Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Vertical takes on aspen trees

with 15 comments


On October 18th we drove up Highway 475 into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains northeast of Santa Fe in a quest for fall foliage, especially from aspen trees (Populus tremuloides), as you saw last time. Stands of bare aspen trunks also constitute a photographic talisman,* with seemingly every nature photographer under the sun taking a crack at them. Lacking long-term access to the subject, I didn’t expect to take pictures like the best of those. Even so, I came away with a view of white trunks that pleased me, one that differs from what I’ve seen; it leads off today’s trio. Most photographers frame aspen groves horizontally to include as many trunks as possible. I took some of my pictures that way, too, but in these three photographs I went for a narrow view to emphasize verticality. In the middle picture, notice (how could you not?) the way one evergreen stood out among the many aspen crowns.



In the third view, the day’s bright blue sky played an important role.



* The Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries defines talisman as ‘an object that is thought to have magic powers and to bring good luck.’ Now compare that with the much more elaborate definition in Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language.

1. A magical figure cut or engraved under certain superstitious observances of the configuration of the heavens, to which wonderful effects are ascribed; or it is the seal, figure, character or image of a heavenly sign, constellation or planet, engraven on a sympathetic stone, or on a metal corresponding to the star, in order to receive its influence. The talismans of the Samothracians were pieces of iron, formed into images and set in rings, etc. They were held to be preservatives against all kinds of evils.

Talismans are of three kinds, astronomical, magical and mixed. Hence,

2. Something that produces extraordinary effects; as a talisman to destroy diseases. 


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman





Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 26, 2022 at 4:34 AM

15 Responses

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  1. The aspen could also be a talisman for dieters, its trunk looks very attenuated to someone used to seeing trees that are generally stockier, like oaks. It occurred to me that in mountains called Sangre de Cristo, you’d expect trees with red foliage. Although I like the great golden color these aspens produce.

    Robert Parker

    November 26, 2022 at 8:26 AM

    • Leave it to you to cast slender aspen trunks as a talisman for dieters. Maybe the makers of diet soda are missing out by not picturing trunks like these on their bottles and cans.

      Here’s Wikipedia’s take on the name Sangre de Cristo:

      ‘The name of the mountains may refer to the occasional reddish hues observed during sunrise and sunset, and when alpenglow occurs, especially when the mountains are covered with snow. Although the particular origin of the name is unclear, it has been in use since the early 19th century. Before that time the terms “La Sierra Nevada”, “La Sierra Madre”, “La Sierra”, and “The Snowies” (used by English speakers) were used. According to legend, “sangre de Cristo” were the last words of a priest who was killed by Native Americans.’

      I hadn’t realized that the current name goes back no farther than two centuries, even though Spaniards had been in the area twice as long ago as that.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 26, 2022 at 8:39 AM

  2. I’ve really enjoyed your New Mexico photos. We were last there in May and have been several times before that. I particularly love Santa Fe, such a gorgeous town: nice people, great food, wonderful places to visit. Great captures of the aspens. They’re the trees I think most of when I think of the West.


    November 26, 2022 at 10:34 AM

    • Glad to hear you’ve been enjoying the New Mexico travelogue. We hadn’t been in Santa Fe for about five years, so this seemed an opportune time to revisit, for the reasons you mentioned. I was quite content with the way things turned out. Santa Fe and vicinity, which we unwittingly (and happily!) hit at the peak of autumn color, provided the most fall foliage but there were a few other good areas. Aspens and cottonwoods were the two most prominent trees. Many more pictures from the trip are in the pipeline.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 26, 2022 at 2:23 PM

  3. Ever so beautiful colours!


    November 26, 2022 at 10:47 AM

    • Agreed. Even Austin is getting in on the act this weekend, though of course on a smaller scale. I got back an hour ago from taking several hundred pictures of fall foliage in my part of town. I hope some colorful leaves are revealing themselves in Fredericksburg.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 26, 2022 at 2:11 PM

  4. It’s true that every first glimpse of aspens brings Ansel Adams to my mind, but it’s also true that the vertical orientation of these images is a pleasing variation. It took me until today to figure out what was piquing my interest with the first image. The presence of what I presume to be younger, smaller trees in the foreground makes the fully-grown trees look like giants; it’s really quite amusing.

    The lone pine in the second photo brought to mind a photo I took last spring but never published: a lush field filled entirely with bluebonnets, except for a single white bluebonnet smack in the middle of that blue expanse.


    November 27, 2022 at 7:53 AM

    • Hooray for verticality. Comparing to your observation, for me the way the younger trees slant at a different angle than the older trees got my attention.

      Bluebonnet season is just around the corner (sort of), so maybe you’ll show that picture of the white bluebonnet surrounded by a sea of regularly colored ones.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 27, 2022 at 7:59 AM

    • My reaction was the same – it gives an interesting perspective to see the fully-grown trees contrasted in size with the younger ones.

      Ann Mackay

      December 3, 2022 at 7:38 AM

      • I hear the younger ones will be entering kindergarten next year. Sorry for the frivolity; that’s the thought that popped into the morning mind of this fully grown photographer.

        Steve Schwartzman

        December 3, 2022 at 7:44 AM

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