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Forest Autumn, Yosemite

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 20 November 2009 in Plant & Nature and Portfolio.

Continuing the theme of my previous post, today's image is an example of the kind of stuff that makes me happy. Fall color is always beautiful, but merely putting your eye to your camera and photographing a beautiful scene is no guarantee of a successful image. The closer you can come to identifying a scene's essence, what about the scene that moves you (and not what you think will move others), the more your photography will resonate.

The obvious draw of fall color is (duh) the color. But beyond that, I particularly love the way leaves light up when they're backlit. So when I wander forests in the fall I look for backlit leaves that stand out, leaves I can isolate from the distraction of their surroundings. When I find something that works, my job has just begun. Next I look for a complementary background that (if I'm lucky) also adds context. And finally I need to make my depth of field decision--do I want lots of DOF, or will too much background detail distract from my subject?

I found this group of leaves as I wandered the Merced River near Fern Spring in Yosemite Valley. I positioned myself so they stood out against the forest background. The forest had lots going on, so I opted for a wide open aperture to reduce it to a barely recognizable blur of color, shape, and line.

Scenes like this underscore my desire to be in charge of as much of my camera's decision making process as possible: spot metering in manual mode, manual focus, raw capture--all these things remove the decision process from my camera and give it to me. In this case, before composing I metered on a bright leaf and set the exposure to what I thought would give me the best color (in manual mode I can point my camera's meter anywhere and not have to worry about my settings changing when I recompose). The wind was nearly calm, but to be safe I bumped my ISO to 200 (the quality difference between ISO 100 and 200 is nearly imperceptible) to further ensure against microscopic motion blur. And since I shoot in raw mode, I never have to make my white balance decisions until I'm in the comfort of my own office. When all my settings were complete, I returned my camera to the tripod, focused carefully on the center vein of the most prominent (leftmost) leaf (at f4 there's no margin for focus error), and shot.

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France

Beautiful autumn shot

20 Nov 2009 5:46am

Barbara from Oakland, United States

Gorgeous backlighting and great DOF! So nicely done, Gary.

20 Nov 2009 6:03am

kate from lincolnshire, United Kingdom

~~`georgous colours and light

20 Nov 2009 7:23am

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

Beautiful image. The back light and focus are fantastic.

20 Nov 2009 9:10am

FotoAnna from Mother Earth, Netherlands

Autumn at its best !!
Love the light and the colors... great capture Gary...

20 Nov 2009 12:23pm

Frances Berry from Athens, GA, United States

I love how the blur of color in back mimics the colors of the leaves.

20 Nov 2009 1:08pm

Frances Berry from Athens, GA, United States

I love how the blur of color in back mimics the colors of the leaves.

20 Nov 2009 1:27pm

@Frances Berry: You can say that again! :) Thanks, Frances.

Elora from Genoa, Italy

I love backlit leaves too...this is of those detail shots i love!

20 Nov 2009 2:33pm

dobbino from Cape Town, South Africa

Another inspiring narrative - thanks Gary - this is really generous of you. On this particular image, the way the yellow background has framed the left-most leaf is simply too beautiful to put adequate words to. Magical work, as always.

20 Nov 2009 2:35pm

@dobbino: Thanks, Rob. Believe it or not, the placement of the yellow background was quite intentional. Managing the front-to-back relationships in an image is probably the single biggest compositional improvement most photographers can make.

Shahryar from Isfahan, Iran

very well done .
beautiful :)

20 Nov 2009 5:44pm

Don Smith from California, United States

Gorgeous image Gary.

20 Nov 2009 8:59pm

Anouk from Neuchâtel, Switzerland


20 Nov 2009 9:59pm

Judy from Brooksville, Florida, United States

Oh, this image warmed my heart and your text taught me what I did wrong last month with a similar image. My background was too busy; my aperture wasn't open enough and I didn't use a spot focus. Next time! :D

20 Nov 2009 11:36pm

Lambspun from Madison, Maine, United States

Thanks for the information....I'm new to this and it helps when you more experienced photographers talk about what you do in your photos. This image is perfect :)

21 Nov 2009 12:21am

Anina from Auckland, New Zealand

Beautifully captured! The DOF and bokeh are fantastic. I love the way the leaves stand out because of the light. Thanks so much for the narritive. I always enjoy reading yours - it's very informative and inspiring.

21 Nov 2009 7:32pm

Giovanni from Milan, Italy

A perfect Autumn shot! Colours and DOF are fantastic!

22 Nov 2009 4:20pm

dobbino from Cape Town, South Africa

Re your response above - after reading what you had written, I would have been extremely disappointed if the placement of the yellow background was not intentional! Great shots like this rarely happen by accident, and it's something we can all learn from.

22 Nov 2009 4:34pm

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

The light is glorious! And so are the colours and composition

25 Nov 2009 4:59am

MARIANA from Waterloo, Canada

very lovely ! light is gorgeous !

26 Nov 2009 9:17pm

Zeinab from Tehran, Iran

It is absolutely beautiful. Great... I Love It

29 Nov 2009 7:50pm

Ashley from San Francisco, United States

One of my favorites ever. Amazing.

3 Dec 2009 11:24pm

@Ashley: Thanks, Ash.

Mehdi from tehran, Iran

In the first look everybody admires beautiful colors but I think Perfect light on the branches are adorable

3 Jan 2010 10:02am