The Dancing Aspens

Critique Style Requested: In-depth

The photographer has shared comprehensive information about their intent and creative vision for this image. Please examine the details and offer feedback on how they can most effectively realize their vision.

Self Critique

This was my second attempt to capture a multiple gigapixel image of these trees. The first attempt was foiled by wind and rapidly changing light due to numerous clouds passing overhead in the high altitude wind currents.
Overall, in this 2nd attempt, I achieved my goal and got a 5.47 gigapixel image. It took me over 45 minutes to shoot this. (One of the hazards of doing this type of photography.) Because I was using a 300mm lens, every position of the stitch set would need to be shoot focus bracketed to allow for focus stacking the set of images before stitching. Starting at the top, by the time I got to the bottom portion, shadows from a nearby grove of Aspens was starting to shade the bottoms of the trees. In ways I kind of like the fact that there is a darker area on the bottom of the photo.

Creative direction

My style of photography, being gigapixel wall murals, my goal was to capture a 1.0+ gigapixel sized wall mural of this well known group of trees. One difficulty when doing this type of photography is that it is more difficult to capture a moment in time that has the “just perfect light”. Had I been shooting this with wide angle 24mm lens, there were moments during the time I was shooting that I could have capture some more inspiring light.

Specific Feedback

Emotional & Aesthetic.

Conceptual and Technical to a lesser degree.

Technical Details

This is a focus stacked & stitched image shot with a Canon R5, Canon 300mm lens at f/11, 1/640th sec. exposure, ISO 400. It is made up of 9724 images with all of the images being Focus Bracketed images processed to yield 299 individual Focus Stacked images, 13 rows x 23 columns 30% overlap in portrait orientation.

The original image is: 5.49 Giga-pixels, 65,161 x 84,306 pixels, 217" x 281" 300 PPI (18 ft. X 23 ft., 5in.) un-cropped image size.

A full screen virtual tour that lets the view pan and zoom around in the image can be viewed by clicking this link. Virtual Tour


Back in July 2011, my wife Jean & I were Jeeping with our friends Bill and Dianna on the Ophir Pass Road when I noticed some bent Aspen trees along the road apparently bent by avalanches cascading down the sides of the mountains. At the time I found it interesting but didn’t give photographing them much thought. In 2022 while researching photo locations in SW Colorado I saw photos of these trees and recalled having seen them in 2011. I did some more research and soon discovered that the exact location was a well kept secret with the closest location description as being east of Ophir on the Ophir Pass Road. Because I had a general idea where to look for them, I made plans to find them and shoot a gigapixel wall mural of them during our fall photo tour for 2023. My wife Jean and I drove to the area on our first day in the area. After a good bit of wandering up and down the Ophir Pass Road in the area I had seen bent trees in 2011, I noticed a fellow photographer with her tripod setup some 30 yards off to the side of the road. When I looked to see what she was photographing I immediately spotted the trees. Known as the Bent Aspens or the Dancing Aspens they make for a very interesting composition. I parked the Jeep and took my gear down to where the other photographer was setup. I setup my tripod and began to shoot a set of photos. But that afternoon getting a gigapixel shot was not in the cards. Rapidly changing light caused by lots of clouds drifting overhead and a strong breeze that kept the Aspen trees waving in the breeze making shooting a focus stacked set of images impossible. I decided to bag it for the day and come back on another day. Five days later we went back and we had clear skis with no pesky clouds. I setup my gear and spent the next hour and 45 minutes shooting the set of images that went into creating this mural.


A technological wonder! And very lovely as art, too! I love the soft shadows at the tree bases, and the dancing shapes are wonderful. I never would have thought a scene like this would sit still enough for this kind of work. The light is so nice, too – full sun on white trees against a forest taxes any camera’s dynamic range, but I have been delighted with what the R5 can capture and what processing can bring out. It is hyper-realism at its best.

John, those trees are a wonder. I often spend time gazing at a single tree speculating on why it grew in the way it did, so these trees are amazing. They do look to be dancing. Your description of avalanches does fit the scene, but also leaves me wondering about how the higher bend occurred? were there several feet of snow on the ground years later when the higher bend was created. Most definitely a scene to look at and wonder about again and again.

I’m pretty sure my computer would end up as a puddle of ash if I tried to take on an image of that size. I get challenged enough just trying to focus stack three or four images; I can’t imagine working with that many.

I’ve seen a few images of these trees, and they really are interesting. I love the way the light is splashing into the scene. Since the curved trunks are the stars of the show I wish they had that light spilling on them, but hear you when you say how hard it is to capture that when taking that many individual images.

On my monitor, the color seems a bit muddied. If I move it cooler, mostly blue but with just a touch of green, it looks more alive to me. I realize the late light with the yellow leaves may have been a factor, but it might be worth playing with the color to see what you think.