Beauty comes in many forms. Images of iconic landmarks and breathtaking vistas adorned with vivid sunset color are as spectacular as they are ubiquitous. While I'm certainly guilty of perpetuating that ubiquity, my greatest joy in photography is seeing beyond the obvious and ephemeral to the subtle and enduring. Vibrant colors, indelible patterns, strong shapes, and rich textures comprise a scene's inherent characteristics. These personal elements that make a scene special are there for anyone who looks, and each of us sees them differently.
This need to personalize my photography with the details of nature is why every trip to the dramatic (but well-worn) Mono Lake is complemented by a visit to the intimate confines of Lundy Canyon, just up the road. More than simply a scene to view, Lundy Canyon is a location to experience. The rough but navigable dirt road (2WD is okay if you take it slowly) parallels Mill Creek, twisting past reflective beaver ponds and dense aspen groves in the shadow of towering Sierra peaks. Signs of recent beaver activity are everywhere (you can almost see the saliva in the tooth marks scarring some of the aspen), but sightings of these reclusive creatures are rare. A five-minute walk at the end of the road takes you to a lake enlarged by a beaver dam you can wade right up to. The far side of the lake is fed by a year-round waterfall.
My best photographs here come after I've been out of the car and wandered a bit. Absent the din of "civilization," it's impossible to escape the hum of the creek and the whisper of the aspen. In spring and summer Lundy Canyon is an explosion of color, with blue skies topping forests of dancing leaves that oscillate with the breeze between rich jade and brilliant emerald green. A variety of wildflowers are splashed here and there for accent. But my favorite season in Lundy Canyon is fall, when the blue and green give way to shimmering yellow leaves against white trunks and gray skies. The stark contrast of warm and cool emphasizes both, creating wonderful opportunities for creative photography.
Today's image is from an overcast morning last fall. My workshop group had scattered in search of their own beauty. Some wandered up to the lake where they were treated to a rare beaver sighting; I stayed with some who chose to photograph among the aspen hugging Mill Creek. There I played some with trees by the creek and a particularly photogenic set of rapids, but found nothing new.
On a whim I started panning the forest with my 70-200 and was immediately taken by the soft patterns in the out-of-focus trunks and leaves. Liking the way the leaves blurred to patches of color and the trunks became parallel streaks of white, I searched for something to put in my foreground. Their color and texture make aspen trunks inherently photogenic, but I thought the curve in this aspen made it special and decided to build my image around it.
Before exposing any frames I tried positioning the trunk in different locations in the frame, finally deciding the uniformity of the background made anything but a centered placement feel off balance. While my inclination was to minimize the depth of field, I locked the composition on my tripod and tried every f-stop from f4 to f16 in one-stop increments, later confirming on my computer that f4 did indeed deliver the effect I wanted. I also came up with vertical versions I like quite a bit, but finally decided this horizontal composition is my favorite (whatever that means) from this outing.
In fact, I'm often asked if I have a favorite image. I honestly don't, not even close. But I can say that if I were forced to list my "favorites," most would fall into the subtle and intimate category, like this one from Lundy Canyon. I need to live with an image for a long time be before making any rash commitments, so it's far too early for me to tell whether this one will make "the cut."
I've been a serious photographer for over 30 years, but I've only been subjecting my images to mass exposure for a little less than 10 years. As my confidence in what I do grows, what's interesting is how little my decisions are motivated by the reaction of others. I'm generally pretty certain that most people will like the dramatic, colorful vistas when I "nail" that combination of conditions and composition we all look for. But my experience with intimate images like this is that some people absolutely love them, while others just shrug their shoulders and move on. I'm pleased to see that has no effect on the joy I feel photographing them. And while it doesn't hurt my feelings when someone walks away from these more personal images, it gives me immense pleasure to watch people stand and stare, move away and return, sometimes multiple times. Sometimes words are never shared, but in a small way I feel like I've found a kindred spirit.
* Website: Eloquent Images
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