The Aiken County Historical Museum has a “U” shaped driveway with crepe myrtle trees that adorn the inside edges. I had looked at and considered surface area compositions of the trees over the years, but never found anything that fully satisfied my artistic desires. Since the trees are immediately behind the parking spots (i.e., just on the other side of the driveway), they are easy to notice as soon as you get out of your car or while putting your gear together. On the morning that I composed the pieces in this post, the lighting and stage of bark shedding must have been perfect because the gorgeous colors and patterns that were previously underneath the bark instantly got my attention. I surveyed several trees looking for aesthetically pleasing designs and the best colorations before setting up the tripod.
The bright yellows and warm oranges in New Skin initially attracted me to this particular area of the tree. While framing the abstract pattern Mother Nature had painted and then exposed, I was reminded of a river with eddies and currents swirling around as if the colors themselves were flowing downstream from the top of the frame to the bottom. The high level of detail allows texture to be seen.
The randomly placed, splotchy, dappled areas in my Mottled piece made this abstract irresistible. That being said, I must confess that the color junkie in me loved the various shades of oranges and reds. This pattern felt more like a lava flow mixed with smoke or smoldering ashes as it oozes down through the frame. Texture can be seen here as well thanks to the high level of detail.
I didn’t initially see this abstract pattern because it was not yet fully exposed. Only a portion of it could be seen because the remaining area was covered with bark. However, the bark was quite loose and seemed to be just barely hanging on. My curiosity got the best of me, and I simply had to know what was under it. When I gave it a little tug, the bark slipped right off and revealed what you see here in my Hot Skull piece. I think that the gorgeous reds and really bright yellows exist because they have just been uncovered and haven’t had time to fade. I was thrilled with the coloration, but more enticing was the design that looked like the outline of a skull (with eye and nose sockets and clenched teeth). Seeing the reds and patterns with sharp tipped spikes instantaneously brought to mind flames and fire. Who knew that Mother Nature was a Ghost Rider fan? Cracks in the surface as well as texture can be seen here too due to the high level of detail.
When I moved to Aiken there was a huge Deodar Cedar tree on the south side of the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum. Not only did it have multiple trunks, the tree’s individual limbs were quite large (bigger than most of the trees in my backyard). What made it even more interesting was how the pieces had grown up and out in that location. The area they spanned could have easily been more than 20 feet across. By all indications, the tree was a very popular spot for families and visitors to create snap shots or vacation photos – especially since with a little effort you could easily climb into the heart of them and find yourself standing several feet above the ground. At some point a portion of the tree died and had to be removed. Then a really bad ice storm came through a couple of years ago. Aiken county was one of the hardest hit areas in the entire state and Hopeland Gardens took a serious blow. Among the casualties was their Acacia, too many limbs to count, and what was left of the much beloved tree. Fortunately, when the original paring was done, a portion of the tree was preserved, and, as a form of remembrance or dedication, it was used to create wooden benches that are placed near where the tree originally stood.
As a color junkie, I’ve been attracted to the surfaces of the benches for a while, but never found a composition that I was happy enough with to press the shutter. With my Benched piece, that problem was overcome. I liked the line that runs to and around the knot and, for aesthetic reasons, decided to place it diagonally so that it split the frame. The center of the knot was placed near the bottom right one third crossing line, using the rule of thirds, but then bumped up and to the left a bit so that more of the diagonal line would remain in the frame. The high level of captured detail allows rings and surface textures to be seen.
The unusual shape of the sap in my Spiked Drops piece is what attracted me to it. If you’ve been following my Tree Sap posts, then you’ll recall that there were two limbs that had been cut. This was under the smaller limb and was hanging down far enough that the extremely shallow depth of field, when shooting at two times life-size, reduced most of the background bark down to simple colors. Both larger drops have nice reflections and refractions. I loved the smaller tapered drop and wondered how it could have been formed in that manner without colliding with the larger drop and being absorbed.
