By Crested Butte, Colorado photographer, Dusty Demerson

How The Art Happens - The Last of the Winter Bones

May 28, 2022  •  Leave a Comment


The Last of the Winter Bones

The Last of the Winter BonesThe Last of the Winter BonesA Colorado aspen forest slowly turns to green after a long bare winter near Kebler Pass and Crested Butte along the West Elk Loop scenic byway.

It's finally starting to feel like spring again. Afternoon winds are melting the snow and Aspen and Cottonwood trees are starting their slow progression to deep green foliage. Every grove of trees begins this journey with tiny, lime-green leaves that provide a wonderful contrast to the stark white trunks of the aspen trees. This journey can last a few days or a week or more depending on the weather.


It's the contrast that I am attracted to. The lime-green leaves seem to really make those tree trunks pop and seem even more bright. But, even more, it's the promise of warmer, summer temperatures and our backcountry roads opening again to travel to my favorite spots.


"The Last of the Winter Bones" was created using a long, 400mm, telephoto lens to get me closer to the subject but also to compress the distance in the scene. Using this technique, especially with small apertures for increased depth of field requires a commitment to perfect technique. A sturdy tripod, locking the camera's mirror up, and using a cable release all aid in creating a photograph that's sharp from front to back. I think it's especially important to have details like tree trunks and tiny leaves in razor-sharp focus for the larger prints I usually create from these images. The other key ingredient in the photo above is the lighting. I usually prefer bright but diffused sunlight provided by a thinly overcast sky. I feel that deep shadows from direct sunlight detract from the feeling of the scene.


I hope you enjoy "The Last of the Winter Bones". It's one of my favorite spring photographs.


How the Art Happens - Kaleidoscope Gulch

October 26, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Kaleidoscope Gulch

Kalaidescope GulchKaleidoscope GulchBrightly colored aspen leaves explode as a spot of sunlight filters through the clouds near Crested Butte, Colorado.

Some mornings I look out the window and wonder if it's going to be worth getting out of bed. It was just after the peak of fall colors around Crested Butte. I was happy with my results capturing the colors of autumn for the season. I didn't feel like I had anything else to accomplish this fall, picture-wise. The sky was grey and socked-in. The landscape was mostly brown.

As I headed home after breakfast at Paradise Cafe there were little holes in the cloud cover starting to form. Spots of sunlight were beginning to dance across the landscape. Knowing it was probably a fool's errand, I decided to get out and see what I could see with little expectations. I remembered this particular drainage off Whiterock Mountain from a few days earlier and decided to check it out. The colors were perfect but in the deep shade of the ravine and with the subdued light from the clouds there was no "pop" to the scene. Since my expectations were already low, I decided to set up and hope for the best.

I pulled out the "bomber" Really Right Stuff tripod, the Tamron 150 - 600 mm telephoto, and the remote. The scene I wanted to capture was at least 1/2 mile away and I needed all the stability I could muster to keep the stark white aspen trees as sharp as possible.

Once I got set up, it became a waiting game. Watching spots of sunlight move across the valley while they morphed and disappeared without warning was pretty frustrating. A few spots of light got close to my subject just before vanishing. It was a long wait!

I made 16 photos leading up to this one before getting the light and composition that I wanted. It took about 30 minutes of watching and waiting but, I think the results were worth the wait. I used an Ansel Adams technique of vignetting the corners of the scene to keep the viewer's eyes within the frame of the photo and applied just a little bit of dodging and burning to even out the contrast on the aspens. I hope you like "Kaleidoscope Gulch". It's one of my favorites from this fall which is curious since I tend to shy away from high contrast scenes. I like the color and brightness contrasts of this scene as well as the diagonal composition which adds some excitement. I'm also drawn to the variety of bright colors against the darker browns of the landscape. What I like is a bit of a mystery. Even to me sometimes!

How the Art Happens - Autumn Glory

October 21, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Autumn Glory

Autumn GloryAutumn GloryAn impressionistic approach to fabulous fall colors on the flank of Gothic Mountain near Crested Butte, Colorado.

