By Crested Butte, Colorado photographer, Dusty Demerson
September 27, 2023 • 1 Comment
The Calico Forest
The Kebler Pass Road leading west from Crested Butte is highly regarded as one of the premiere fall color routes in the USA. During late September through mid-October, it's not unusual to see well-known photographers and artists from all over the country, even from other parts of the world. I've even met photo workshops from Mexico and Japan during the peak of fall colors.
Usually by the middle of October, our temperatures are consistently below freezing at night and we've had a few snow storms come through. This type of weather plays havoc with the leaves and bare tree limbs start to replace the vibrant colors of the forest. I don't know of many photographers who seek these stark landscapes. But, I do. These barren landscapes evoke entirely different emotions than golden leaves.
"The Calico Forest" was discovered on October 17, 2010, on the west side of Kebler Pass just before dropping into Erickson Springs and The Dark Canyon Trail. I love that the bare trees surround more protected areas with pale, yellow, leaves. I also like the red and brown oaks and evergreen's contribution to the warm palate of colors. It just feels like autumn to me even though it's a little moody. The 300mm telephoto lens helps to compress the distance within the scene and kind of scrunches the forest into a smaller space.
Even though this is one of my favorite fall photos, it has never sold. I guess it only triggers my emotions and other viewers find it boring or depressing. What say you? Does "The Calico Forest" trigger any kind of emotional response from you? I would love to know.
September 20, 2023 • Leave a Comment
Crested Butte Fall Panorama
Almost nine years ago, to the day, I photographed the peak of fall colors over Crested Butte, Colorado. Then I forgot about it!
This past week, while waiting for our leaves to color our forests enough to take pictures, I started updating my website. I don't do this very often because it's not as much fun as getting behind the camera and finding new scenes. It was worth the effort though. I found this 9-year-old photograph that I never shared with anyone. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I saw it. I was like..." where did this come from?"
I absolutely love that the blue sky offers such a color contrast with the warm autumn tones of the leaves and grass. I love the variety of the warm tones too. So many of our fall color photos only show one color. Yellow! I do wonder how other viewers feel about the view down Maroon Avenue. Does it add or subtract from the photo? I'm torn between enjoying its leading-line effect versus whether I could have filled that space with more foliage if I had stood 50 feet to my right.
So often in September, we can't even buy a cloud. I'm happy with the few I got flying around the peak.
I chose a panoramic format because the foreground and empty sky would dominate the scene and add nothing to the final result. I do this frequently. It's all about eliminating stuff that does not contribute to the image. I'm pretty inspired by the minimalist approach. While this photo is far from minimalist, the idea of eliminating superfluous space is a technique I try to use in every photograph.
Well, I hope you enjoy my lost and found photograph this week as the leaves around Crested Butte begin their annual show. "Crested Butte Fall Panorama" is now available on this website. I've moved all of my "fall color" Colorado photos to a single gallery so they're easier to find. Feel free to poke around and enjoy lots of fall photos from Colorado.
August 29, 2023 • Leave a Comment
Ruby, Owen, and the Dyke
This is one of Colorado's most iconic fall color photographs. That's probably why it's never sold very well in galleries. Everyone interested in photography has a version of this photograph. An older version of mine filled the space above the baggage claim area at the Gunnison-Crested Butte airport for the past 10 years or so. It was 10' tall and 40' long.
There are several elements that make it a successful image. Beautiful backlit aspen trees near the peak of fall color are one. Perfectly puffy, but not threatening clouds are another. The range of colors from green to yellow highlighted by that red patch is yet a third. I prefer the panorama format for this scene since a traditional view includes too much sky or the ever-present campers and horse trailers at the lower edge of the forest.
I usually plan on photographing this scene just before sunset but this late morning view allowed the west side of the dyke and mountain peaks to end up in the shade providing a nice contrast with the colorful forest and sky.
The overlook where this photograph is captured is the base camp for a whos'-who of photographers. I have run into the late John Fielder there on many occasions and photo workshops from Mexico, Japan, and Europe. As I said, it's an iconic photo! Please enjoy this version from 2021. I'm sure you'll see plenty more over the next two months. "Ruby, Owen, and the Dyke".
