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Sunrise Aspen

Sunrise Aspen, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Sunrise Aspen, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Like many photographers, I often shoot aspen partially backlit (with the sun behind the subject) to try to capture that extraordinary "stained glass" effect of sunlight shining through golden leaves. As the fall of 1996 began, I wondered if it would be possible to do something even better. What if I found a grove of aspen that would be backlit at the precise moment of sunrise? Surely the combination of reddish light from the rising sun and golden leaves would be spectacular.

I spent four days searching Rocky Mountain National Park for a stand of beautiful aspen that would be backlit by the rising sun and finally found this grove high above the closest trail. The only problem was that a major snowstorm was forecast to arrive in just 24 hours. When I returned at sunrise the next day to try to get the shot, the situation seemed hopeless. A powerful wind was whipping the branches to and fro, making a sharp image impossible, and the sky was cloudy to the east. Reminding myself that in landscape photography the potential reward is always greatest when the odds against you are the longest, I set up my camera anyhow and waited. The moment of sunrise came and went. Then, to my surprise, the sun found a tiny hole in the clouds and the wind stopped. Frantically, I began exposing Kodak Pro 100 film with my Zone VI 4x5 field camera. Two minutes later, the sun vanished into thick clouds and the light show was over. Later that same day, the shot vanished for another year as a powerful snowstorm stripped off all the leaves.

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