Fall is my very favorite time of year. It's usually colorful, warm, and not as busy as the summer season. This year was no exception. In fact, the mixture of reds, yellows, and greens made it one of the most memorable autumns for photography in recent memory. It seemed to take forever to get here since sub-freezing temperatures really get the colors flowing and that was pretty late this year. But, when it finally happened it certainly did not disappoint.

The south flank of Gothic Mountain up Washington Gulch is one of the earlier places to find good color near Crested Butte and I visited the area several times and got several new, strong, images.

One problem with photographing the same area for over 30 years is that it becomes a challenge to find something new. One actually gets to recognize specific trees and drainages like old friends. Which, of course, they are.

I have always loved and appreciated the work of impressionistic painters. It's a look that is difficult to achieve with photography since this medium is all about saving detail rather than capturing the impression of the shapes and colors. I've been trying to replicate this technique for a long time with very limited success. The original photograph of the image above looks much like one I caught a few years ago. This year my visit was on an overcast day and the saturation of the colors was amazing with very few shadows. My favorite light! But I had to create something different.

Using a software program called Topaz Simplify allowed me to eliminate a lot of the photographic details and replace them with large, random shapes like brushstrokes. After playing with the adjustments for a while, I created an image that was just what I was looking for. "Autumn Glory" gets to the feel of the scene without the overwhelming details. How do you like it?

How the Art Happens - Autumn Reds

September 26, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

How the Art Happens - Autumn Reds

Red Autumn Aspen LeavesAutumn RedsBright red leaves cover an aspen tree in early autumn near Crested Butte, Colorado.

Every year about this time there are a few patches of aspen leaves that turn anywhere from orange to red, to crimson. There are a few theories out there that try to tell us what's going on but the phenomenon can change from year to year. Yet, there are other groves of aspen trees that turn red every year. There is even a large grove near my home that turns a dark crimson before falling to the ground.

Whatever the reason, it adds a lot of excitement to the yellows and greens in our fall colors.

This particular image, "Autumn Reds" comes from a pretty consistent stand of trees that you can actually drive through. In fact, the close-up nature of this image is the result of trying to keep traffic out of the photo while still capturing the vibrant colors. I used a long, 300mm telephoto lens with a larger aperture to separate the reds from the yellows and have the trunks razor-sharp.

I hope this photograph speaks to you about the vibrancy and excitement of the fall season like it does to me. I know that soon I'll be looking at scenes of white for about 5 months.

If you would like to know more about the science of leaf colors, here's a link to a great resource.

How the Art Happens - Sunset at the Dike

May 19, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Sunset at the DikeSunset at the DikeThe last light of the day paints Ruby and Owen peaks with red alpenglow along the West Elk Loop near Crested Butte, Colorado.

Sunset at the Dike

The West Elk Loop scenic drive offers lots of opportunities for great landscape photos. This overlook at Horse Ranch Park is one of the best and most popular places in Colorado for capturing fall colors at sunset. It can be a great place to find famous and infamous photographers from all over the world in early October.

I have been making pictures from this spot for over 30 years and it still hasn't gotten old yet. It does come with some challenges though. First, the sun needs a straight shot to the peaks of Ruby and Owen Mountain. That doesn't happen every day and sometimes it doesn't happen for a week or longer. The second thing that I need to happen is having some interesting clouds in the sky. That doesn't happen every evening either. Another significant challenge is that the colorful aspen forest below the peaks is in deep shadow by the time the peaks light up. This is where technology can come to the rescue.

After photographing this scene dozens of times with neutral density filters and also trying to pull detail out of the deep shadows, I decided to try something different. There is a process of using a variety of multiple exposures and combining them in Adobe Photoshop to create a single image with detail in both the bright and dark areas of the scene. This technique is called HDR. I discovered that it can also be successful using a single exposure in a program I use for my real estate photos. The program is Aurora HDR and has a few advantages over Photoshop but takes significantly longer to process a file.

As I was "playing" with some older images a few weeks ago it occurred to me that I may be able to reprocess this image from a few years ago and get it to a place that I may want to print it. After a little trial and more than a few errors, I was able to get everything looking correctly balanced. While the scene never really looks like this to the naked eye, it does feel like this when the magic happens. I hope you enjoy "Sunset at the Dike".

