Oak and maples, southern Utah, USA

Oak and maples, southern Utah. Wandering down a wash, I came around a bend and immediately noticed this patch of color. But color is never enough by itself; you have to find a way to organize that color into a cohesive composition. Luckily the yellow gambel oak provided a clear focal point to build a composition around. I used a long lens (168mm) to isolate the most interesting parts of the scene, and compress the branches into patterns of color. 168mm, 3 seconds at f/16, ISO 100, focus-stacked with Helicon Focus.

Claudia and I have had a busy autumn. We went to Yellowstone in early September, then made our way to Colorado and Utah in October, and just got back from the Oregon Coast yesterday.

I’ve made a lot of photographs, so it’s been a challenge to edit and process them all, and put them into cohesive groups. But looking back, one group of images that stands out to me is this one, of autumn color in the canyons of southern Utah.

We don’t tend to think of southern Utah as an autumn hot spot. It’s a desert, and extensive forests grow only on some high, isolated plateaus. But there are some beautiful deciduous trees down in the canyons, including cottonwoods, gambel oaks, and bigtooth maples. And sometimes you can find striking juxtapositions of these autumn leaves with the red rocks the region is famous for.

We had lots of fun exploring and photographing southern Utah. Here’s a small portfolio of autumn images from the area, but I’m sure I’ll post more work from Utah as I continue to go through my images.

— Michael Frye

Cottonwoods in the desert, southern Utah, USA

Cottonwoods in the desert, southern Utah. I had wandered down another wash, then met Claudia at a small dirt parking spot. From there I looked back, and noticed this line of yellow cottonwoods against the desert rocks and scrub in the distance. I had already put my gear away, but this was irresistible, so I pulled out my camera and 100-400mm lens, walked down the hill a bit to get a better angle, and composed this view. 400mm, 1/20 sec at f/16, ISO 100.

Maple on a canyon wall, southern Utah, USA

Maple on a canyon wall, southern Utah. At the entrance to a slot canyon this little maple growing out of the canyon wall caught my attention, and I tried a number of angles and compositions to try to capture the essentials – the maple, plus just enough of the walls to convey a sense of its surroundings. 84mm, 1/4 sec at f/16, ISO 800.

Autumn leaves on sandstone, southern Utah

Autumn leaves on sandstone, southern Utah. Venture into any canyon in southern Utah and you’re bound to find something interesting. In this case it was just a spot where a variety of leaves had collected on a sandstone wall. 50mm, 1.5 seconds at f/16, ISO 100, focus-stacked with Helicon Focus.

Cottonwoods and badlands, UT, USA

Cottonwoods and badlands, Utah. Driving down a back road I kept noticing intriguing juxtapositions of cottonwoods and eroded badlands, but couldn’t quite find a composition I liked. At this spot I first noticed a line of cottonwoods in a different direction, but after photographing that I walked further along the road, and found this clean, simple juxtaposition, with a subtle gesture between the two trees. 1/20 sec at f/16, ISO 400.

Maple leaf and sand patterns, southern Utah, USA

Maple leaf and sand patterns, southern Utah. Some recent rains had created beautiful mud and sand patterns in some of the washes, so I kept my eye out for interesting compositions. This lone maple leaf created a perfect focal point amid some of the most interesting patterns I found. (And no, I didn’t place that leaf there; the scene is shown exactly as I found it.) 23mm, 1 second at f/16, ISO 100.

Oaks, maple, and sandstone, southern Utah, USA

Oaks, maple, and sandstone, southern Utah. The sandstone striations leading the eye toward colorful maples and oaks immediately caught my attention, but it took a little work to find just the right composition. Camera placement was crucial: too far back and distracting elements started to encroach on the scene; too far forward and I lost some essential lines in the foreground; a little to the left or right and the lines didn’t lead as elegantly toward the trees. 27mm, 2 seconds at f/16, ISO 100.

Related Posts: Yellowstone’s Dynamic Landscape; Glowing Maples

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: 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.