How the Art Happens - The Last of the Winter Bones

March 21, 2019  •  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.

For me, spring is the most difficult season to create images. I live in a small town 9,400' above sea level and we usually have snow on the ground until June. Many of our back roads close in November and don't reopen until late June or even later if we've had a snowy winter and a cool spring. Spring snow is ugly. There's lots of mud. Roads are brown. The trees are bare. The grass is brown. There are very few flowers. The few flowers of spring are tiny and only get a few inches tall. The sky is frequently grey. The afternoons are windy. We usually can't get into the forests until after the trees have completely leafed out.

If it sounds like I'm not a big fan of spring up here, you would be mostly correct. Making images is a real challenge! But, then there was last spring. Last winter did not bring us much snow. The spring was warm. The snow melted pretty quickly which opened the back roads much earlier than usual. The forests turned green and we could actually get into them. It was gorgeous! The full range of spring aspen colors were easy to witness from roads and trails high up in the mountains.

So, here's the thing about spring aspen leaves. They start as tiny, lime-green clumps. Some call them "kitten's toes". They look like pale, green dust on the trees. This only lasts a day or two. Then they get bigger and darker green but still not the dark green of fully-formed leaves. This level of maturity also only lasts a day or two so you have to get out there every day. It may only take a week or so for an aspen forest to go from bare to full green foliage.

When spring aspens call I usually come running. The season is so fleeting you can miss it if you sleep-in. But, the real reason to be out there is the quiet. The solitude. The peace. And the exploration. Spring brings feelings of new life, fresh starts, earthy smells, sounds of a living universe. New growth and, of course, green.

"The Last of the Winter Bones" is one of my very favorite spring photographs. It was discovered on the west side of Kebler Pass in 2018. I just love the contrast of the white trunks and branches with the sea of pale green leaves on the mountain side. An overcast sky helped soften the lighting so there were no deep shadows. The darker conifers provided just the right amount of tonal contrast to keep the scene interesting. The small clearing in the lower center offers a different visual density than the rest of the image which tends to draw the eye. To enhance that effect, I used a little selective vignetting or, as we called it in the darkroom days "burning in". Like Ansel Adams, I like to darken the edges of most of my prints to keep the viewer's attention away from the edges of the image.

That's how "The Last of the Winter Bones" was made. It got its title because bare aspen trees resemble bones and the trees in the clearing were late to leaf.

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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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