The Comanche Creature

The Creature - Comanche National Grasslands, Colorado
The Creature - Comanche National Grasslands, Colorado

view larger   •   see details   •   license this photo

I came upon this sun-tortured remnant of a long-dead tree while camping on the rim of Purgatoire Canyon [1] in Colorado's Comanche National Grasslands. Immediately, I visualized the wood as some sort of mythical monster, savage and ready to pounce.

I photographed the tree in daylight, but it lacked the impact I saw in my mind's eye. The background was just too busy; too similar in tone and hue. So I decided to return after dark and try using flash-formed chiaroscuro to bring out the creature I saw.

This photo was made by stacking a number of images in Photoshop. The effect is similar to a multiple exposure in film photography.

The first image, which contributes the background of sky, was taken just after sunset. It was deliberately underexposed to give the clouds a dark, brooding appearance.

The remaining images were taken after night had fallen. I used a gel-colored flash to selectively illuminate various parts of the scene, my camping gear pressed into service as a set of impromptu snoots and masks.

There was a lot of experimenting here. Most of the images were discarded — I'm embarrassed to admit how may tries it took to get the creature's left eye illuminated just so. But I'm happy with the final result. Using nothing but light, I'd brought my creature to life


[1] Purgatoire Canyon is also referred to as Picketwire Canyon.