August 18, 2023 • 1 Comment
Shiprock Summer Sunrise
I have wanted to photograph this vantage point for a few years. A few weeks ago I got the chance to visit Shiprock, New Mexico at sunrise for the opportunity to capture this mountain from the air.
The day's adventure began at 4:30 am. The drive from Cortez, Colorado to this scene is about 45 minutes, mainly in the dark. I arrived just before sunrise and found a place to get off the highway and set up the drone. The sky was mostly cloudy but there were a few holes I would have to count on to illuminate the mountain and fin. Once I got into the air things started happening quickly. I realized I was way too close to Shiprock to get the full length of the fin in my photos. I needed to be about a half mile further south. The clouds were building on the eastern horizon and I was only going to have a brief few moments of sunlight illuminating the formation. I was also a little disappointed that the dirt road was so prominent in this composition. Sadly, the sky closed in and I was only able to capture one frame before the sunlight failed.
I thought about trying again the next morning but I woke to a cloudless sky which was not worth the drive. That's one of the difficulties with photography. For the most part, the event must actually happen and the photographer has to be there when it does. There are lots of near-misses in landscape photography. Sometimes Mother Nature chooses not to cooperate. Sometimes we don't get to the location in time. Sometimes there are other distractions like construction, cloudless sky, people, etc. But Earth still offers great opportunities to enjoy and capture its beauty.
For now, I will have to live with this version of "Shiprock Summer Sunrise" until I can get back and try again.
August 09, 2023 • 1 Comment
Summer On Elk Avenue
I have wanted to make this photograph for years before finally making myself capture it in June. There were lots of reasons for putting it off for so long. It had to be a nice summer afternoon to get light on the mountain and the side of the bell tower. It required flying the drone much closer to buildings and people than I'm comfortable with. It also needed a great sky.
I shot the photo the day before but there were no clouds and I was flying just a little too high. From a composition perspective, I wanted the top of the bell tower to be a little higher than the peak of Crested Butte Mountain. I was concerned about flying over the patio of a local restaurant next door. An annoyed customer could easily have knocked the drone into Coal Creek just 30 feet below the camera. I needed to get into position, get the photo, and get away before anyone got crazy. I only took 3 photos! I wish I had noticed the two men crossing the street though.
The lack of traffic on Elk Avenue was an added bonus. The red trim on the Old Town Hall provided a much-needed spot of color and helps keep the viewer's attention. And, oh that sky! Summer perfection!
I like this one enough to consider trying a winter version. That will be much more challenging. The flying camera has brought lots of new perspectives to photography. They're not all great but many of them allow for some interesting compositions.
June 01, 2023 • Leave a Comment
Spring at Whiterock Mountain
Springtime high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains brings a season filled with contrasts. Our weather can be warm one day and snowing the next. Our mountains can be snow-covered one day and brown a few days later. Our trees undergo the same contrasts, bare one day and covered with margarita-colored tiny leaves just a few days later.
It's a joy to experience these contrasts since they welcome our short summers which we all look forward to after our long, white, winters. Since these contrasts seem to change on a daily basis trying to capture these fleeting moments requires artists to be on their toes. We must retrace our travels every few days searching for the peaks of great landscape views, light, and weather. Although many of our explorations are limited due to road closures, we must be diligent in our searches for new scenes and light.
"Spring at Whiterock Mountain" is a new image from this spring. The day started sunny but the sky quickly became threatening with dark clouds shadowing the landscape and a few spots of sunlight dotting the ground. Dang contrasts! I really liked the contrasts of the lime-green leaves against the dark rocks below one of the peaks of Whiterock Mountain. The aspen trees were in the deep shade of a dark cloud but seemed to glow. The mountain was in diffused sunlight with the bright sun illuminating the middle ground. This scene looked amazing to my naked eye which, attached to my brain, easily compensates for the contrast. The camera does not have that magical ability. It needs a little help. That help comes with the aid of a technique we call HDR photography. It involves making several photographs at different exposures and delicately smashing them together to get the best exposures from each part of the scene. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.
This one worked for me. The scene grows on me every time I look at it. I hope it does the same for you.
May 24, 2023 • Leave a Comment
Sunset Cumulus Panorama
Every spring and every fall I head back to Oklahoma to visit family and friends. The trips are usually over Mother's Day and Thanksgiving. I always take my camera gear because my route takes me through some really photogenic parts of New Mexico. I rarely end up taking photos in Oklahoma.
