By Crested Butte, Colorado photographer, Dusty Demerson
How the Art Happens - Crested Butte Mountain Summer
March 23, 2023 • Leave a Comment
Crested Butte Mountain Summer
Crested Butte Mountain SummerWildflowers bloom below Crested Butte Mountain. Crested Butte, Colorado is the wildflower capital of Colorado and hosts a week-long wildflower festival every summer.
Crested Butte just broke 300" of snowfall for the season. We're not done yet either. These "Atmospheric Rivers" have been great for building our snowpack. And it's not just here. Park City, Utah has gotten over 500". Some ski areas in California are over 700". We do need the moisture to reverse this 20-year drought we've been in.
Big snowfalls are also really good for our summer wildflowers. Although it may take a little longer for the ground to clear and the flowers to bloom, the stage is set for a very colorful summer in the Rockies. I guess that's why Crested Butte has been declared "The Wildflower Capital of Colorado".
"Crested Butte Mountain Summer" was created in 2011. I don't really remember the previous winter but I'm guessing the snow was abundant. It's a little unusual for this many species to all bloom at the same time. It's more normal for them to bloom in stages. Especially in the meadow pictured above. The variety of colors and the sky are what got me out of the car on this day. Having a dramatic sky in a landscape photograph is a requirement for me. I also love the way the scene is illuminated. The peak of Crested Butte Mountain has nice, bright light, the flowers in the foreground are not in direct sunlight but they are brighter than the middle ground where there's nothing going on. Since our eyes are naturally drawn to the brighter parts of a scene it's important for our subject to have adequate illumination. Landscape photographers can spend hours waiting for the lighting of their scenes to develop. Sometimes it doesn't happen. This scene developed perfectly for me. There's not a thing I would change! I hope you enjoy "Crested Butte Mountain Summer".
How the Art Happens - A Ghost of Summer
March 15, 2023 • Leave a Comment
A Ghost of Summer
A Ghost of SummerFresh, early snow leaves an imprint of a bicycle on a brick sidewalk covered with fallen aspen leaves.
It was late October and I was enjoying breakfast at the counter of Paradise Cafe in downtown Crested Butte. My friend Jack had joined me and we were having a great time catching up and harassing the servers. Jack lived just a few blocks away and had ridden his bike to breakfast as most folks in CB do. The town staff had recently removed all the bike racks getting ready for winter. As we finished our food it started to snow so Jack headed for home. I looked out the window and noticed this scene. I only had my phone but I had to capture the scene before it vanished. I ran out the door and took a few different photos before snow filled in the outline of Jack's bike.
"A Ghost of Summer" is the only photo I have ever sold from my phone. The phone would never be my first choice of cameras but it was all I had that day. I guess the lesson was to always be more prepared with better gear when I leave the house. But, I did get the shot! It hangs on a few walls and enjoyed some space in a magazine. I think it needs to be on the wall in Paradise Cafe soon.
I like the unique and fleeting qualities of this photo with the snow and the fallen, yellow leaves. It's not what I usually strive to create but sometimes I have to step off the path and do something a little different. Most of my art is conceived in my mind before I find it in nature. This one just jumped out at me. I'm glad it did.
How the Art Happens - Lazy F Bar Ranch Under Snow
March 09, 2023 • Leave a Comment
Lazy F Bar Ranch Under Snow
Lazy F Bar Ranch Under SnowThe Lazy F Bar Ranch near Crested Butte, Colorado is literally buried under deep, fresh snow with Whetstone Mountain in the distance
With over a foot of snow in the forecast for the weekend, I thought I would share a winter scene. Not far outside Crested Butte lies the Lazy F Bar Ranch. It's a popular summer wedding venue but sees very little use in the winter.
I woke up to a bluebird day on March 1, 2017. A winter storm had left us with lots of fresh white powder and a temperature below zero. I drove out to this ranch thinking it might look interesting from the air. It was completely buried. Mount Whetstone stood against a perfect blue sky in the distance. I have always loved the massiveness of Whetstone and I make new photographs of it every chance I get.
