Twisted Red Aspen Grove Trunks are Everywhere
full print size of 29.6x37.6 inches @304.8ppi, above displayed at 1/178
Copyright © David Senesac 2006 view detailed crop
Toyabe National Forest, Mono County
early afternoon Saturday October 7, 2006, slide 06-HH-53
Wisner 4x5 Expedition, 90mm Caltar, Gitzo G1325 Mk2
Tango Drum scanned Fuji Provia 100F 4x5 film to 300mb RGB file
Adobe Photoshop 6.0 processed for accurate image fidelity
Lightjet5000 printed on Fuji Crystal Archive paper
signature top left
Early October of 2006 I drove off solo on my second of four road trips during the fall seeking colors of autumn foliage. Near the end of that trip a friend joined me at a rather obscure aspen grove in Mono County down a lonely jeep road we refer to as The Twisted Red Aspen Grove. Its trees tend to be mid height with trunks rarely straight. Such crooked aspen one more often find on steep talus slopes while those in well watered stream areas are often taller with straighter trunk forms. When my friend arrived near midnight, I enthusiastically described how impressive aspen were in the grove as I'd never seen before here or elsewhere. The previous afternoon had been blustery with snow thunderstorms dusting areas with white including a fair amount in higher crest areas that would last a few days. I had time to explore the grove briefly before night fell giving me much to ponder.
As dawn broke we noticed partly cloudy skies that soon cleared up to mostly sunny before clouding back up again late in the morning. As I've photographed aspen many a fall, I already have a fair number of rather nice images, so tend to be rather selective in my search for even better exceptional subjects. Thus I exposed just a couple modest images in the morning before we waited a few hours simply exploring around and around and around what exactly we might aim our view cameras at if hopefully much better lighting developed. The whole grove was like a giant puzzle of geometries and color. Quite a wonderful challenge to any photographer. Move a bit this way and that and trunks along with areas of well illuminated leaves quickly move in and out of a frame. Here in this grove I'd never seen such a wonderful display of different bands of yellows, oranges, reds, and greens. We might have named this the "Candy Cane Grove".
Quaking aspen, populus tremuloides, are a widespread tree species throughout cooler areas of North America. In the Eastern Sierra aspen groves tend to be between 6,500 and 10,500 feet. Our subject was an aspen grove that with usual sunny conditions would be far too contrasty down below the canopy of dense trees.
Aspen have bright white trunks which if in direct midday sun are too harsh for the limited dynamic range of film to also pull in other elements of a scene. And the sun point source of strong light leaves considerable areas of shadows in a dense forest of any tree species. Instead better light for shooting in forest occurs when the sky above has a thin cloud blanket of white above in the sky. With a thick blanket of cloud, the illumination tends to be dimly flat with dull colors that offer a mediocre actual visual experience. When a blanket of clouds is thin at midday, they act like a large fluorescent lamp covering the sky that evenly illuminates branches and leaves from every point with a direct orientation to sky. The better sun illumination for aspen groves is not with early or late day light even with a cloud blanket because that provides mainly just reflective light conditions. Consider the sun trying to illuminate a blanket of clouds from a low altitude on the horizon versus more directly above. Instead midday light from above shining through the transluscence leaves, especially when back or side lit, provides considerably more glow from within.
As noon approached it quickly became too cloudy as cumulus billowed up above. Then a bit later those clouds moved east as a perfect cloud deck with occasional thin holes moved overhead. I quickly went about shooting a number of frames I had checked out. This particular image was actually the third on my queue of what I thought had most potential. I recall moving inches left, right, up, and down for some time trying to position my tripod and lens to get the best mix of trunks and leaf color. The view camera movement choice was one of compromise. I set the lower frame tilt near critical focus to the young green aspen tree near the ground with the upper frame tilt to the second tier of trunks. Then after metering incident light levels at EV13.8, set exposure for EV13.2 by stopping way down for maximum depth of field with f/50 at 1/4 second.