With their straight, white trunks and colorful leaves, aspens are great subjects for intimate landscapes. But in both Colorado and the eastern Sierra this fall we had lots of interesting weather, with great clouds, which created many opportunities to capture images of aspens as part of a larger landscape, with mountains in the background. I’ve posted a couple of these photographs already (here and here), but I’ve included a few more in this post.
These images were sometimes challenging to process. Often the aspens were in the shade, with sunlit, sometimes snow-covered peaks above, creating a lot of contrast. Yet all of these images were processed in Lightroom, with just one Raw file – no exposure blending or HDR. I used Lightroom’s wonderful Highlights and Shadows tools, plus some dodging and burning with the Adjustment Brush.
With most high-contrast images, shadow areas can be left dark – maybe not completely black, but still looking like dark shadows, with perhaps a hint of detail. But when it’s important to show color in the shadows – when those shadows include colorful trees or flowers, for example – the shadows have to be lightened even more to show the color, and it can be difficult to do that in a natural-looking way. If you lighten the shadows too much you can eliminate the dark areas entirely, and without some dark tones there’s no contrast, leaving the image flat and lifeless. Too-light shadows can also just look weird and unnatural. But on the other hand, you have to lighten important colorful shadow areas enough to see the color, otherwise there’s no point in keeping that colorful foreground in the photograph. You have to strike the right balance, and try to make the shadows bright enough to show the color, but not too bright. I also think it helps if you don’t rely entirely on the Highlights and Shadows sliders, but also use Adjustment Brush to selectively lighten or darken parts of the frame.
In my next post I’ll go into more detail about processing these high-contrast, colorful images. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this little portfolio. It was a lot of fun to capture these. It’s always great when the light, weather, and subject come together!
— Michael Frye
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Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom 5: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.