I have a lot of images from Trout Lake in southwest Colorado, about an hour from where I live. Many of these images don’t feature the lake, such as this one of autumn ferns. The area is heavily forested, snuggled deep within the arms of several mountain peaks. In the summer, wild flowers explode in a profusion of color; in the fall, aspens glow a strident yellow that complements the deep greens of conifers and the cobalt blue sky.
On this autumn day in the late 1990s, my mom accompanied me. She enjoyed getting away from the farm whenever she could, and she loved nature drives and breathing fresh mountain air. We took the dirt road that circumscribes the lake and pulled over in a little clearing of ferns among tall pines and spruces. There were a few bright red amanita muscaria mushrooms still stubbornly clinging to life, and while my mom looked at these poisonous fungi (I’d warned her not to touch them), I set about photographing the ferns whose fronds had begun to turn yellow. On the ground nearby, a small leaf the color of arterial blood caught my eye, and I saw an opportunity to show my mom one of the standard composition guidelines of photography: the Rule of Thirds. Not quite a rule as much as a suggestion, the idea is to divide the frame into thirds both vertically and horizontally (like a tic tac toe grid). Placing the main subject on one of the places where these grid lines intersect—the power-points—generally results in a more pleasing image. As with any rule, there are plenty of exceptions. This rule is overused and can produce cliché images that lack depth and emotion, but sometimes the end result is indeed compelling.
I composed the image, placing the crimson leaf on a power-point and explained the theory as my mom looked through the viewfinder. When I got the slides back from the lab and showed her the resultant image on my lightbox, she could hardly contain her excitement. She adored this image and she felt as though she had played a part in its creation. And she was right: every time I look at this image, I’m reminded of her, just the two of us in the little clearing one autumn afternoon, experiencing nature and being glad to be alive. It may appear to be just another pretty picture, but it’s so much more than that. I was able to share my love for nature and photography with her that day, and part of her lives on in this image. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)