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Floating Leaves, Merced River, Yosemite

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 31 August 2010 in Plant & Nature and Portfolio.

After a long California summer of static days and harsh light, I so look forward to fall photography and nature's little gifts that start popping up everywhere. Fall is when the clouds return, when splashes of color and crisp reflections in quiet water invite leisurely strolls filled with intimate discoveries.

Today's image is the product one of these fall forays. It's something of an illusion that perfectly illustrates the difference between the camera's vision and ours. As you've probably heard me say ad nauseum, the more you can leverage your camera's vision, the more you'll be able to expand your images beyond the conventional. In this case the camera's inability to capture the full range of light, from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights, allowed me to make this leaf appear suspended in a void.

On this overcast fall afternoon I wandered the banks of Yosemite's Merced River with my 100-400 lens. By October the river's spring urgency has given way to a relaxed tranquility that I have no trouble matching on my photography explorations. When I spied an assortment of colorful leaves trapped by a beautifully textured log, a composition immediately formed in my mind. My eye could see the reflection of golden trees on the opposite bank, but with a twist of my polarizer the reflection disappeared and the water turned black. Beneath the surface I could see the mud and rock of the riverbed, but I knew my camera would be unable to capture both the leaves' brilliant hues and the murk beneath--by exposing for the color in the leaves, I'd be able to make them appear to float in an inky void.

Upstream a second group of leaves approached; it occurred to me that if I could separate these leaves from any tangible anchor (i.e., the log), the floating effect would be enhanced. The slow water allowed just enough time for exposure decisions before the leaves drifted into position. I quickly dialed in an f-stop that would allow enough depth of field and bumped my ISO to 400 to enable a shutter speed that would freeze the motion. I metered on the leaves and underexposed slightly to maximize the color. When the leaves drifted into position I had time for just a couple of frames. If I had it to do over again I'd probably have dialed to ISO 800 (to further increase my shutter speed) and dealt with the noise in post-processing, but all things considered I'm pretty satisfied with the way this came out.

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

DULCIE from Danville, CA, United States

A dreamy image utterly perfect in all ways.
All your camera choices were good ones judging by the beauty of this shot !

31 Aug 2010 6:21am

Vaido from Võrumaa, Estonia

Nice colors, great log texture.

31 Aug 2010 6:59am

Babzy from France

this is a beautiful composition :)

31 Aug 2010 7:34am

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

It looks like fall is already at our door... The return of the beautiful golden and red tones. Very beautiful composition Gary, I really like the atmosphere ! Have a nice day :)

31 Aug 2010 9:06am

KriKridesign from Cully, Switzerland

Already.. :-(
Summer is a so short dream...
Melancholic Image as the approaching autumn...And this is so graphic...

31 Aug 2010 9:58am

Judy aka L@dybug from Brooksville, Florida, United States

Suspended animation! A wonderfully calculated image, Gary.

31 Aug 2010 12:42pm

Dutçh from Chicagoland, United States

They do look to be floating in the blackness of space. I was just commenting to someone about their white sky and how it isn't always a bad thing if it's a part of the composition just like the black water [the subtle nuances the camera didn't see but your eye did] enhances this one here. I also had told her to under expose for richer color. I kinda know what I am doing, sometimes ;) This is lovely!

31 Aug 2010 1:06pm

VisualStoryteller from Cape Cod, United States

Great story and a wonderful example of understanding your equipment well (from polarizer to ISO setting and beyond) so that quick decisions can be made that capture what you pre-visualized.

31 Aug 2010 6:56pm

JOEMULLIGAN from burnsville, nc, United States

nice light!

1 Sep 2010 2:29am

Barbara Kile from Ft. Worth, United States

I love the wood textures and that early fall color!

1 Sep 2010 3:37am

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

this is nicely picked out - superb composition and there is a very good balance to all the elements in this photo!

1 Sep 2010 4:37am

Saeed Rasoulof from Tehran, Iran

very nice shot , well done , excellent

1 Sep 2010 8:26am

Denny Jump Photo from Easton, PA, United States

This s fantastic, Gary - I see now what I did wrong - I had once tried simply shooting a leaf in a very clear Vermont stream but it was like it was sitting on glass the darker background makes all the difference - Man, this is like floating in space. Another absolutely marvelous image, sir :-)

3 Sep 2010 3:46pm

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

Welcome Fall! I love the rough texture of the log against the smooth, black water- and the leaves are like jeweled accents! Beautiful!

4 Sep 2010 1:15pm

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

simple.... beautiful

7 Sep 2010 4:52am