Below-freezing temperatures are not usually a great situation for flying a drone! I knew the battery wouldn't last long but, as it turned out, the battery outlasted my fingers. I didn't have to fly very long to create this composition since the drone pretty much went straight up 100 feet and then straight back down. The camera wasn't in the air for 5 minutes but since I can't work the touch-screen with gloves on, my fingers were completely numb. The buried ranch buildings and fences looked pretty cool from above, however. My fingers eventually thawed out and still work today.
The aerial perspective does not benefit every subject but it definitely helps tell the story of the "Lazy F Bar Ranch Under Snow".
How the Art Happens - Denali From the Train
March 01, 2023 • Leave a Comment
Denali From the Train
Denali from the trainDenali from the train to Anchorage.
It's hard to believe that it was nearly 19 years ago that I got to join my family on a trip to Alaska. We traveled by ship, train, plane, and bus. We traveled, literally, from one end to the other; through the inside passage all the way to Prudhoe Bay and back to Anchorage.
They say that only about 30 percent of visitors get to see Denali or Mount McKinley since it's usually shrouded in clouds. We got really lucky. We saw it on 3 different days from the plane, the bus, and finally, from the train. "Denali From the Train" was captured while heading back to Anchorage from the park. The train cars had a small observation deck at the rear of the car with room enough for two observers. Alaska was suffering from near-record heat and several wildfires while we were there. I was the only person using the platform for photos since it was over ninety degrees outside. I don't remember exactly where we were along the route but the view was spectacular.
I rarely have high hopes for successful images when I travel since I don't have the option to stop the car, wait for great light, or to cruise around looking for better compositions. This is why I usually travel alone but this was the trip of a lifetime and I love traveling with my family.
I really like the river in the foreground and that I was able to create a photo from such an unusual vantage point, one I had never seen before. I used a Nikon D800 with a 24-120mm lens. This is the lens that lives on the camera because of the incredible wide-angle to short-telephoto range. It also has a vibration reduction feature that helped keep this photo sharp. I was only able to capture a few frames since we were usually traveling through dense forests.
I hope you enjoy this unique view of the iconic Denali.
How the Art Happens - Belleview Mountain Panorama
February 23, 2023 • 1 Comment
Belleview Mountain Panorama
Belleview Mountain PanoramaBright yellow aspen trees cover the valley floor below Belleview Mountain in western Colorado near Crested Butte.
Ansel Adams is quoted as saying "A good photograph is largely about where you stand". This statement is undoubtedly true about the photograph above. I would add that a landscape photographer frequently uses foreground objects to hide middle-ground distractions.
You see, this panorama was created looking up the East River Valley north of Crested Butte, Colorado. The town of Gothic lies between the stand of golden aspens and the majestic Belleview Mountain to the west. Gothic, Colorado is the site of the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab and has lots of science experiments dotting the landscape around the town. For a landscape photographer, these experiments are not at all photogenic. The town is also host to many small, miner's cabins that are quite photogenic but would be a distraction to this photograph.
So, to hide the distractions and the experiments I chose a perspective just below the road so that the aspen grove hid the buildings and science stuff. There are actually a couple of cabins in the aspen grove that disappear from this perspective as well.
It's pretty rare that we awake to cloudy skies in mid-September but this day presented a little cloud cover that adds quite a bit of interest to the sky above the peaks in the warm, early-morning light. The clouds also provide some shadows on the flanking slopes that draw the eye to the middle of the scene. This is almost critical for a panorama photo. I just had to wait for the lighting to develop. The peaks and the aspen grove had to be in full sun while the shadows had to land in the middle ground. Once the scene came together, I had to capture the 7 vertical frames quickly before the clouds moved too much. The lens I used was the Nikon 80-200mm f2.8 at 200mm. I like to use longer telephoto lenses for panoramas since they compress the apparent space between the foreground and the subject. A sturdy Really Right Stuff tripod, a remote release, and an RRS panorama tripod head are critical in getting all 7 images to align correctly. Back at the studio, I use software to stitch the 7 photos together to create the panoramic view you see above.
