Macro Heart Shaped Leaf At Hitchcock Woods In Aiken, SC

I Heart Nature


Macro heart shaped leaf at Hitchcock Woods in Aiken, South Carolina
I Heart Nature

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Hitchcock Woods is an amazing resource to have right in our city, and I’ve written about it in previous blog posts.  That being said, I don’t usually hunt for subjects within it using my macro rig.  But, this particular morning I didn’t have any luck finding something to point my camera at on the grounds of the Aiken County Historical Museum so I decided to hike down some of the horse trails to see what I could find.

The leaf in my I Heart Nature piece immediately drew me in primarily due to its shape.  After all, the heart symbol is a universal ideograph that represents love, and, being a nature lover, I had a strong desire to capture a scene expressing that sentiment.  I also found the greens quite attractive.  In fact, one of my artistic goals was to find an angle that allowed me to fill the background with as much green as possible while avoiding the creation of darker brown areas where the dirt on the ground could be seen behind/under the leaves.  Additional aesthetic concerns were leaf placement (both angle and position in the frame) as well as depth of field control.  I put the leaf in the sensor on a diagonal so that it wouldn’t feel static or centered even though I gave the subject about the same amount of breathing room on either side and kept the distance from the top of the frame nearly equal to the space at the bottom.  I sought as much detail as I could get in and on the leaf’s surface, but I also wanted the background to quickly fade away.  When there is sufficient distance from the subject to the background, depth of field can be increased while maintaining good bokeh, but when objects in the background are close to the subject, you have to compromise.  In this case, I had to open the lens incrementally until I found the right amount for this composition (i.e., where I was getting as much detail as possible from the subject while simultaneously decreasing features of the background leaves).  This is another time where your camera’s depth of field preview really pays off because you can use it to dial in the setting while you observe the effect across your work.  Even though I reduced the depth of field, the high level of captured detail allows surface texture to be seen.



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Golden Light On Chalk Cliffs At Hitchcock Woods In Aiken, SC

Chalk Cliffs

Hitchcock Woods is a wonderful asset to have in our little town.  It is one of the largest urban forests in United States and is reportedly two or three times the size of New York City’s Central Park.  Since Aiken is primarily known for its association with horses (even the street signs have horse heads on them), you will most likely come across a rider or two while hiking on the 70 miles of trails that run through it.  Maps are available, and some of the trails will give you a good workout with their hills and loose sand.  I’ve hiked every trail and even have a couple of favorite routes.

The pieces from the Chalk Cliffs area were composed during one of those ‘right place at the right time’ outings.  This particular session resulted in an important learning opportunity where, as a photographer, you realize that your destiny with good light can be planned.  I had arrived as the sun was setting, but before the golden hour started.  I spent some time surveying potential locations and was elated when golden light began to fall on nearly everything in my viewfinder.


Sunset near Chalk Cliffs at Hitchcock Woods in Aiken, South Carolina
Hitchcock Sunset

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In the Hitchcock Sunset piece, I decided to showcase the magic light enveloping the horse trail and pumping up the oranges and yellows of the clay and sand.  I used the crack running through the protruding surface feature (left, foreground) as a leading line pointing towards the trail.  This also allowed me to pick up light beams coming across the scene from the foreground to the middleground as well as golden painted rocks with shadows from nearby trees.  Sharpness from the foreground to the background was achieved by using a fairly small f-stop.  Due only to illumination from the right light, the visual transformation was stunning, and I appreciated being able to witness it firsthand.


Sunset near Chalk Cliffs at Hitchcock Woods in Aiken, South Carolina
Golden Light Site

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For Golden Light Site, there was no spectacular light show in the middleground.  Since this was composed a few minutes later, the light was heading towards a more orange tone.  Which was perfect for this spot because it really brought out the orange and yellow hues in the rocks and dirt.  I used the tree in the foreground as an anchor and let the light and erosion channel create a path to the middleground.  A fairly small f-stop was used here as well, to maintain sharpness from the little foreground stones to the pine needles in the background.  I love the colors in this piece, and it is my favorite of the group.


Sunset on Chalk Cliffs at Hitchcock Woods in Aiken, South Carolina
Chalk Cliffs

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Chalk Cliffs is a straight ahead, frame-filling take.  It required a longer shutter speed to gather enough light to illuminate the darker areas of the cliffs.  Capturing the details on the face of the wall and the subtle patterns within the fallen dirt was an important, character forming, aesthetic choice.  The light painted highlights across the frame serve as visual icing on the cake.


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