In 2003 my wife Ruth and I were photographing in Colorado and were returning to our campground after a rather uneventful day. Ruth was driving, as always, and I was still looking for a photograph, as always.
As the sun was setting, we sped by this really unusual clump of aspen trees at 50 mph and I instantly saw they had photographic potential but the light was all wrong that evening.
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The next morning, we set out before sunrise and came back to this spot. Ruth was surprised that I knew exactly where to go as I hadn’t mentioned anything about seeing it the previous day. With this particular scene, I knew precisely where to put my camera and tripod and used my 250mm Superachromat lens on my Hasselblad with Velvia 50 film. This lens has exceptional sharpness and perfect colour correction, and thus perfectly resolved the details and colour differentiation in the leaves.
After the camera was set up, I waited a few minutes until the early rays of sunrise were almost in the scene, but not quite. You can see a bit of bright sunlight on the background trees at the top of the photo. Over the years I’ve learned to photograph using that marvellous glowing quality and color of light with the rising sunlight skimming the air over the scene but not hitting it directly. The closer the sunlight is to striking the scene, the more pronounced the effect. You need to set up ahead of time, since you have only 15 to 30 seconds before the sunlight hits the scene and spoils the glowing effect with harsh contrast.
The brightly colored leaves picked up the glowing light from the rising sun while the background was dark, illuminated only by the dark blue sky. The intense color contrast between the background blue-blacks and the warm glow of the bright leaves gives great depth and a dynamic quality to the image.
This photograph is enjoyable to print, although I need to simultaneously use two dodging wands — There are a lot of dodging needed to balance the tonalities and densities of the “pom-poms” on the trees. Viewing the finished prints, the clumps of leaves seem like clouds, alive with colour and light, floating in the midst of the mysterious dark forest. Light in the darkness, a welcome sight.
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About the author: Christopher Burkett is a legendary American photographer specialising in large format photography of woodlands. His prints are regarded as the most impeccable and luminous colour photographs in the history of photography. Christopher is known to produce each photograph by hand from 6×6 and 8×10 sheet film, using now-discontinued Swiss Cibachrome photographic paper. His photographs are featured in many public and private fine art collections such Portland Art Museum, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Center for Creative Photography and Tucson Museum of Art.