Every autumn I get excited about photographing the brilliant yellow leaves and stark white trunks of that quintessential Rocky Mountain harbinger of fall – the stately aspen tree. Before I head out on the first trip of the season I often wonder whether the world needs another photo of autumnal aspen trees. I then pack my bags, gas up my truck and hit the road. The world may not need another photo of aspen trees in fall but I sure as hell do.
My favorite time to photograph aspens isn’t when they’re at peak color. No, I’d rather catch them as the last few beauty queens strive to keep the pageant of autumn alive. The graphic impact of a forest filled with bare aspen limbs entangled in a chaotic dance before a pale and tattered blanket of yellow is simply too much for me to resist. No doubt, it’s more difficult to make successful images when you’re confronted with less color and more chaos. Maybe that’s why I so enjoy creating images at the tail end of my favorite season. The whole process becomes more visceral. More instinctual and more studied. Having less to work with requires more of us as photographers. It forces us to engage with our beloved subject on a level we may not often attain.
The rewards are often much greater than just a beautiful photograph. I feel humbled. Humbled by the sheer beauty and grace of the natural world in which we live. Ecstatic to have been given an opportunity to create art as one season fades into the next. I feel an overwhelming sense of peace.
I made the image above on Oct. 24, 2010 in the La Sal Mountains not far from my home in Moab. A thin layer of slushy ice covered the small alpine lake at my feet. The ground was littered with millions of yellow, red and brown aspen leaves and a thin layer of freshly fallen snow. A chill descended upon the landscape as the sun crept closer to the horizon behind a veil of clouds filled with snowflakes that would fall only hours after I was back at home, snug in my warm bed.
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