This year's visit was the exception. Central Oklahoma had active weather almost every evening with thunderstorms, hail, wind, and even a few tornados. My mother's and sister's homes are smack dab in the middle of very suburban Edmond. It's tough to see much of the sky so everyone stays glued to their phones or TV watching the weather. While I do that too, those devices don't show you if there are picture possibilities so I have to go outside and look around.
I was at my sister's the evening of May 11 as Norman, a few miles to the southeast, was getting some tornado warnings along with strong winds and hail. I could see the top of the thunderstorm from the front yard but being not very tall and surrounded by homes, trees, and fences I couldn't see very well. So, I launched my drone. Wow! What a difference being 391' tall can make. The sun was setting causing the golden hour glow on the highest clouds and the view was magnificent. I took a few photos but quickly realized that even with the drone's wide-angle lens I was not able to capture the whole scene. Most of you who read these posts know that I love creating panoramas and that proved to be the solution to create "Sunset Cumulus Panorama".
The challenge with creating panorama photographs with a drone is that the camera lens is very wide-angle and can impart a lot of distortion to the image. The solution is to overlap consecutive frames a lot. This image is made from 8 exposures with lots of overlap so the magical software can stitch it together accurately. It doesn't always work. This attempt was successful though and yielded a photograph I'm extremely pleased with. I hope you like it too.
April 19, 2023 • Leave a Comment
Lilly and Beauty
One of the first signs of "Spring" here in the high country is the appearance of Glacier Lilies and Spring Beauties. These are among the very first flowers to appear and frequently bloom at the very edges of receding fields of snow. The fact they bloom in wet and muddy terrain makes photographing them challenging. The fact that the yellow Glacier Lilly is only a few inches tall and the Spring Beauty about an inch tall just adds to the fun.
Finding these two flowers together is not unusual but getting them into the same plane of focus for a close-up was difficult. When taking photos this close there is very limited depth of field even with a smaller aperture. Wriggling around on my stomach in the mud made me wonder just how badly I wanted to capture this scene. I am not a "wet belly" photographer very often! I do love a perfect Glacier Lilly, however, so I continued to refine the composition until I found an arrangement that worked for me. The Spring Beauty seemingly reaching for the sun while the Lilly seems to shy away just adds to the natural mystery of the scene.
While I have taught courses and led tours for wildflower photography for well over a decade, I rarely show or sell wildflower photographs. It's an interesting challenge to find compositions that other photographers avoid but they are really not my passion. I prefer grander landscapes to close-ups. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy this splash of color while I watch the 10' of snow in my yard start to melt.
April 13, 2023 • Leave a Comment
The Three Amigas
The Pasque Flower or Prairie Crocus is usually the first flower to bloom in spring around here. In other parts of the world, it blooms around Easter but that never happens up here. It blooms in both sunny and shady locations but the blossoms only open when the sun starts to hit them. They close each evening. Since they are the first spots of color in a brown or white landscape, they garner lots of attention and make us happy that spring will be a reality once more.
The Pasque Flower has become almost extinct in Europe and is a protected species in several countries. According to my Audubon Field Guide's description, it shouldn't bloom at this altitude. But it does. This causes me to wonder if it was brought here by our European settlers in the mining days of Crested Butte.
No matter how it got here, it's one of my favorite spring subjects. These colorful, little, hairy, flowers bring me a sense of calm and peace. I enjoy their open and closed presentation equally. My favorite ones to photograph are in pine forests. Their blooms offer a stark contrast in shape and color to the brown forest floor.
"The Three Amigas" took a little waiting to capture. When I arrived at my very favorite spot for Pasque Flowers the sun had not hit the forest floor and all the flowers were closed in protection from the chill of the previous night. I spent a little time hunting compositions with those flowers but I was really hoping for some sunshine. After a bit, the sun began to hit the forest floor and the blossoms began to slowly open. Compositions changed dramatically. I also had to be careful not to step on tomorrow's subjects. While there is no direct sunlight in this photograph, the sun had spent some time illuminating the three flowers in the foreground but became obscured by a passing cloud. This situation gave me bright but diffused daylight, my very favorite way to illuminate most wildflower subjects. I also like the bright insides of the petals which allow them to be the brightest part of the scene. Since our eyes are drawn to the brighter areas of a picture, it's a big win if the bright part of the scene is also the subject.
