Camp Verde, Arizona, USA by Lawrence Gallagher

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Picture Story

I have been watching this particular group of Arizona ash trees (Fraximus velutina) for about a year. These trees are a fast growing, relatively short-lived tree that will not survive more than 50 seasons. I love the character of this particular grove. The way they lean to the left to allow the trees to gather the most amount of life giving light, and the way the downed trees at the edge of the grove speak of the cycles of nature intrigue me and provide some interesting compositional elements. From late spring through early fall these trees are bathed with beautiful soft light just as the sun sets, making them stand out from the background. If there are clouds in the sky that can reflect the sunset colors on the trees they often turn a lovely shade of orange, salmon pink or even a bit of red in the afterglow. When this is the last bit of light that directly hits the tree trunks, they just glow. This doesn’t happen often, though.

On this particular evening, he trees were heavy with new growth leaves, but the understory was still new and largely matted to the ground. Because of this none of the grasses and low to the ground bushes were low enough that they were not blocking the tree trunks that have such texture. The sky seemed to be ready for one of those exploding sunsets with a band of clouds that extended from near the horizon almost half way across the sky. Even more important, there was a break in the clouds at the horizon that might allow the sunset to sneak under the cloud cover and reflect the sunset colors across the landscape. When this happens, the whole area lights up, often lasting until well after the sun sunk below the horizon. This is what I had been waiting for. I set up my camera and as I watched, the sun did indeed peek below the clouds as it began to set. Over the next 30 minutes the sunset clouds turned a golden yellow, shifted to orange, then pink and finally a deep red color, reflecting each of these colors on the landscape and on this grove of trees.

I originally intended to process this picture as a color image to capture that beautiful reflected light, particularly the last faint glow of orange light. However, after watching some videos by Alister Benn, I am now experimenting with changing my preview image setup on my Fuji X-T2 camera to the Acros black and white film simulation mode on my camera so I can focus on luminosity and contrast values. I still shoot in RAW format to retain the greatest flexibility in post-processing and fine tuning the final image, but looking at the scene in monochrome gives me a much better sense of light and contrast.

As soon as I saw the preview, I knew this was going to be best as a black and white image. The trees appear to be swaying the late evening breeze. Their movement guides the viewer to read this image from left to right. The highlight on the tree just off center draws the eye to the middle of the grove, then back to explore the deep forest and the clearing in the background. This is one of my favorite images of the past year.

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