The inspiration for this photo came from the works of the modern master Joel Tjintjelaar and the great Ansel Adams. Joel uses some of his tree portrait images in his webinars to demonstrate various aspects of his photographic processing workflow, and I was intrigued with his ability to contour the light and contrast in these images. Ansel Adams included the photo of the aspens in northern New Mexico in his book Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs. I have an ongoing personal project to attempt to mimic some of Adams' images from that book as a learning exercise to improve my eye and processing skills.
Over the summer I was constantly looking for a group of aspens that were in sunlight with the trees behind them in shade. What I did not realize until I started working on this photo was that the trees in Ansel's photo were actually in shade with some diffuse light hitting the trees in the front. But Adams clearly states in his description of this image that the printed photo is not a “literal simulation of reality” and does not directly represent the scene he was looking at from behind the camera. Similarly, when watching Joel process his photo, the tree trunk in the original color image is not directly lit by sunlight. Ansel's photo and Joel's image are therefore very similar. In my image, however, the trees in the foreground were directly lit by late afternoon sunlight filtered through the forest canopy.
I originally attempted to process this image entirely in Lightroom. With the new advanced masking tools added in the October 2021 update, I was able to isolate the trees from the background and specifically target other areas locally. However, this image is all about making the background disappear, and Lightroom just does not have the ability to make adjustments with the subtlety that is required. My final image was edited using Joel's BW Artisan Pro X panel in Photoshop, and there is really no substitute for the adjustments that his panel offers. I think the difference in the background of the forest clearly demonstrates the power of the panel for this type of image.