Photographing Colorado Ghost Towns

Alta Lakes, CO (5-shot HDR)

Mary and I just returned from a week in Ouray, Colorado (pronounced “Youray”).  Ouray is in Southwestern Colorado, in the middle of mining country, near Silverton, Ridgeway, and Telluride.  One of the many charms of this country are the numerous ghost towns.  While there, we were able to visit three of them.  Here is what we saw.

Animas Forks Ghost Town (infrared conversion to black and white)

These ghost towns are remnants of mining villages from the late 1800s to around the turn of the century.  This area is famous for gold, silver, and copper mining.  There are still a number of active mines in the area.  They are only accessible via class two or three four-wheel drive roads.  There are several class five four wheel drive roads in the area, but we passed on these for now.

Alta Lakes – a guide told us when the roof goes, the whole building collapses (5-shot HDR)

On this trip we did not get out for sunrise and sunset, so we had bright sunlight in the mornings and afternoon thunder storms most days.  We did have some interesting clouds and satisfied ourselves with middle of day photography.  (Mary has a goal of being the preeminent photographer for making photos between 10 AM and 2 PM).  Here are a few tips.

See in Black and White

With the harsh mid-day sun, there are bright spots and shadows everywhere.  They do not look that good in color, but can be very appealing in the black and white.  The complex storm clouds also have more interesting texture in black and white.  Mary is using a Canon Rebel T3i converted to infrared.  These infrared “negatives” turn out amazing black and white finished photos.  Mary and I are currently using Nik’s Silver Effects Pro 2 to process our black and white images.

Iron Town

Use High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography

The other option with middle of the day shooting is to bracket your photos and combine them to create HDR composites.  Most of the color photos in this blog were made by combining 3-7 photos shot at 1 stop apart.  In this way, you can soften the bright, over-exposed areas, and lighten the dark shadows, to create a photo that looks more like what your eyes see.  There are several cautions here, especially “ghosting” caused by moving clouds and leaves.  (See my blog on HDR).

Animas Forks  (5 shot HDR)

Get the Big Picture

As for composition, you all know that Mary and I “see” differently.  I like to capture big landscapes and she loves the details.  Make sure you do both.

Animas Forks

Get the Little Details

These buildings not only have a rich history, but also infinite details.  A favorite of many photographers is to use windows to “frame” another subject.  This is fun, but also takes some patience and perseverance to “find” these shots.  The wood and construction provide many fine details.

Alta Lakes
Animas Forks  (7 shot HDR)

Shoot Interiors

When it is safe, the inside of these old buildings provide more surprises, including old wallpaper, kitchens, toilets, and other detritus.

Iron Town
Pit Toilet at Animas Forks (9 shot HDR)

Ghost towns are fun to explore and will provide hours of photography subjects.  Most of them are remote, so you will need to do some planning and may need a four-wheel drive vehicle.  Once you see one, you will want to see others.  They really appeal to the eye AND the imagination.  To see more of our photos, please go to


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