I hope you enjoy "The Three Amigas". I also hope to see some of these in 6-8 weeks as the snow slowly begins to melt in the Rocky Mountains.
April 05, 2023 • Leave a Comment
I'm always surprised every spring when I see that this cabin has survived. I have to tip my hat to the pioneers that built it. Even though the ridge beam has been sagging for a decade and the top plate has been broken for nearly as long, This cabin just keeps hanging on. This photo is six years old. The cabin looks worse now but it is standing still. It's a popular spot for photographers.
While I would not qualify my photo as art, it records my neighborhood's history. Recording our history is a great reason to photograph our surroundings. Lots of images become more valuable over time as the pioneer spirit is slowly replaced by modern construction. I have been fortunate to capture images of the Conoco sign coming down over the museum, the deconstruction of The Manor Lodge, Jeramia's, The Swiss Chalet, and the bakery at the ski base area. Most of these places were not replaced. But, that's another story.
Most of the snow had melted by late April 2017. We woke up to a fresh dusting so I set out to see what I could find. Just a few miles outside of town I stopped at this iconic snow-covered cabin. I like that the ground and Whetstone Mountain were also decorated with fresh snow. The blue sky popping through the clouds seemed to represent a feeling of hope as the storm cleared. The cabin had survived another attack by mother nature. I also like that this cabin stands alone near the road with no vegetation or trees nearby. It seems alone against the elements.
I have a more popular autumn version called "Fixer Upper" made a few years earlier with an outrageous sky that decorates a few walls around the country.
"The Survivor" is a reminder to me that even as I start showing signs of wear and tear, I still have something to offer even if it's not this attractive. If you look closely, there's a marmot sitting beside the chimney. I only noticed this as I made a print for a friend in Fort Worth, Tx. I guess it pays to look closely at the things we capture.
March 31, 2023 • Leave a Comment
UCO Campus From the Air
Old North Tower is the iconic landmark at the historic entrance to the University of Central Oklahoma. It's also rumored to be the oldest building of higher education in the state. UCO is my alma mater located in Edmond!
I visit Edmond a couple of times each year usually to celebrate Mother's Day and Thanksgiving. I visit at this time of year mainly to avoid the heat of summer in Oklahoma of which I have grown less tolerant over the years.
I had this perspective in mind for a few years before I could finally capture it. Old North had to be the centerpiece since it was the most recognizable building on the campus. Plus, its iconic clock tower is a great feature. I wanted to show more of the campus which you cannot see from the ground. Since the building faces west the photo needed to be captured in the late afternoon. I also didn't want a bunch of cars or people in the photo. As it turned out, 5 pm on a Sunday afternoon in May was the perfect time. Avoiding the usual winds of central Oklahoma was also an objective since I was using a flying camera (drone) for the photo. One of the things I like most about the photo is the symmetry of Old North and the recently updated landscaping on this part of the campus. Old North really stands out against the randomness of the surrounding campus. It looks a lot better now than it did in the mid-1970s when I attended.
This image is probably not going to end up on anyone's wall unlike most of the photos I write about. But, in the two years it's been available as a stock image it's been licensed over 30 times. Maybe you saw it in a brochure, publication, or online article. As is the case with most of my photo ideas, I also make ground-based photos with a traditional camera. These have also been popular stock images but none as popular as the aerial version. "UCO Campus From the Air" is available here if you're interested.
March 23, 2023 • Leave a Comment
Crested Butte Mountain 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".
March 15, 2023 • Leave a Comment
A Ghost of Summer
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.
March 09, 2023 • Leave a Comment
Lazy F Bar Ranch Under Snow
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".
March 01, 2023 • Leave a Comment
Denali From the Train
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.
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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 - The Calico Forest How the Art Happens - Crested Butte Fall Panorama How the Art Happens - Ruby Owen and the Dyke How the Art Happens - Shiprock Summer Sunrise How the Art Happens - Summer on Elk Avenue How the Art Happens - Spring at Whiterock Mountain How the Art Happens - Sunset Cumulus Panorama How the Art Happens - Lilly and Beauty How the Art Happens - The Three Amigas How the Art Happens - The Survivor