There's a patch of trees up here on the right that always turn red. Here's a link to the science behind that phenomenon.


How the Art Happens - Making Mistakes

April 28, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Making Mistakes

Netties BikerNetties Biker

It seems like every spring we get a couple of days that remind us of what's to come temperature-wise. You know those days. Weather folks call it "unseasonably warm". The air is 50 degrees when it's supposed to be 30. Those are good days to grab a camera and get outside. Or, maybe not.

In early April we had a few days like that. It was just too nice not to be outside. Most of the ground was still covered in that formerly fluffy white stuff but the melting had begun. I headed up to one of my favorite overlooks for a view of one of my favorite subjects. Using a long, 400mm lens, I was able to capture the cabin, its surroundings, as well as a lone biker in a bright green jacket. The jacket became the only really colorful part of the photo so he really stood out, which is the whole point of the jacket. I stayed there for a while making photos of cars driving by, other bikers, and the scene with no traffic. I also took photos in a vertical format which I always try to do if the subject allows. You just never know what your editors are going to need! It was a fun and sunny several hours capturing multiple subjects from this and a few other locations.

Then I started the editing process. First, I find compositions that I prefer like the one above. Then I open them in my software and adjust the color balance, crop, sharpen, and remove any dust spots. That's when the disappointments started. As I evaluated my photos at 100% enlargement I got a huge surprise.

Do you know how, on hot days, the pavement seems to ripple in the waves of heat rising from the road? Did you know that can happen at 50 degrees over snow? I didn't either! In every single long-lens photograph.

Most of my fun, sunny day's work was ruined. You can't really tell from the photo above but there's not a straight line in the scene and, if you look closely, the scene looks like you're looking through the glass from a shower door. If I were looking for an impressionistic approach to these scenes, I was well on the way to success. That's probably not what my editors are looking for. I did learn a valuable lesson. I wonder how many more lessons I have to learn after a 40-year career?


How the Art Happens - Cathedral

April 07, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Colorado CathedralColorado CathedralFresh spring snow decorates towering aspen trees creating a Colorado Cathedral.


Springtime brings green grass and leaves along with flowers to most parts of our country. Life at 9,000 feet is a little different though. Most of the moisture falling from the sky before June comes in the form of snow. Spring snows are usually wet and sticky unlike our familiar "powder". Spring snow sticks to stuff like branches, cars, signs, etc. But, it doesn't stick around for very long. If I'm going to chase spring snow I have to get to work quickly.

Two years ago in late April, we were blessed with a spring snowstorm that created a fantasy world in the local forests. I jumped in the Jeep and drove around trying to find some interesting images before the snow melted or simply fell from its landing spots. I found this collection of aspen trees not far from my home that was well-decorated with fresh snow. That part was expected. What was unexpected was the feeling created by the convergence of the towering trees. Slightly enhanced by the use of a wide-angle lens, this snow-covered aspen forest resembled a cathedral with tree pillars reaching for the heavens. I spent some time in this church and took home a few photos.

Coming up with titles to my photos is one of my more challenging tasks. It's not a task I enjoy and I sometimes seek input from other people who can see the photograph with less biased eyes. This was not the case with "Cathedral". I had the title before I left the scene. Spending time in nature is like going to church for me and many others. It's where I find my center and get away from life's distractions.

As we move into another April, I'm looking forward to spending more time in my cathedrals before the summer crowds arrive. I hope to see you in church!

How the Art Happens - Don't Call Me Skunk Cabbage

March 31, 2021  •  1 Comment

Dont Call Me Skunk CabbageDont Call Me Skunk CabbageIntertwined leaves of the Corn Lilly glow green in soft spring light.

There's a plant in the high country that grows every spring in damp areas. It has huge, bright green leaves but doesn't produce flowers every year. Many locals call this plant Skunk Cabbage. My biologist friends assure me that this is not Skunk Cabbage, a completely different plant that's not native to Colorado. This one is actually called Corn Lilly.

