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Aspen in Autumn, Lundy Canyon

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 11 June 2010 in Plant & Nature and Portfolio.

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.

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

Vaido from Võrumaa, Estonia

Very nice contrast between patterns in foreground and background.

11 Jun 2010 7:06am

Florence from Paris, France

The fascinating Aspen woods and colors. I dream about it. Lucky you. Thanks for sharing beauty.

11 Jun 2010 7:40am

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

What a beautiful composition, I really like these autumn colors... the textures are also really nice !

11 Jun 2010 7:51am

Dimitrios, think positive. from ATHENS, Greece


11 Jun 2010 9:28am

Daniel from Kenmare, United States


11 Jun 2010 12:10pm

Denny Jump Photo from Easton, PA, United States

I think I inherited my love of trees from my mother -a tree, a small rock in a stream or on the beach, even the wonderful Manzanita and it's bark which I miss so much (no one back here even knows what the heck Manzanita is) ,,I love it all so thank you for this, Gary!

11 Jun 2010 1:15pm

@Denny Jump Photo: Thanks, Denny. Yeah, I'm always amazed by Easterners' reaction to manzanita, which is almost like a weed in the foothills out here. That said, the wood is gorgeous and like nothing else and I'm sure I'd react the same if I'd never seen it.

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

Marvelous selective focus. Exquisite texture.

11 Jun 2010 2:23pm

Mike Cirella from United States

This is a wonderful study of contrasting forms, shapes and textures. The selective focus draws the eye to the texture and detail of the curving tree trunk while the background bokeh adds smooth, saturated color, providing context for the location and completes the visual story. Well done. I can relate to your method of shooting the whole range of apertures to be sure you captured an image with the right balance. Even with the improvements in LCD screens on the latest DSLR's the subtle differences are not visible till you look at them on a good monitor. Thanks for posting a simple but important lesson about the use of creative selective focus.

11 Jun 2010 5:34pm

Julie Brown from Indianapolis, United States

Gary, not only your images are eloquent, so are your words. I really enjoy the back stories that you share with us. It is wonderful that you still cherish the experience of place. For amateurs like me, that is the main reason for doing this. You found an interesting tree here-the bend and bumbs, especially. I love aspens, and I love Lundy Canyon. I have seen it in its full summer wildflower glory-someday I will see it in Autumn!

11 Jun 2010 10:24pm

Babzy from Besançon, France

i am in the category of people who like this image, for i love trees ! You write so beautifully about the places you love and for sure you help me to improve my english in reading such long post ,ahaha :)

12 Jun 2010 5:58am

Julie from Easton, United States

Love the yellow leaves in the background, very nice composition!

12 Jun 2010 3:38pm

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

I love the character in the gnarly trunk of the tree.....And I love the story with today's image, too. I think it is so important to have that feeling to bring to the photography part of what you do! I've never been here, but I think I'd like to see it someday!

12 Jun 2010 3:49pm

Dutch from Chicagoland, United States

You do have quite the magical bokeh around this trunk, a photo my closeup eye really appreciates because now I can focus on that gorgeous tree wood.

13 Jun 2010 12:49am

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

excellent focus on a specific section of the tree - the details are very good and it is a nice study in terms of lines, shapes and also DOF and bokeh - wonderfully done!

13 Jun 2010 12:38pm

Scott F. Schilling from San Martin, United States

Very nice comments Gary on your work and you have a keen way of isolating specific elements in your images! This is another example, as were the last two posts, of your ability to isolate the scene to your vision - taking away all the excess down to the bare minimum! Great work and I hope you have a fantastic time in Mendocino!

13 Jun 2010 11:26pm

@Scott F. Schilling: Thanks, Scott. I'm sorry you can't make it to Mendocino.

Wild Mustang Photography from Carlisle, United States

beautiful color and contrasts between tree and leaves in the background! Color and texture superb! Nice!

14 Jun 2010 12:16am

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

A beautiful detail that makes a beauiful composition, with a magic light in the tree trunk.

14 Jun 2010 8:39am

Marie from FRESNES, France

superbe détail, et beau choix de cadrage.

14 Jun 2010 1:44pm

Kelly Morvant from United States

I agree totally with your comment about favorite images. Often the images i love others don't seem to give a second look. But that's alright with me. I am very happy to send my pictures to my friends and have them enjoy them or not.

30 Jun 2010 9:28pm