Located just past Marble, Colorado and built in 1892, the Crystal Mill is a beautiful structure overlooking the Crystal River. This is a popular spot amongst landscape photographers, especially during the peak season where the aspen leaves start to turn to their autumn colors.
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Recommended Focal Length(s)
I'd recommend using a lens that ranges from 24mm to 35mm. The shot above was taken at 35mm, then cropped a bit. I've tried shooting at 16mm to capture a lot of the landscape, however it made the mill quite small and there wasn't great balance in the composition.
Time to Shoot
There are two great times to photograph this location: late afternoon and during an overcast day.
In late afternoon, the light gets a tad softer coming over the mountains from the right of the Mill, illuminating the landscape. It's still a very dynamic scene, so I recommend bracketing. Waiting until sunset won't give you any direct light, only ambient light. This is because the sun will have passed too far below the mountains in the valley. During an overcast day would make for great lighting conditions. The soft, diffused light would be quite pleasant, especially right after a storm for a dramatic sky.
Be sure to review the Photographers Ephemeris to best predict the direction of the light for your shot.
There are two ways to get to the Crystal Mill. Either take the trail (County Road 3) with a high-clearance 4x4 vehicle for roughly 30-45 minutes, or hike about 90 minutes. The road isn’t difficult to drive, but parts of it will turn into a shelf road that requires your attention for correct tire placement, especially at the start. I never see anyone airing down their tires, but I do because I prefer a much smoother ride. View directions on Google Maps.
There are many ways to compose an image of the mill.
The first is up top where vehicle are parked. There’s a nice overlook that shows the left side of the structure and the river.
The second is halfway down on the trail that takes you to the river below the mill. In my opinion, this is one of the best ways to compose the image because you’re able to keep the correct perspective of the mill. It also provides the ability to balance out the scene with supporting elements, such as the waterfall, stream and aspen trees.
The third composition is down by the water, however I’ve found that the waterfall and river become more of the subject than the mill itself. I found the perspective of the mill isn't quite right since you're shooting upward with lens distortion.
Nearby Camping & Restaurants
There are no public lands for dispersed camping and the land around the mill is private property. However there are a few hotels and campgrounds in the area.
Things to Keep in Mind
There is security watching the mill making sure people don't injure themselves trying to take photos on the ledges and river. They are also there to collect donations which gives access to the trail that leads to the river below the mill. The donation is either $20 or $50 if you have a tripod.