Whatever we call it, we always look forward to its arrival since it means green will be the dominant color for the next few months. I like its shape. The entwined and overlapping leaves have gentle curves and a subtle texture under soft, diffused light, creating a somewhat abstract form. I enjoy finding abstract forms in nature though I don't think I'm very good at it. It seems like we need to look much closer at our subjects to find the abstract and I'm more of a "big picture" photographer. The Corn Lilly is the perfect subject for discovering those abstract forms in a larger subject. Although the bright sun can make it look harsh and shiny with deep shadows, bright diffused light makes this plant sing to me. The biggest challenge seems to be finding perfect subjects since bugs like to chew on the leaves and they catch anything that falls from above. They grow up to 2 inches a day so catching fresh subjects can be challenging.

I'm still searching for the perfect title for this photograph so, if you have any ideas, I would love to hear about them. I'm not really sold on "Don't Call Me Skunk Cabbage".

How the Art Happens - 4 Crosses - San Geronimo Church

January 06, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Four Crosses - San Geronimo ChurchFour Crosses - San Geronimo ChurchThe 4 crosses of San Geronimo Church of Taos Pueblo, New Mexico top this highly symmetrical, historic mission built in 1850 after the destruction of the original Spanish Colonial chuch just outside the walls of the Pueblo.

Four Crosses - San Geronimo Church

I miss being able to travel. I love to travel. Especially in the southwest United States. I especially like visiting and discovering the Spanish Colonial mission churches in this part of the country. So many have suffered the ravages of 400 - 500 years of wear and tear and are now ruins, unlike the San Geronimo Church above.

While visiting Taos Pueblo in New Mexico, I was first captivated by the original ruins and cemetery just outside the walls of the famous pueblo. The original church was hundreds of years old but was ultimately destroyed in the mid-1800s to quell an uprising. This version of the church is within the walls of the Pueblo and was built in 1850. I love the symmetry of the bell towers and crosses. This is pretty common among the churches in Northern New Mexico. The contrast of the white-washed portions with the blue sky and warm-toned adobe creates a minimalist palette that I really love. I don't usually like a cloudless sky but in this case, I think it supports the minimalism and clean lines of the composition.

Taos Pueblo is a favorite place of mine to visit even though the residents are frequently less than welcoming. The history and architecture of a Pueblo occupied for over 1,000 years makes the visit worthwhile. Finding good photographic subjects, however, can be a challenge. Especially if you're trying to find a unique point of view which is always my goal. I'm not here to do what has already been done!

Today, traveling in New Mexico from out of state requires a 14-day quarantine making this destination off-limits to most of us. I hope we can get back to a more normal lifestyle in the near future. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy "Four Crosses - San Geronimo Church".

How the Art Happens - Warm Wishes

December 24, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Warm Wishes

Warm WishesWarm WishesA decorated Victorian front porch welcomes Christmas visitors in Crested Butte, Colorado.

This time of year I usually spend a few evenings and early mornings cruising the streets of Crested Butte looking for well-decorated homes and shops. Our historic, Victorian architecture lends a beautiful touch to some subtle holiday decorations. A little snow helps too. Sometimes my work helps put me in the mood I need to celebrate the holiday season.

I hope you are able to find whatever puts you in the mood to celebrate in the next few days. Warm Wishes from Crested Butte!

How the Art Happens - Elk Avenue Snow

December 02, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Elk Avenue SnowElk Avenue SnowRecord snow hangs off the colorful shops that line Elk Avenue, the main street through Crested Butte, Colorado. Elk Avenue Snow

The winter of 2007-2008 brought record amounts of snow to the mountains of Colorado. In December, usually a pretty dry month, we had over 100" of snow in a 10 day period. It was beautiful. It put huge smiles on the skier's faces. It put some smiles on the photographer's faces as well.

Back then the town of Crested Butte left the piles of snow as a buffer between street and sidewalk traffic. Each business would have to shovel a hole in front of their shop so shoppers parked along the street could get to the sidewalk and their stores. Although the weight of this much snow can threaten the building below, it accumulated much more quickly than anyone could shovel it off. It did make for some great photos though.

