The big leaves in the swampy area at Hopeland Gardens make wonderful subjects in the fall when their colors start to change. I have written about and posted several examples over the years because I love the patterns that can be found as they begin to expire (e.g., Fire Veins, Lava Leaf, and Closing In). When they are backlit by the golden tones of a morning sun, as the leaf in my Cessation piece is, they are able to elevate my excitement to another level. As I scan their locale looking for subjects to investigate from the trail at the top of the berm between the swamp and the pond, backlit leaves with these colors act like a beacon that my eyes immediately lock on to. At that point, there is a limited amount of time available to create a composition. The window is short lived due to the fact that the sun has to rise above the trees that keep the swamp partially shaded, and by the time it does, there is very little golden light remaining. I loved the last vestiges of Chlorophyll in the green pockets and tracing around the outline of the yellows and oranges, and I was captivated by the thought that Mother Nature will paint a different pattern on every leaf that reaches this stage of life. This leaf is very likely the only one that will ever look exactly as it does. The high level of detail allows texture and tiny leaf veins to be seen.
I’ve previously written about the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum that is within the Hopeland Gardens boundary, but I had never created any compositions from the dogwood trees beside it. On the morning I composed my Dogwood Berry piece, the abundance of red berries called me over to that area. While fall hadn’t officially started (at least on the calendar), some of the leaves were already displaying their seasonal colors. After locating a berry that was near a colorful leaf, I found an angle that allowed me to place the berry on the right side of the frame while centering it vertically. That arrangement opened up the left side of the frame so that the leaf colors could be pulled into the background. My artistic goal was to keep as much as I could of the berry’s surface area in sharp focus, which is challenging using a single image because the camera’s sensor plane is flat and the berry is round (i.e., there will be falloff as the surface curves away). The high level of detail allows tiny hairs and texture to be seen.
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.
I had been keeping an eye on the colorful, newly planted coleus in the big, back garden at the Aiken County Historical Museum since I first discovered them. In fact, I had looked at several different possible compositions on a previous trip, but couldn’t quite get everything that I wanted so I hadn’t captured anything. At the time I created my Scimitar piece, the plants themselves were less than two feet tall and had fresh looking leaves with nice colors. While exploring them for enticing patterns, I came across one that reminded me of the type of blade that a pirate or genie might have. I placed the leaf in the frame so that the sharp tip and bottom left hand side had about the same amount of distance to their respective edges. I then found an angle that allowed most of my subject to be surrounded by the enhancing background colors of the leaf directly beneath it. I placed the focal point on the tip, and by keeping the sensor plane aligned with the leaf, as much as I could, I maintained sharpness across the surface. The high level of captured detail allows texture and tiny hairs along the edges of the leaf to be seen.
I liked the naturally abstract pattern on the leaf in my Closing In piece. I discovered it in the same swampy area of Hopeland Gardens that several other leaf compositions came from. In addition to the pigment pattern painted across its surface, I felt that it was a poignant depiction of the end of a life cycle. Very little of the original, healthy green of the leaf exists. Nearly all of it has been replaced by stages of dying and death. The yellows are the beginning of the end with the colorful oranges and reds of decay following close behind. The browns are next in the timeline and then finally black (colorless and lifeless). The green areas are trying to hold out, to continue providing their contribution to the sustainment of life, but they are losing and there is no hope of recovery. The inevitability is inescapable. The leaf will become nourishment for any number of other organisms and it provides a visual treat by presenting gorgeous colors on its way out. As if Mother Nature wanted us to see that even death has positive attributes. The high level of detail allows surface textures to be seen.
Though Fall was just a week old, the colorful leaf in my Blown In piece was a clear indicator that more color would soon be on its way. In fact, those colors stopped me dead in my tracks as I was walking up the sidewalk on the east side of the Rye Patch. The leaf contrasted nicely against the darker leaves on the small bushes that line that side of the building. It’s fair to say that it was conspicuous, though I wasn’t sure where it came from, and I didn’t see any other leaves with that much color (even after scanning the nearby trees). The high level of detail allows surface textures to be seen.
When I found this leaf near the south wall at the Aiken County Historical Museum it was starting to change colors, even though Fall hadn’t officially commenced. The colors of the leaves on the bush where I discovered this had already transformed enough to call me over and, once there, forced a closer examination of them. I selected this one for a couple of reasons: I loved the random patterns of decay and the colors it provided, it was relatively flat (which when shooting at two times life-size at such a close distance is an important consideration if you wish to maximize the zone of sharpness), it had some dew on the surface to enhance the colors, and its location had limited impediments to access. The wind being calm was also another significant factor in obtaining my Fall Insinuation piece as I needed eight seconds of exposure time. The high level of detail allows surface textures and individual dew drops to be seen.
My Meal Design piece consists of three basic components: a hibiscus leaf, sepal, and petal. I loved the design cut into the yellow leaf likely by some type of insect that had eaten it. I placed it in the frame so that the midrib would run diagonally while filling the bug holes with the colors of the petal behind it. With a bit of aesthetic luck, the ribs of the background petal were also running up the frame on diagonal lines. I couldn’t do much with the green sepal as it was connected to the petal, but I felt that it was fine adding just a touch of additional color to the lower corner. The high level of detail allows surface textures and individual fibers to be seen.
Catching a glimpse of what looked like seeds on a tree in Hopeland Gardens, I decided to investigate a little closer. I walked around the tree and checked high and low, but only a single cluster of the seeds was in a position that could be utilized and was aesthetically pleasing. The rest of them were either partially or completely covered by leaves, hidden or obscured in some other way, had undesirable backgrounds, etc.. I liked their design, how they were hanging, the leaf behind them, and the background in my Seed Pods piece. The sharp, pointed tips of the seeds are echoed in the middleground leaf by its serrated edge while the deflated seeds provide a calming tone between the two. The high level of detail allows surface textures and individual hairs to be seen.
Lava Leaf is from the same swampy area of Hopeland Gardens that produced Fire Veins. In fact, they are both from the same type of leaf. Additionally, it was backlit by the golden toned light of the rising sun. I loved the colors and the design created by the skin transformation as the leaf passes through its final stages of life. Upon finding this particular area of the leaf, it immediately made me think of molten rock streams flowing and mixing together as they pour from a volcano. Discovering scenes like this is a major reason why I love shooting abstract macros so much.