I hope you enjoy how "Belleview Mountain Panorama". Lots of moving pieces have to come together at the same time in landscape photography!
How the Art Happens - Fire in the Grove
February 15, 2023 • Leave a Comment
Fire in the Grove
Fire In The GroveThe remnants of autumn. A stand of brightly colored aspen trees surrounded by bare, snow covered trees symbolizes the last hold-outs to a change of seasons.
It seems every autumn brings unique compositions for fall-color photos. All I have to do is keep my eyes and mind open to new opportunities. The season represented in "Fire in the Grove" was in the rear-view mirror. Most of the leaves had fallen and the drive over Kebler Pass was dusted with fresh snow. Winter was on the way!
At the base of East Beckwith Mountain lies a huge mixed aspen and conifer forest, one of the drive's most colorful parts. This particular fall had been windy, removing the aspen leaves as quickly as they turned yellow. I'm not a biologist or botanist, or one of those folks who study trees, so I'm really just guessing why these trees were holding onto their leaves after all their neighbors had given up. I propose that the trees deep within the grove were protected from the wind and also from lower temperatures that cause the leaves to turn. Readers are welcome to correct me if they wish. Whatever the reason, I was gifted with a late-October composition I call "Fire in the Grove".
I like the color contrast as well as the panoramic composition which helps isolate the subject and reduce competing forms and less interesting distractions. I also like the dark, pointy, conifers which contrast in shape with the golden aspen trees.
Although this is an older image, it decorates a few homes around the country with its flaming colors.
How the Art Happens - Springlight
February 07, 2023 • Leave a Comment
Springlight - East River ValleyA sliver of sunlight illuminates fresh green aspen leaves along the banks of the East River near Crested Butte, Colorado.
Every spring when the aspen trees transition from their bare winter branches to lush green foliage we get a few days of new lime-green leaves. These fresh leaves are semi-transparent and seem to glow before they become their usual dark green. These few days are a great time to get out and capture this fleeting transition of the landscape.
One of my favorite views is just a few miles from my home. The East River valley offers lots of variety for landscapes all year long. On this spring morning, the sky was mostly cloudy but spots of sunlight provided occasional bright patches of light moving across the valley floor.
Finding a pleasing composition was a bit of a challenge but I liked the contrast between the dark conifers and the bright aspen trees. A 300mm long telephoto lens and a sturdy tripod got me much closer to my subject and helped reduce unwanted areas of the scene. Once discovered, all I had to do was wait for the light. It seems like I do that a lot. It doesn't always cooperate.
This morning, however, I got exactly what I was hoping for. The foreground and background fell into shade while the subject area became nicely illuminated. Since our eyes are naturally attracted to the brighter parts of a scene, I had very little editing work to do after the capture. I wanted the shadow areas to retain detail to reinforce the brighter subject so I did lighten the shadow areas a tad.
I have a few more months of white landscapes before I can chase these lime-green leaves again but I have a lot of winter scenes on my shot list. It's time to get to work! I hope you enjoy "Springlight".
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 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 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 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
Autumn 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. https://inlightofnature.com/why-are-some-aspens-red/
How the Art Happens - Sunset at the Dike
May 19, 2021 • Leave a Comment
Sunset 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. https://inlightofnature.com/why-are-some-aspens-red/
How the Art Happens - Making Mistakes
April 28, 2021 • Leave a Comment
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
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 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".
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© 2023 Dusty Demerson. Please do not use our photos without permission
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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Recent PostsHow the Art Happens - Crested Butte Mountain Summer How the Art Happens - A Ghost of Summer How the Art Happens - Lazy F Bar Ranch Under Snow How the Art Happens - Denali From the Train How the Art Happens - Belleview Mountain Panorama How the Art Happens - Fire in the Grove How the Art Happens - Springlight How The Art Happens - The Last of the Winter Bones How the Art Happens - Kaleidoscope Gulch How the Art Happens - Autumn Glory
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