Aspen Panorama, San Isabel National Forest, Colorado
I've always loved the feeling of walking through an aspen grove in the fall with every backlit leaf glowing like stained glass in the sun. I can never get enough of the bold contrast of golden leaves set against a Colorado blue sky. I also love the way warm sunrise and sunset light paints white aspen trunks amber and how the orange light enhances the already rich color of the leaves.
As I thought about ways to capture that feeling in a photograph, I decided that the image would have to include several elements. First, I wanted to be standing inside an aspen grove looking straight toward the rising sun. Second, I needed an aspen grove set high enough above the valley floor that it would receive first light from the rising sun. A grove still lingering in blue shade at 9 am wouldn't work. Third, I wanted a very wide angle of view, close to 180 degrees ‒ wider than any lens could encompass, and wide enough that I could see the sides of the trunks on the far right and left sides of the panorama catching the sunrise light. That meant I would need to stitch together a panorama from many different frames, which in turn meant I needed a perfectly calm morning. Fourth, I wanted to be standing near the eastern edge of a nearly level bench in the woods, with the ground just past the edge of the bench sloping downward toward the east. That would ensure that the more distant trees growing lower on the slope would provide colorful foliage in the lower part of the frame, while the leaves of closer trees growing higher on the slope would fill the top of the image.
I found a nearly ideal location along the Colorado Trail near the South Mount Elbert Trailhead in 2010, but was too late for the best color. I returned in 2011 to find the best color I'd ever seen in that area and was able to shoot this image on a perfect fall morning. As often happens, the process of creating the images I consider my best starts with a strong emotion, but requires careful analysis, planning, and execution to finally bring to completion.