Almost

Aspen groves in North Crestone Creek, Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, Colorado, August 2010.

Here are a couple shots from an overnight backpack about a month ago in the North Crestone drainage in Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Range. I just got to processing these. I can’t say I was thrilled with any shots from that trip, though the scenery was absolutely stellar. But a combination of fatigue, logistics, unfamiliar terrain and weather kept me from getting anything really good. But looking back through, I rather like these two. They both have some flaws which keep them from being real portfolio shots, but they’re not bad and they do show off some really beautiful and surprisingly seldom-photographed country.

Update: Okay, I was a little lazy with the initial post. It’s worth saying more about these. Commenter John kindly praises the shots, and I am duly flattered; I won’t deny that praise is always what I want to hear. But a major part of growing as a photographer is to develop the critical faculty, to a fault if necessary. It’s fine, of course, to be fond of shots that you know aren’t top notch (I wouldn’t have posted these if I didn’t like them at all). But as in any art or craft, progress means always looking for ways to improve, and that means becoming hyper-critical of flaws in your own work, and being honest if a shot you like has problems that exclude it from the top tier of your work.

So why don’t these quite make the cut? The top image is, I think, the stronger of the two, if less dramatic. The dappled light is as good as one can hope for with an 8:00 a.m. start, and manages to give the scene a little depth. The composition is okay, with some nice diagonals moving the eye around the scene, and the two light green patches tying the nearer slopes to the further. The sky is, again, not too bad for late morning. But none of these observations amount to superlatives. Better light and a better sky would be really nice here, and might be enough to put it over the top. The color palette (straight-up green and blue) works, but it would be nice to have one spot of contrast or counterpoint. I don’t recall having any other real compositional options at this spot (a rare gap in the trees on that section of trail), but if I had been shooting seriously, I would have put more effort into exploring the possibilities, especially as regards depth perception, bushwhacking if necessary.

The flaws in the other shot are easier to pinpoint. The comp is pretty good here, with a nice zig-zag leading the eye into the scene and the ridgeline and symmetrical reflection bringing it back around. The color palette works, with mostly greens and subdued yellows complemented by the pinks (which also function as a lead-in). The overcast light is ideal for the flowers, and the spotlight across the lake lends some variety and is vital to the comp. The big fly in the ointment here is the sky. Though it’s not completely fried, it’s definitely overexposed and forms a pretty eye-catching dead zone*. It’s tempting to crop it, but then I’d lose the ridgeline (whose curve nicely echoes the curve of the lakeshore), and the comp in that case seems lessened. The other irritants are the pieces of wood on  the shore, especially the bright one 1/4 of the way up. My eye really sticks on that thing. I could clone it out, but that ventures into slightly uncomfortable ethical territory for me (see here).

Other opinions are welcome! Are these real keepers despite the flaws? I can’t say I’d be sorry. And posting and discussing them is making them grow on me. But I don’t feel like I can honestly place them among my best work.

*If I’d been using a tripod here, I might have had some options for blending exposures. But I was being lazy, and feeling rushed by the weather (we were at 12,000 feet and those clouds were moving in). Don’t be lazy! Use a tripod!

North Crestone Lake, Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, Colorado, August 2010.

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2 thoughts on “Almost

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