Molten is the final sap composition I was able to create. I was surprised that a collection of sap so large still had such good clarity. Most of the sap runs had at least started to dry and were turning a milky color. These drops were lower on the tree trunk beneath the area where the larger limb had been trimmed.
I love the colors that the lowest drop on the bottom has pulled in and the color striations in all of the drops. They also have some very nice multicolored refractions and colorful reflections.
The pieces in this series of blog posts, taken as a whole, feel like some type of a project – especially since I became accustomed to shooting at their location. I was able to create compositions nearly all season long starting from the time I first discovered the limbs had been cut and the tree had sap running down it. When there wasn’t much to point my camera at on any given day, I knew that I could at least get something from the sap tree.
The discovery of the scene in my Black Stars piece was serendipitous. I found it on one of the trees along the sidewalk on the side of the house at the Aiken County Historical Museum and it wasn’t what I initially set out to capture. What originally attracted me to this area was some patches of nice pastel colors and a whole lot of holes burred into the bark in lines. After setting up the tripod and getting my first view, the lens was pointing toward a spot without any of the holes, but the star patterns more than made up for that. With the morning sun not yet up that far, it was pretty dark back there between the house and the wall, and this creation required 25 seconds of exposure time (which for macro is a fairly long exposure). Interestingly, after I had captured several frames of the stars, I took a look at the scene I had originally intended to frame – it wasn’t artistically pleasing. The high level of detail allows surface textures to be seen.
Coming around the side of the house and out into the front yard, I noticed a pine tree being lit by the sunrise. The golden light enhanced the bark that was peeling off in nice abstract patterns and I was thrilled with its colors. I examined the trunk for the area that had the best color in combination with the most aesthetic design. I loved the oranges, yellows, and browns in my Earth Tones composition. Surface textures can be seen here as well thanks to the high level of detail.
The sap in my Big Drop composition produced one of the largest single drops I had seen while creating these pieces. I liked the mostly moss filled green background and this drop had a little bit of everything going for it. For example, it has a couple of very nice sunstars, pulled in and warped background colors, pretty blue reflections, rainbow and multicolored refractions, and crystalline strained and stretched areas. Simply put, I couldn’t resist it.
The sap in my Bubbles composition consists of several drops. I liked the shapes that were created by the drops merging with each other and flowing through one another. Because I really liked aspects of the top drop, I placed it on the upper left crossing line, using the rule of thirds, and used it as my focal point. I loved the smoky ribbon that winds its way through that drop and the colors and patterns it has pulled in. The most unusual feature of these drops is the amount of tiny bubbles above the top drop. They are difficult to see in the larger version, but if you look between the milky layers above the drop you will notice them. No other drops or runs of sap I saw had that. I also liked the refraction in the bottom drop with its reds, yellows, and blues.
White blossoms on a small tree called to me from across the Rye Patch lawn. I’ve never seen a bloom like these in that area before, but I don’t think that it has been planted there for very long. In fact, the tree itself was only a couple of feet taller than I am. The honey bees just loved the flowers and were all over them. After more closely examining one, I loved the star shaped stigma surrounded by the bright orange and yellow anthers and filaments. For my Stigma Star composition, I utilized the stigma as my focal point and placed it on the right most line using the rule of thirds (just a little off center). I wanted to keep as many of the anthers in the frame as possible so the lens was moved slightly right to accommodate that aesthetic desire. The high level of detail allows surface textures on the stigma and anthers to be seen.
After successfully creating a macro version of one of the flowers, I wanted my Tree Flowers composition to show them blooming on the tree. I had to fight a bit more wind to get it, but luckily there was enough light to where I could keep my shutter speed under a second while maintaining a decent depth of field setting. Interestingly, it appears that only one of the flower’s petals has a fuzzy/furry edge. The high level of detail allows individual hairs (around a petal edge) and surface textures to be seen.
