Composition: There for the practiced eye

"Verna on the Rocks" (Photo: Erik Stensland)
“Verna on the Rocks” (Photo: Erik Stensland)

Erik Stensland is my favorite Rocky Mountain National Park photographer. He has produced innumerable magnificent photos where color is the key player, or a spectacular vista, or light and shadow. But this one jumped out at me because of its geometry. Not what you might expect in nature photography.

The composition here fascinates me. Look at all the angles and parallel lines, mirrored and multiplied in the water, and the boulder in the foreground, a perfect reflection of the lines above, with a reflection of its own. The more you look, the more resonance you see — visual echoes across the water. And all of it possible because of the stillness of the lake. It’s a postcard reflection that any of us might have snapped (assuming a willingness to hike 7 miles to an elevation of 10,200 feet), but it sings because the photographer recognized and included, in just the right place, that perfectly shaped boulder.

This is one of a new group of photos Stensland shot this spring and summer. If you love the park, or mountains in general, you should check them out along with all the others on Stensland’s website. And if your interest is the Desert Southwest, the Pacific Northwest, or Britain, don’t miss his other website, Morning Light Photography. (I sound like his agent, don’t I?)

I’d be hard pressed to choose a favorite Stensland photo; there are so many I love, for so many different reasons. But they all have one thing in common. They all trigger in me that indescribable “thing” where something inside does a little flip of joy and recognition before settling into the most sublime tranquility … I know, I’ve failed again to describe it. It’s an actual physical sensation that I’ve never found words for. But if you’ve ever felt it, you know what I’m talking about.

Stensland’s notes on this photograph:

May 17, 2012

Camera: Canon 5D Mark ii

Camera Settings: Tripod, 3x GND

This is Lake Verna on a very calm mid-May evening. I was the first person up to Verna this spring and the peace of this evening was absolutely amazing.

Last night I hiked up to Lake Verna on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. It is located on the East Inlet drainage which is one of my favorite places in Rocky. As far as I could tell, no one had been up here in a very long time. There was still quite a bit of deep snow and lots of fallen trees. I had the whole area to myself. The quiet and peacefulness of the place was wonderful! Just a few seconds after I shot this photo a cloud bank in the west swallowed up the last of the evening light. I was quite disappointed as I knew that the light was just beginning to get good. After waiting in hope for the sun to find a break in the clouds I packed up and made the 7 mile walk back to the truck. As I hiked down I was thinking about the last time I made this walk in the dark and how tonight I needed to overcome my fear lest it keep me from what I love. The last time I hiked this trail which was in 2010 I ran into two moose on the trail at different points and also a pair of mountain lions at about 1am. I had to go to significant lengths to scare them off. I think I was shaking for a couple of hours after that hike. On this trip I was pleased to have no close encounters and was able to simply enjoy the wonderful sounds and smells of the evening.

I couldn’t resist doing this. Click to enlarge:

Stensland's angles

5 comments

    1. If you aren’t familiar with Stensland, I encourage you to explore his gorgeous photography of RMNP. It will take you there in an instant. I don’t see any similarity to Doolittle’s watercolors, which I adore, other than both compete mightily for my attention when I’m in Estes. I first saw Doolittle’s work in a gallery there, so she has become another Estes attraction for me.

        1. You actually have some prints!? I’m sooo jealous! I’d probably own a sofa-sized Stensland photo if I could just decide on one. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, but just can’t decide …

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