More Colorado Fall Color

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Aspen on an Autumn Afternoon. An aspen in full autumn splendor catches the afternoon light in Fairview, Colorado.
Nikon Z8 with Nikkor Z 24-120mm f/4 S at 120mm, 1/90 sec, f/8.0, ISO 64.

Well, fall color is pretty much gone in Colorado now, but a month ago I spent the weekend driving around the mountains looking for it. I had some success, but didn’t find any large aspen groves like I had the week before in Guanella Pass. Most of what I found was smaller groves and isolated trees. But when the light hits them right, such as in the image above, they really are gorgeous.

Three Aspenlings. Three young aspens show off their fall color along Rampart Range Road, Colorado.
Nikon Z8 with Nikkor Z 24-120mm f/4 S at 99mm, 1/400 sec, f/8.0, ISO 1100.

I did find a lot of younger aspens alongside the roads, even in areas that didn’t have a lot of aspens. I assume that something about those locales favor them over the evergreen trees, perhaps the extra light or the runoff from the asphalt. Regardless of why they were there, there were many opportunities for compositions like the one above, where the aspens were in front of a background of dark (ever)green. Here is another example:

Evergreen Less One. A lone roadside aspen sports white bark and yellow fall leaves against a background of evergreens, Rampart Range Road, Colorado.
Nikon Z8 with Nikkor Z 24-120mm f/4 S at 120mm, 1/60 sec, f/8.0, ISO 64.

While the white bark and yellow leaves of the aspens are easy to work with against a background of evergreens, dealing with evergreens in front of evergreens is trickier:

South Platte Fall. Grasses and shrubs have begun turning color in the fall along the South Platte River, Colorado.
Nikon Z8 with Nikkor Z 24-120mm f/4 S at 100mm, 1/45 sec, f/9.5, ISO 64.

One of the nice things about digital processing is that it is a little easier to adjust an image so that a hillside of evergreens does not look like a giant dark green formless mass. But it is still hard to keep foreground evergreens from merging into the background evergreens, which I think would have ruined an image like this. Admittedly, the first thing your eye is drawn to is the band of light yellow-green shrubbery spread across the frame, but that isn’t interesting enough to carry the image, in my opinion. There are two supporting things that make this photograph work. First, the sun (sitting up above the right edge of the frame) is backlighting the four trees in the foreground. This helps to separate these trees from what is behind them, not unlike a hair-light in portraiture. Second, the left side of the background is in shadow and the little bit of haze in the air is picking up the blue light from the sky. This gives some subtle, but helpful, color contrast between the dark green foreground trees and the slightly lighter blue-green background behind them. You can see what a difference this makes by looking at the foreground tree on the right: since the trees behind it are still catching some of the sun, the foreground and the background are blending together more than on the left side of the frame.

Greenhorn Aspens. A grove of aspens is just starting to change colors along the Greenhorn Highway, Colorado.
Nikon Z8 with Nikkor Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S at 14mm, 1/90 sec, f/16, ISO 500.

While I didn’t find a lot of proper aspen groves, I did find a few. The group above was nicely placed because they were close to—and a little below—the road, so I could take this image without having to point the camera up. I am also glad that I got there when I did, because the sun was just about to drop below the ridge in the background and I would have lost both the sunstar and the backlighting. In fact, the bases of the trees are already in shadow. This probably robbed me of some more backlit leaves lower in the frame, but on the other hand eliminated any ground clutter in shadow…I guess I will call it even.

Autumn Afternoon. A lone tree in fall colors stands alongside a dirt road in the mountains west of Sedalia, Colorado.
Nikon Z8 with Nikkor Z 24-120mm f/4 S at 86mm, 1/90 sec, f/9.5, ISO 64.

This final image is a another backlit tree, although not an aspen this time. (I am not sure what it is, but it’s definitely not an aspen.) This image has a lot of depth because of the four distinct layers: the foreground road, the midground yellow tree (and the evergreen next to it), the evergreens in the background, and the far background that is almost completely obscured by blue haze. These layers also have a lot of contrast with each other so things don’t all merge together. I don’t usually include roads in the foreground because it often seems kind of cliché, but this is an interesting road with nice textures and alternating light and shadow areas, which in truth give the image even more layers. The road also gives the scene a little mystery: it starts in shadow and disappears in shadow around the bend.

I think that is it for Colorado fall color this year, but I was in Oregon last week and there was quite a bit there, so perhaps that will bubble up in the blog queue in a few weeks. Thanks for reading!

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