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thanks for the fantastic response everyone and taking the time to leave comments.
Fred, Rajan - I originally had more sky but I felt the sky was atrocious in that yellow hazy color so i cropped it a bit more. I also posted a 3rd crop eliminating as per Rajan's suggestion. I had toyed with this crop before but I felt the tension was a bit too much. What do you guys think?
Kee Woo Rhee - both shots are multiple shots in exposure and focus blending (#1 only). #1 I blended 3 shots for focus (probably could get away with 2, but since there wasn't any wind it was an easy blend to get the top branches, mid and bg sharp). I blended 2 more for dynamic range as the sunstar blew out the surrounding bits so i had to recover bits of background here and there. #2 was shot was 2 shot exposure blend. I took a darker exposure to get the nice highlights on the hills and a brighter one for the branches. I didn't have to focus blend that one since the scene was farther away from me and nothing was needed in the immediate fg.
dswiger (Dan) - yeah man. I just picked up the Tamron 150-600 G2. I'm dying to try this out on farther hills. I usually just play it by ear when I'm going to shoot so im not sure how flexible your time is these days.