April 2020

Unlike my earlier days as a photographer, this current iteration isn’t one inclined to get up to shoot a sunrise. I will leave that to the younger of our species. Sunsets are now my eternal lover, as her embracing light is warm, inviting, and often awakens places in my heart that have long slumbered. And, well, practically speaking, I’m wide awake and still full of energy.

Here I am delighted to share a remembrance of a place in time when, I did, in fact, arise before morning’s first light. It was in Ketchum, Idaho, when concluding a visit and stay at a friend’s house, I was up and going in my truck in the dark, driving in darkness up a steep road from Ketchum into the nearby hills, rising a thousand feet or more, creating deep canyons and narrow valleys. As the dawn began to emerge, the first light of the day gradually revealed the autumn frost, embroidering with a delicate, icy lace, every surface of the landscape it could alight upon. Looking for unique, sporadic stands of aspens, I continued my ascent until, it became apparent that at this elevation, aspens no longer resided. So, turning around, I headed back down, looking for those stands I have spotted on the way up that presented some interesting visual possibilities.

In the interim, the sun rose higher in the sky and now its light upon the landscape had changed. Not far from turning around, I came across this brilliant, luminous, meadow that stretching back to the base of the steep canyon walls. The lighting was both dramatic; featuring intense side lighting, against a deep shadow, creating both a strong visual contrast, and a metaphorical theme of what lies hidden in the shadows. As it usually does, the contrast of warm and cool colors give a sense of exhilaration and aliveness, and a more subtle, underlying theme of the life-giving warmth of the sun, as it slowly melts the icy lace of frost from the flora. Using a Canon 1DS II, I choose my 24-70mm Canon lens, and shot at 50mm.

Further back down the road was this roadside stand of several groupings of aspens, all on fire in an intense side light. Once again, there is the contrast of both warm/cool, and the theme of what lies hidden in the shadow, but I was attracted to this scene more because of the vertical lines of the trunks, creating a nice contrast with the flourishes of the brilliant colors. As such, it gives the eye something more to explore than just an explosion of autumn colors. It also creates a very slight degree of abstraction to the composition, which, in color photography is always a challenge, but is essential to a color image’s expressive power. Here I also used my 24-70mm Canon lens, and shot at 57mm, as I was fairly close to trees while standing on the roadside.

At last, I got far enough back down the road into canyons that were still in complete shadow. Truth be told, I most often prefer to shoot subjects in some degree of even light, which is the case in overcast days. Even light is the very best condition in which to reveal both detail and gradation of hues within the scene, which are usually lost in the harshness of direct sunlight. As such, it is critically important for a photographer to assess the light present to then determine what they are going to be able to capture in an image in that moment. The previous two images were shot in bright sunlight with contrasting, deep shadows, and as such, representing what I had to work with, drove my compositional and thematic decisions. In this evenly lit meadow, I had the opportunity in this softer light, to reveal the exquisite contrasting detail and tonal gradations of the grasses in the meadow with the vertically expressive stand of aspens lining its edge. At last, the light in this setting, creates an image with a distinctly different feeling and expression from the last two. Its also a demonstration of how even light usually yields greater degrees of expressive abstraction in a color image, which is why I prefer it. But as the sayings goes: “you can’t always get what you want”, or “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”, thus, we must always work with the light we are given in that moment. And with more experience, we improve our ability to discern how we can work with the light present, to create the most expressive and meaningful image in that unique place in time. For me, that is one of the most rewarding aspects of landscape photography, for its joy is in the challenge of creation. Likewise, I choose my 24-70mm Canon lens, and shot at 55mm, as I was, once again, along the road and close to the subject.

Driving home, I realized how grateful I was for whatever stirred me to rise and shine early that beautiful, cold sunrise. As such, these images are a precious memory of that special place in time in my life, one I shall have forever, and represents yet another brushstroke on the canvas of the masterpiece that is my life.