A good friend of mine recently purchased some framed prints to hang in his office, and one of the images he selected was one of my oldest photos. I have many of these older images in the galleries on my website because while I don’t feel they represent my best work, they still show off the tremendous natural beauty of the Cuchara area so I want them to be seen.
The image in question is this photo of an ancient bristlecone pine on the edge of an alpine meadow above Cuchara known as Bonnet Park. The park is easily accessed by ATV on the Indian Creek Trail from either Bear Lake or via the Dodgton Trail from the Spring Creek Trailhead in Cuchara (it can also be accessed from the Indian Creek Trailhead but that section of the trail is now closed because of the Spring Fire of 2018 and may not re-open for some time). Without an ATV, it is a very long hike. We were fortunate to have use of a borrowed ATV in June 2015, so we hit the trails and stopped at Bonnet Park to take a break and explore.
One of the things I remember very clearly about visiting the park that day was the vibrancy of the vegetation. In early June at high elevation, the snow had only recently melted and the aspens had just leafed out. In the afternoon sun, the leaves seemed to be glowing. My original edit of the bristlecone photo definitely had too much saturation in the colors, but really not by much.
For the image of the bristlecone, we decided on an 18″x24″ metallic print framed with a 2″ mat. I knew this image would need some work to bring it up to standard, but I cringed when I opened it up in Lightroom. I knew I could fix the heavy use of clarity and saturation from my earlier edit, but the leaning, curved trees in the background bothered me the most. This image is a vertical panorama of 5 original photos that I captured with an entry-level DSLR (Sony a58) and consumer-grade superzoom lens (Tamron 18-200mm). That camera was fine, but the lens was definitely lacking in resolution. Fortunately, stitching several photos provided plenty of resolution for the print. I decided to start over from scratch and re-stitch the original images so that I would have the most image area available to work on the distortion in the trees. The image below shows the uncropped image after stitching-the distortion was even worse than before!
I made use of the Adaptive Wide Angle filter in Photoshop to correct most of the distortion, but my initial attempt resulted in stretching the top of the bristlecone too wide. I tried again with Adaptive Wide Angle followed by some careful use of the Puppet Warp tool, and I was able to straighten out most of the trees (not the bristlecone). The bristlecone was looking a bit flat and gray, so I applied some heavy clarity just to the tree to make it match the original edit a little better. In the end, I think I’ve come out with an image that is better aligned with my current quality standards and aesthetic but still matches the original version that my friend wanted for his wall, and for that, I am glad I spent the extra time getting this photo ready before sending it to the print lab.