Image No. 12 thru No. 15 – Beginning the Aspen Obsession
After each of the several mornings seeking the perfect conditions at the Maroon Bells, I sought out the countless groves of aspens in the area beginning just off Maroon Lake itself at the start of the trip, and continuing unabated until the final few days of the trip on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. It was probably the one continuing thread throughout the trip: searching for the perfect aspen grove. In a place named after the tree, I thought I would find exactly what I was looking for pretty easily, but found that not to be the case. There always seemed to be a bit of a problem with each grove I encountered, either direct sunlight coming from the wrong direction, no sunlight at all, too much wind, unevenly spaced trunks or any number of conditions that I found just not right. It was the same as the conditions for the Bells, I guess I was looking for perfection, but in another way.
The first time I dove into trying to capture an intriguing image of aspens, was right behind where the throng of photographers were lined up facing the Bells just off the lake. The grove wasn’t very big, but remained in the shade quite a while after the good light was long gone from the peaks, and had the added benefit of having a bluish cast which I liked. I noticed two almost identically curved trunks on the edge of the grove which picked up a lot of the reflections from the yellow aspens higher up the mountain, yet the rest of the grove retained the blue cast from the sky in the highlights. And there was also a third trunk that grew in a perfect position to be placed directly between these two. After trying a wide angle at first, I settled on the 35mm end and stepped back a bit from the two trunks and was able to keep everything in focus because of the calm conditions keeping every leaf and blade of grass still for long exposures.
But these were reasonably short trees and I had my eye on the very tall groves and searched throughout the area for those as well. Sometimes, if the leaves were backlit, I had some success, but nothing to excite me much. I tried some in overcast conditions, but also without an inspiring image. Then one day just before the rains came and the wind was blowing a bit, instead of just giving up for the day, I tried some motion blurs of the trunks, moving the camera up and/or down during a long exposure. I quickly found that, just as in abstracts which these images would be, I needed a focal point of some sort. I tried to find an isolated fir or spruce tree amid the tall trunks to use as a dark spot in the high key image to anchor the shot and to garner immediate attention. It took many attempts and many different evergreen subjects to finally come up with a reasonable image, but I probably would not have attempted this if I were still using film; first because of the cost and second because digital allows for immediate feedback after every attempt. You know right away what you did either right or wrong and can make adjustments to correct the mistakes or inaccuracies. I ended up using this trial and error method when I made my first attempts at photographing the Milky Way and with continued practice, eventually became much better in my attempts as the trip wore on. But I was immediately smitten by the aspen blur shot early on and would continue these right through to the end.
The blurred No. 3 (Image No. 14) is very similar to paintings by Wolf Kahn that I’ve seen, and I feel if they are going to be blurred, then the images should appear more as paintings or watercolors than an actual photograph. So with every attempt at these blurred images, that is my purpose in trying this technique: to transcend photography into what could be called art.