One of the tricks to getting great snow photos is to get to the snow before anyone else does. It's much nicer without cars, tracks, and those shoveled paths to the street. Also, once the sun hits it, snow starts to fall from tree branches and signs. "Elk Avenue Snow" was captured just before sunrise on a completely empty street devoid of cars or people. Before sunrise the light is soft and there are few shadows, just about always my favorite lighting scenario. The color balance before sunrise is a little blue. I could correct for that and make the snow more neutral but I really preferred the cooler feel to the image. I like to use a longer, telephoto lens for photographs like this since it seems to compress more buildings into less space. I used an 80-200mm zoom lens at 135mm on my Fujifilm S5 Pro camera for this image. The exposure was 1 second at f16 making the tripod a necessity. A tripod is usually a necessary tool in my photography.

As we head into winter again, most of us up in the mountains are hoping to end 2020 with abundant snowfall. Our attitudes could really use a break this year! I hope you enjoy "Elk Avenue Snow".



How the Art Happens - What is it About Black and White

November 14, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

What is it About Black and White?

Western Colorado Summer ThunderstormWestern Colorado Summer ThunderstormBeautiful cumulus clouds drop heavy rain in Gunnison County, Colorado on a summer afternoon.

For many of the early decades of photography creating images in color was not an option. That may have been a good thing for photography artistically. The lack of color causes us to view the photograph more abstractly. It's clearly not the reality we're looking at so we tend to concentrate on the forms, subject, lighting, and composition instead of viewing the scene as a snapshot of reality.

With many scenes, in my experience, the color in the original scene actually competes with the subject. The scene above is a great example since the blue in the sky and brown tones of the foreground pulled attention away from the storm. Another advantage of converting or working in black and white is a much greater ability to modify contrast. Had I increased the contrast of the color version to achieve the tonality above, the photo would be extremely garish and harsh. With color photography, there's a fairly limited range of adjustments to contrast, saturation, and color that we will find acceptable. If we take the adjustments too far, the image looks fake and overly manipulated. Since monotone photography is already an abstract concept, we have a lot more freedom in the available adjustments.

The pioneers of black and white landscape photography like Adams, Weston, Caponigro, and others used this freedom to great effect. They manipulated tone and contrast to re-create their vision of the landscape. If a photographer can take photos of apples or peppers and make prints that make you wonder if you're looking at the night sky instead, real abstract magic has been applied. I've never seen that effect duplicated in color imagery. Ansel Adams created some iconic landscapes using filters and processing techniques that allowed him to accentuate the subject and create unreal contrast with the surrounding sky or foliage. Because we see monochrome photography abstractly, we accept black skies and bright foliage without question. The same approach just doesn't fly with color photography even though many have tried. We tend to end-up with photographs that are interesting at first glance but tend to annoy us if we look at them for too long. If they end up on our walls, they don't stay there very long. Black and white photography, however, becomes timeless.

How the Art Happens - Crystal Mill Colors

October 14, 2020  •  1 Comment

Crystal Mill Colors

Crystal Mill ColorsCrystal Mill ColorsThe historic and famous Crystal Mill along the Crystal River between the Colorado towns of Crystal and Marble. While not actually a mill, the historic building actually provided compressed air to run local mining operations on Sheep Mountain.

A few years ago after most of the leaves had fallen from the trees near my home I decided to make the drive over to Aspen while Kebler Pass was still open. When I got to the top of McClure Pass I discovered that the fall colors were peaking and the tops of the mountains were dusted with a little fresh snow. The trip to Aspen would have to wait. After photographing the colorful forests surrounding the pass It occurred to me that the historic Crystal Mill might be perfect. So, I made the arduous drive to the famous "mill" near Crystal City.

It's always a challenge to photograph an iconic scene in a new or unique way. The front of the building is almost always in the shade but I wanted the color and texture to be visible in my photo. I made a series of exposures to make certain I had details in the shadows and then combined them using a technique called HDR. I used a 17mm wide-angle lens to include the river and waterfall which help frame the building. Today, this specific point of view has become overgrown and is very difficult to achieve. Having the golden aspen forest and great clouds in the sky was an added bonus.

