"After racing around trying to do all that there is to be done, I find myself back in the mountains at the edge of a small tarn and here I am again reminded of the importance of stillness in our lives," said photographer Erik Stensland of this image made in Rocky Mountain National Park titled "Stillness." "Once we break the link with the outside world with all of its demands we remember who we are and what is truly important."

It's not hard to find photographs of Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the most visited parks in the country. And it's not hard to take your own photos if you're lucky enough to visit. But let's face it: there's often a gap between what the pros shoot and what the rest of us come away with.

Erik Stensland's photographs stand out. The Estes Park resident regularly goes out late at night or very early in the morning to capture landscapes that show spring flowers, gushing waterfalls, or fleeting moments at sunrise. We talked to him about his work, and also asked for some simple pointers to help our own images match our memories.

"Near the end of the autumn a snowstorm moved in coating the forest in a blanket of white," photographer Erik Stensland says of making this image, called "Autumn Pastels," in Rocky Mountain National Park. "As I climbed the Bierstadt Moraine the following morning, low-lying clouds were still moving in and out of the trees bringing with them short but intense bursts of snow. This dynamic weather created a painterly quality to the scene and allowed the remaining aspen to gloriously display their colors."

He regularly gets requests for a hiking buddy, someone who wants to tag along to see the artist at work. Stensland always declines, though. He tells Colorado Matters, "I just need silence to rethink things. It keeps me whole and sane. I need that time of personal reflection." But the photographer is willing to offer some advice to those who want to take better photographs of the park. His three key pointers:

  • If there aren't clouds, it's not worth going out. "Clouds really create the emotion in the image," he says.
  • Be clear about what the subject of the image is. Is it the elk? Long's Peak? Focus on one clear subject.
  • Photograph when the light is "sweet and warm." "Most everything I shoot is within 15 minutes of sunrise or sunset," he says.

"Thick storm clouds covered the sky all afternoon and well into the evening with thunder and occasional bouts of rain. Just as the day was reaching its very end a crack opened on the western horizon over the Never Summer Mountains allowing the sun to peek through and set the sky ablaze in glorious light," says photographer Erik Stensland about this image, "Ablaze."

Stensland sells his image online and in galleries in Colorado and New Mexico, and shares them each day on Facebook and Twitter with messages like, "Mountains are things of wonder, breaking the horizon and encouraging us to see possibilities we never thought could exist."

"At about 2am on this June morning the Milky Way could be seen stretching across the sky above Bear Lake," photographer Erik Stensland says about one of the most popular destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park, where he made this image, called "Stars Over Bear." Stensland continues, "All was still as the world had not yet awoken, oblivious to the wonder happening just above them."