thanks to the Purkinje effect, we reached the point when we could no longer see any color in the aspen. They had turned dark gray. The light starved cones in our retinas had given up in favor of the more sensitive but essentially color blind rods. Fortunately for photographers, cameras can see the colors that our eyes can no longer see. We just kept taking pictures, using longer and longer shutter speeds and keeping an eye on our histograms to make sure the red channel didn’t burn out. Read this article so you know what to do. The photos in the middle of the article were also taken at the same location as the photo in this article.

When it gets too dark for your camera to meter accurately, keep using longer and longer shutter speeds and use the histogram as your exposure guide.

The lights of passing cars, trucks, and the park service shuttle buses were an added plus as out shutter speeds got longer. The buses were our favorites due to the multi-level lights.  By the time I took the photo at the top of the article our shutter speeds were around 30 seconds, giving us long, curved light streaks.

What you can’t see in the web-sized photo at the top of this article are all the details that are visible in the full sized image, especially the swirly, circular light patterns created by the mid-level lights on the buses.

Lights pattern details visible in the full sized original image.

You can see those intriguing patterns in this enlarged crop from the original image. They are right through the bottom of the deer warning sign.

You won’t find Fern Curve on the park maps. It is the name Bob, my brother-in-law, and I gave to the curve thanks to the large ferns back in the forest just west of the curve. N ot visible in the photo, they are off to the left of the boulders in the lower left corner of the top photo. The ferns make a great photo subject on a cloudy day and they are just 20 yards off the road. See the maps immediately below.

Photo location and Fern Curve. Click to see a larger version.

Fern Curve is on Bear Lake Road and not far from the parking lot where the bus lights photo was taken (marked by the yellow pin).

Photo location, Fern Curve, and the location of the ferns back in the trees. Click to see a larger version.

There is a turn out at Fern Curve that has enough parking space for a few cars. Just walk back into the woods and you will find the ferns among large boulders.

Photo Data: Canon 7D Mark II. Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens at 79 mm. f/4.5, 30 seconds, ISO 100.


RGB vs Luminance Histogram and how to avoid burning out one of the color channels in a nature scene.

Using the Histogram to Check Studio Flash Exposures