Ok...so when you hear of Colorado Springs and it's epic views and landscapes, one of the top parks to visit is Garden of the Gods. It's this amazing space, nestled in the Rocky Mountains, on the edge of Colorado Springs where these amazing rock formations seem to just spring out of the ground! I knew I wanted to shoot there, and at different times of the day, so I was super excited when a couple of my repeat clients from Kansas to Colorado told me they wanted to summer family photos at Garden of the Gods! I think I could probably shoot there every day for a year and not run out of "new" places to shoot, but I have definitely found an area that is my favorite! I'll be sharing the Manneck family's session in this post, but check back in a few days as I'll be sharing some favorites from the Zynda's sunset session there as well!
The weather wasn't super promising for our 3pm shoot (they have little girls, as you'll see, so a 7pm golden hour/sunset portrait session would have been a bit late. It had rained for 14 days straight and the clouds were a bit ominous as I got ready to leave. I checked in with Kerry (Mom) and she said they were game if I was! My equipment is weather sealed, so barring dropping it in the ocean, I'm good in wet weather...I'm almost always game! We met across from the nature center so that I could pile in their car - parking in the Garden of the Gods park is kind of a beast. I read that there are only some 336 parking spots in the whole park...so it's definitely at a premium! While we were on the side of the highway, I convinced everyone to hop out and take a few shots with the rock formations in the distance. I'm so glad we did...I love these images! Here's one of my favorites:
When there are small kids involved, I always make sure to nail a solid family portrait first thing in the session. This way, I ensure that my clients have a perfect image for the wall, because (as a Mom myself) that is really the main goal of a family photo session for most of my clients!)
After we shot outside the park, I crawled into their back row, left my car and we followed the line of cars into the park. Because of the ominous clouds and a bit of thunder, I think the traffic was a bit lighter than normal, which is always a nice surprise. As we drove around, headed for the Siamese Twin hike (which I had scouted with my kids as being a great spot for taking photos with kids because the hike wasn't super intense), we passed a little parking pull-off with spaces available and this super cool bridge. Because the Manneck's trust me, I convinced them we should get out and shoot on the bridge. It was totally worth it for this family shot:
As we walked a little further into the park from this pull-off, it started to sprinkle rain. Being the troopers that they are, the girls grabbed rain coats and we braved it. Some of us braved it better than others, as Evelyn was not thrilled with the idea of taking off her jacket for the pictures! As I tend to NOT be a glutton for punishment, I suggested we hop back in the car, find a different location and hope that this is a quick storm cell. We did. I had never actually been to the main parking lot of the park and Kerry suggested that walking on the pavement might be a better idea since the trail I had planned might be slick. I agreed. I was shocked that even though it was raining, the parking lot was still jam packed and people were still exploring! (Reminded me of when I lived in Vermont where there was no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing...I never really got on board with that mindset;) )
I was checking the radar on my phone and we were in the middle of what looked like a large rain cell. In an effort to salvage their shoot, Mom convinced the girls that we would just wear coats and jump in puddles. Everyone was on board...but miraculously, as we stepped out of the car, it literally just stopped raining. And the sun came out. I'm so confused by Colorado weather!
We walked into the park with about 100 other people and I began trying to figure out how I was going to avoid it looking like it was super crowded. Everyone was happy, the weather was gorgeous and we just explored. As we came to places I wanted to shoot, we would wait for the crowd to thin and then quickly get everyone in place. I was appreciative to all of the people who stopped and let us shoot for a minute or two before walking into our shot. Everyone at Garden of the Gods was super courteous and I was grateful.
Another cool thing about custom sessions and discussing how you want to print your images (bound vs. unbound albums vs. wall art) is that I shoot for YOU. If I know ahead of time that you want a certain orientation shot of each of your kids, I'm happy to ensure you get those shots! As an experienced photographer, I can also guarantee that all of your images will have a consistent look and feel, so that when you decide to purchase a large canvas grouping from our shoot, all of the images will flow cohesively. For example - look at these gorgeous girls, side by side in black and white. I can just picture these images matted & framed for a timeless display of this exact moment in their family life!
When I work on location - I can't control the light...natural light is an amazing light source when you know how to use it. It's diversity is fun and always a challenge. As we walked up to this little stone patio with the large tree bush in the background, I knew I loved the look of the stone bench and it was cloudy so the light was nice and even. (And because there were no rock formations, there was no one around! Always a win in a crowded public park, like Garden of the Gods!) As I took Evelyn's hand to get her into Dad's lap, the sun came out brilliantly, so thinking quickly we rotated slightly to put the sun to their back, I adjusted my settings and we rolled. I just absolutely love the shot above! As we wrapped up, the rain started to drizzle again and the thunder rolled as we climbed back into our car. If I could have special ordered weather for our session, I couldn't have planned it more perfectly! Let me know what you guys think of these shots! And...if you're interested in a family photo shoot at Garden of the Gods, let me know...I learned a lot during this location scouting shoot and I'm so grateful to the Manneck family for being my guinea pigs!
Musings on a Family Shoot at Garden of the Gods:
All in all, my take away from shooting Garden of the Gods at 3pm on a cloudy Saturday...it's crowded. If you will feel awkward posing in front of tons of people, we should choose a different location. The main area works at 3pm because of the shade some of the rock formations provide to have nice, even natural light, or even supplemented with a little flash. Given my choice, I wouldn't shoot here while the nature center is open (8-7pm) and the park is so crowded - it was hard to avoid all the people in the background. Because of the diversity of shooting areas and the walking to get to them, the session tends to take a bit longer than some of my other preferred locations.
Garden of the Gods Location Score:
5/10 for families with young children.
8/10 for families with older children (Zynda Family blog post forthcoming)
9/10 for high school seniors or environmental personal branding
I am exclusively an environmental family portrait artist. Currently based in Oahu, Hawaii and catering to families who truly value fine art photography for their family memories. Popular among locals, but also caters to tourists who have "vacation schedules".
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