In praise of place: Ouray and environs (Part 5)

There are incidents in a photographer’s personal development that put a strong emotional stamp on him/her, and thereby change his/her picture-taking habits forever.

For me, one such incident occurred in the fall of 2003 when I found myself — mostly by dumb luck, but at least partially by design — in the right place at the right time for light and color.

Last stand

In Ouray on vacation for the umpteenth time, Anne and I that year decided (for the first time) to visit Colorado in the Fall, hopefully to catch the aspens in their full color finery.

We hit it pretty close, the last week in September that year being maybe just a bit beyond prime time — but then, I appreciated the added visual drama of bare white aspen trunks and spidery gray branches peeking through the surrounding bright yellow foliage.

But what I discovered straight away was that simply snapping away at the spectacular aspen scenery produced lackluster results. This was because a) I was shooting in midday light, not being dedicated enough to arise in the pre-dawn chill or forego a fabulous dinner at the Bon Ton in order to set up for that golden early morning or late evening light; and b) because I was shooting to capture color more than content. (What little I’d learned by that time about composition went out the window — the psychological effect of being immersed in such beautiful surroundings exerted a “dumbing down” influence on my critical picture-taking brain.)

One afternoon late into our week-long stay, I noticed cloud banks moving into the area from the west. I’d already scoped out on maps a back road (Co Rd 7) that looked promising for exploration, so I quickly loaded my tripod and camera bag into the truck and headed off to Ridgway and thence points west.

Mt. Sneffels from Cty Rd 7

The results can be seen here, and while I could have done a lot better knowing what I know now (and with my present gear), sometimes it’s just about being there when good light happens and having the wherewithal to point the camera in the right direction.

These shots were captured with the Canon 10D, a camera I still keep on hand as a backup body. I appreciate the way it records scenes in what appears to be pastel, delivering an image that is noticeably unsaturated compared to standard settings on later camera models. (And yes, I know, you can change the settings — it’s just one of those things I seldom think about.)

Mountain monarch

Anyway, this afternoon expedition into the world of optimum lighting and color taught me essential lessons about landscape photography — such as, light is everything; and, it’s better to capture RAW files than .jpgs (which these all are, much to my regret). But most of all it built my confidence and demonstrated that, with a bit of extra effort, I could achieve results I’d be proud to share with anybody.

In short, it put me on the path to being a better photographer.

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