The last colors of fall illuminated at sunrise. The area in the foreground of this photo was burned, but the background hills and mountains were spared the devastation. All proceeds from sale of this image will be donated to local charities benefiting those affected by the Spring Fire of 2018. This photo, captured a couple of days after Thanksgiving and edited a couple of days before New Years, is easily one of my top 5 of 2017, yet the image below, captured just few minutes earlier from nearly the same spot and with dramatic pre-sunrise light and clouds, is not nearly as powerful. The difference, and I realized this the moment I saw the image above on the back of the camera, is the little scrub oak tree in the foreground on the left side of the image. Without that tree, the sunrise image above would still be a nice photo (but not as nice). But that tree balances the composition and provides an interesting foreground subject, and also tells the story of the photo by showing us the last color of autumn before winter sets in.
Incredible colors just before sunrise, November 2017. In contrast, in the pre-dawn photo I neither excluded the tree nor included it as a focal point; I missed it entirely as I set up my camera and just chopped it in half at the bottom of the frame. In my defense, I could claim that as I set up for the shot in darkness I failed to notice the tree. But the truth is that I did notice it and tried (and failed) to exclude it from the composition. It is the fact that I did notice it in the darkness that I realized my error when I saw the sunrise image. And I should have known better since this location is probably my favorite and most frequently visited viewpoint in 2017.