Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Published 10:15 AM by with 2 comments

The Color of Autumn - A Season of Transformation

When I was growing up in Ireland, autumn always signaled a time to gather horse chestnuts for a game we played called Conkers. The goal was to separate the chestnut from its prickly skin and thread a string through it. I would then take turns with my opponent to try to smash his chestnut with my own.

It was pretty primitive entertainment but, by cracky, we made it work and had fun nonetheless. Of course I also noticed the leaves and colors of the season but it was more in my periphery than something that really made an impact.

The Road to Creede in Colorado.

For me now as a photographer, autumn is a transformation of the summer landscape into a magical kaleidoscope. It's the season where nature is screaming to be heard, although, it certainly doesn't need to raise its voice too loud to get my attention.

Living on the road poses unique challenges where I actually have to track the season down. Some states I've been to don't even have fall. As a result, Linda and I try to plan our travels to include places where we can do our best leaf-peeping.

Our campsite at Elk Creek near Gunnison in Colorado.
When I visited Colorado recently, fall had not quite arrived. There were hints of it, alright, but the cavalcade of color I was expecting was still a few weeks away. In order to seek out those desirable shades of red, orange and yellow, I had to drive to higher elevations and by higher, I mean over 10,000 feet.
The road from Gunnison to Creede in Colorado is a feast for the eyes. There are beautiful mountain and meadow views in every direction. To describe it as epic would barely scratch the surface of the visual experience. As the road literally began to rise past the little town of Lake City, the rich colors I was after began to show face.

Wonderful fall colors on the way to Creede.
There is an observation area along the way, at an elevation of over 11,000 feet, called Windy Point that has phenomenal views of the San Juan mountains and the lush valley below. While there, the weather was favorable for dramatic light. Sunbeams moved about like a searchlight. One moment they would sweep across the valley floor and in another instant, would light up the colorful peaks. Every photograph was different, despite being only seconds apart. I felt like these images were going to be my best work.
Later, when I was capturing and sorting, I hurriedly scrolled to the Windy Point photographs, eager to see my masterpieces. The first few looked really busy and the compositions were unbalanced. Oh well, I thought, these are just a result of me getting my bearings. As I went through the rest, I became more and more disappointed. There was just too much going on in each frame. In general, I prefer simple compositions but these images had no structure, no focal point. There were a few I could rescue by cropping but, all in all, I was pretty bummed.

Fantastic view but a compositional failure, in my opinion.

This one is a little better. The vivid colors help somewhat with the balance of the picture.
There's an argument to be made for using a tripod and it's not just to keep everything steady. When I tether the camera to a firm set of sticks, suddenly the act of making a photograph takes on more importance. There is more deliberation and intention to the task at hand. When I look through the viewfinder, I tend to pay a lot more attention to the composition. It's a less frenetic experience, as it is when I am freely wielding the camera from left to right or up and down, reacting to what's happening in front of me.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with shooting handheld, but perhaps if I had used a tripod for the vista at Windy Point, the pictures would have been better. I simply would have taken more time and care while composing each picture. I don't know but this kind of thing has happened to me before. I get excited about what I'm seeing, click the shutter until my finger goes numb and feel like I've captured the photograph of the century. Only, I didn't and the images don't even make the first cut.
Luckily for me, there were literally hundreds of opportunities along the road to Creede to make up for the lackluster batch At Windy Point.

This is one of my favorite shots. The row of trees make a lovely autumn motif and frames the photograph nicely.

So, maybe I need to slow things down a bit. Instead of finding ten places to stop on a single trip, I might yield more success if I pick, say, three spots to shoot. If I use my tripod and be really mindful to what I'm seeing, it's possible I might just find the composition that looks as good at home on my computer as it did in the field.

Mountains and Valleys
The colors of the mountains in this area of Colorado are just gorgeous. Add some fall tones to the mix and the resulting cocktail is delicious.

Fall Preview
When we first arrived in Colorado, there were only hints of the colors to come, the trailer to the big movie, if you will. Here, by the Taylor Reservoir, a few flecks of yellow look like dabs of paint from an artist's paintbrush.

Despite all, I still feel like I left beautiful Colorado with a nice collection of photographs that adequately capture the experience of being there. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to trying new techniques in my quest for the perfect image.

While not a fall-themed image, I really like this shot from our first morning at Elk Creek.

One of the last sunsets as we bid farewell to Colorado.

My Adobe Spark (formerly Slate) presentation of this post is available here

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guerrerodsr said...

Hei Steven
I´m new on this reading of blogs and enjoy your photography quite a lot. I try to be learning like every time I go through your posts and it´s a great teaching to me. Just like this about Autumn colours where I find my selv taking pictures of every spot like you describe on this trip in Colorado. I live in the city of Oslo, Norway and just right now it´s Autumn over here.
Around Oslo there´s a great forest just a few minutes from the city center of this small capital city which is a blessing to have near for winter sports, fishing and hiking just like the places you visit but in a minor scale.
Thank you for the great work of photography you're sharing.
I´m a entusiast amateur which are learning through it a lot.
Regards Jaime

Steven Dempsey said...

Jaime, thank you so much for your comments. It always feels good to inspire others. I've always wanted to go to Norway so, who knows, maybe someday I will :)

Happy shooting!