The sap in Double Drop got my attention because of its shape. It looked a little precarious as well, and I thought that it might fall off at any moment. I framed the run on a bit of an angle so that it wasn’t so aesthetically static. It reminded me of the glass I saw once at the end of a glass blower’s pipe during a demonstration in Jamestown, Virginia. I loved the crystalline look and the colorful refractions and reflections.
In the smaller sized images, Stuck looks a bit like a messy, big pile of sap. But, in the larger print sizes it really comes to life (unfortunately, this web site’s large display size doesn’t do it justice. However, my POD site has the ability to show a portion of an image at 100% magnification which is more than enough to bring all those hidden details out. Click on the purchase link above to view this at my POD site or contact me if you would like details on how to access that functionality). I liked all of the various shapes and colors in the sap (especially the darker areas and the different brown hues). There are intricate reflections being pulled, warped, and stretched all over the surface areas as well as sun spots glistening from the surfaces and creating colorful refractions. There is so much to discover that you will likely find something that you previously haven’t seen each time your eye wanders around the frame.
While it isn’t a vertical companion, Piles is similar to Stuck. It includes the sap featured in Stuck, but I pulled back a little so that the entire area both above and below was captured. The same caveat applies here as well and it simply can’t be fully appreciated without viewing it at larger sizes.
I was attracted to the sap in my Flat Drop piece primarily because of its shape. It seems to be expanding horizontally and getting wider instead of longer. Which is curious because gravity should be pulling it down. I also liked the color striations and patterns inside the sap.
The run of sap in Crystal Streak caught my eye because of how clear (almost like glass) it was. I decided to frame it diagonally for several aesthetic reasons. First, it was so skinny that placing it vertically wasn’t nearly as visually interesting. Secondly, the gap created by the moss and bark added visual interest when placed beside it diagonally, but seemed to take away from it when vertical. And finally, the moss seemed to create a diagonal bed for the run to lay on with open bark areas in opposite corners (which didn’t exist when it was turned vertically). Even though it is thin, there are some nice colorful refractions and reflections.
With a bit more golden hour light on the scene in my Light Catchers composition, I moved the lens down the tree a little. Essentially, I placed the tip of the top drop on the first upper crossing line using the rule of thirds. That drop is also at the end of the sap run in Crystal Streak, and I loved how it was throwing light on the bark beside it. I also liked the random, abstract shape of the larger blob near the bottom of the frame and the fact that they are located diagonally from each other with the moss covered gap in the bark connecting them. Both areas have wonderfully colored reflections and refractions (with the top drop having rainbow like colors) as well as sunstars.
If you’ve been following my previous posts in this series, then you know that I had been composing around the areas where the limbs had been trimmed from the tree. At this point, those spots no longer had the most interesting subjects. Gathering Colors comes from sap that has dripped and run down onto the tree trunk. I loved the color striations and patterns being pulled into the two large drops. I also liked how the moss acts as a natural highlighter (i.e., it is positioned around the sap and only has a small amount of direct influence) as well as the flatter stretched and strained area immediately above the large drop with its crystalline reflections. The smaller double drip on the side was a bonus. The high level of detail allows surface textures to be seen (especially on the bark).
I framed the sap in Drips so that it would be on a diagonal. That aesthetic decision was made primarily because I wanted to ensure that I could include all three of the larger drops. I especially liked the pattern created in the middle drop with the refractions, reflections, and surrounding colors being pulled in. Though it’s on a bit of an angle, I also liked that the drop in the top right corner has a classic teardrop shape. Surface textures on the drops can be seen thanks to the high level of detail.
I utilized a completely different perspective for my Flooded piece. Instead of lining up the camera’s sensor with the sap to maximize the amount of sharpness available in the shallow depth of field, I traded that in for a distinctive feel. I made the aesthetic decision to shoot up at the drops to provide more of a sense that they were running down toward the viewer. I loved the colors lit up under the sap and the reflections off from it as well as both clear and dark colored drops. With the high level of detail, surface textures can also be seen here.