Even though lots of photographers have created similar photographs, "Crystal Mill Colors" remains one of my favorite images. I hope you like it too!


How the Art Happens - Autumn Impressions

October 07, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Autumn Impressions

Autumn ImpressionsAutumn ImpressionsFall Aspen trees reflected in Lake Grant near Crested Butte, Colorado create an impressionistic view of fall color.

I have always enjoyed the art created by the impressionist painters. I recently learned that many of them used photography to capture the scenes of life they later expressed in their paintings. The photograph above brings the art of impressionism full-circle back to photography.

After trying unsuccessfully, for many years to create that painterly look in my photographs, it turned out that nature provided the perfect fuzziness that filters and brushes in software just could not achieve. The thing I like most about the art of the impressionists is that they can convey a subject using color and form without distracting details. Getting rid of the details is pretty tough using modern photographic techniques. Even using special optics like the Lens Baby or glass filters with nail polish has left me disappointed with the results.

"Autumn Impressions" was photographed in 2014 at Lake Grant in the Skyland community near Crested Butte. The light was my favorite for photographing aspen forests, bright and diffused daylight. The fall colors were at their peak and the perfect ripples in the lake were provided by aerators used to circulate air through the water. My first attempts at composing this image included the tops of the colorful trees but the rocks and dirt behind them were distracting and pulled attention away from the reflection. I think the white trunks of the aspen trees bring quite a lot to the scene. Some other species of tree might not have worked as well.

I hope you like "Autumn Impressions". It just sold from Paradise Cafe in downtown Crested Butte, Colorado.


How the Art Happens - Aspenshine

September 09, 2020  •  Leave a Comment


Golden aspen trees on a Colorado mountainside.AspenshineA Colorado hillside covered with bright yellow aspen trees receives a splash of diffused sunlight during an autumn storm.

I am fortunate to live in an area favored by many of the world's best artists for capturing fall foliage. I get to spend more time than most wandering the back roads of western Colorado in search of the perfect photograph. I did not have to wander very far to find "Aspenshine".

While this is not a new photograph, I've been sitting on it for quite a while. I like my subjects to be tack-sharp and the original capture of this photograph was just not up to standards. I have learned, the hard way, over the years that technology might be able to save some of my mistakes if I hang on to them long enough. That bit of wisdom holds true for this image. New software offerings are now using artificial intelligence to legitimately sharpen once-soft photographs. But that's not the complete reason I saved this photograph.

I really love the light. It was a rainy, overcast day with little hope for full sun. But, there were brighter and darker patches of cloud cover delivering soft shadows and highlights moving across the valley and hillsides near Gothic, Colorado. Since I usually add some vignetting to the corners of many of my images, the darker top area and lower right corner help the bright aspens really stand out and help keep my eye inside the edges of the photograph. I also really like the dynamic feel of motion created by the diagonal composition. The sky was ugly which is why I chose the panoramic format. It's perfect for eliminating distracting skies and foregrounds that I would have to accept in a traditional 2:3 ratio most cameras deliver. When I create these panoramas, I usually capture the scene with the camera in a vertical orientation and combine multiple images while panning the camera from left to right. I overlap each image by 50% so when I stitch them together the software has plenty of information to work with. Keeping the camera absolutely level while panning is the most challenging part of creating these panoramas. But there are great tools for that.

I use an L-shaped device made by Really Right Stuff that allows me to level the camera in any orientation, even with a long, telephoto lens. It's a miracle for creating panoramas. This photograph is from September 23, 2010. The stitching software I used back then erased a lot of the metadata in the file when it combined the photos. One bit of information that was not saved was the lens I used. I think it was a Nikkor 300 f4 but I might be wrong. We'll never know for sure.

That's the story about "Aspenshine". You could be the first person to own a print of this image. I think it would look amazing on canvas at 20" x 48". What are your thoughts?


Crested Butte, Colorado photographer, Dusty Demerson creates fine art photography displayed as prints and canvases and provides private photo tours in and around western Colorado.

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