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“The best way out is always through.”

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Reflect on Autumn's Beauty

As beautiful as autumn in New England is, photographing it has always been a double-edged sword for me. On one hand, I find it to be (visually, at least) the most beautiful and inspiring season. The light at this time of year, with the sun lower in the sky and the lighting softer and more golden, combined with the radiance of the autumn leaves changing, is a soul-expanding experience.

On the other hand, beautiful as it is, I find it difficult to photograph, partly because trying to capture that beauty in a mere photograph can be overwhelming. I struggle between looking for the quintessential New England autumn shots of barns and covered bridges surrounded by flaming trees and searching out simpler, more symbolic images--a leaf floating in a stream, or a single golden branch against a radiant blue sky. The worst thing to do probably is to just drive around "looking" for pictures. I do, of course, scout around town by car for a half hour or so, but I find that parking, getting out and taking a closer look at simple scenes is often the best way to find pictures. It's really tough to spot winners at 30 mph!

Perhaps because I find fall to be such a reflective time, I often seem drawn to create compositions that include actual reflections. Reflections work nicely with autumn foliage partly, I think, because they double up on the color in a scene and also because we all seem to find reflections interesting, even alluring. By including the edge of the pond in this scene, for example, I was able to include the leaves twice--once in the scene and once in the reflection--while at the same time adding an interesting foreground.

You can intensify the colors in a reflection by using a polarizing filter if you position yourself at an angle of about 45-degrees from the surface of the water. Polarizing filters are set in a rotating mount and as you turn the filter you'll see the reflection become stronger and then (if you keep rotating it) the reflections will largely disappear. If you're shooting scenes that include a blue sky, you can also use a polarizing filter to darken blue skies, though I use them a lot less often now that I shoot digitally because I can adjust the skies more accurately in editing. I will write more about polarizing filters in a future posting, however.

By the way, I will say without shame that I warmed up this shot a tad during the RAW conversion process by increasing the color temperature of the white balance. There is not, surprisingly enough, much saturation going on; just increasing the warmth was enough to intensify the colors quite a bit. Incidentally I'm addicted to using the RAW format now and feel free to post a comment or write if you'd like me to talk more about why I now love RAW so much (and this is a relatively new development for me!).

Here's an interesting historical side note about the pond in this shot: Peck's Mill Pond is just a mile from my house and in 1899 it was the scene of the worst train disaster in New England history up to that point. A trolley went off its tracks crossing a small bridge over the pond and 36 people were trapped inside and killed. I grew up in this town and have always known of the tragedy that took place at the pond and so (speaking of reflections) there is some element of reflection on that tragic event whenever I shoot photos of that pond.


Mike said...

Jeff...I am in awe at some pictures I have seen online either here or from other sites. I realize many have been 'photoshopped". I usually like to post my photos as soon as possible for family and friends so they are usually straight from the camera. I was wondering, can you post a photo straight from camera and then after you have run it through photoshop. Maybe tell what you have done. Also, what software will open RAW files?

BTW, I had received a copy of your book two Chistmases ago. I was surprised when reading it to see local pictures in it. I use your book as a reference now and now your blog to see how your photos of local sights compare with mine.


Jeff Wignall said...

Hi Mike,

Wow, a great idea for a posting--I will do a comparison pair soon. Some of my shots are really brought to life in Photoshop, no question, but a lot are right out of the camera. That shot of the yellow Ginko tree is not manipulated at all except for a tiny (really tiny) curves adjustment for contrast. I shot that in Paradise Green, by the way, right in front of what used to be a bank (no idea of what it is now), but it's near the 7-11.

By the way, most of the adjustments I make (especially lately) are made in the RAW converter. I use Adobe's DNG converter (free download from their site) to open my D90 RAW files because Photoshop CS3 won't open them. I work a lot with adjusting the hue/saturation/luminosity of individual colors.

I have published so many photos of Stratford over the years it's unreal. I'm out shooting in town whenever I have a free hour. In the next day or two I'll post a sunset that I shot at Long Beach. My book on Exposure (Wiley) has a ton of Stratford photos.