Autumn in Atlanta: Photo Mash-Up #1

From More Than a Rock: Essays on Art, Creativity, Photography, Nature, and Life by Guy Tal:

“Today the winds picked up, temperatures dropped a bit, big clouds are moving in, the air is laced with the scent of wood fires, and showers of fallen leaves swirl down from the tall canopies. I realize that ‘looks like autumn’ and ‘feels like autumn’ are two different things. Today feels like autumn.”

From Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees by Nancy Ross Hugo and Robert Llewellyn:

“It seems to me a big mistake to hype only the two or three weeks in autumn when fall leaves are supposedly at their peak. This may help drive tourism, but it does nothing to improve seeing. There is actually a long progression of leaf color turning in the fall, and watching the progression is much more satisfying than just showing up for the climax. For me, fall actually begins in July when I find the first red tupelo leaf on the ground, proceeds through the yellow walnut leaf showers of August, progresses through the sumac reds of September, crests with the multicolored maples of October, then winds down with the hickory ambers of November. The late burst of ginkgo yellow in November is almost a curtain call.”

Last autumn was a bit of a bust in my neighborhood because of a long stretch of rain and wind that tossed out most of the turning leaves within a few days. The fall photography I posted here consisted of some reprocessed photos that I had taken on several trips to New York state (see Autumn in New York), some individual photos posted with quotations (as Single Frames: Autumn Close Up), and a few sets from my garden and photo walks at Grant Park and Oakland Cemetery (see the blog category Autumn 2018). This year is shaping up differently: with a warmer than average September and October and less rain, the fall color is late to appear here in my urban forest. Smaller trees — especially young maples and oaks — are well into their fall turn, and some trees that typically drop leaves with little turning are well into their dropping phase. There’s still a lot of green, but with a good look around I found many fine color changes taking place so far that I’ve posted as:

Four Small Signs of Early Fall

More Small Signs of Early Fall

Even More Small Signs of Early Fall

Autumn Tints at Twilight

Burnt Orange and Singed Pumpkin

Light fascinates me this time of year: the longer shadows created especially in late afternoon by the shift toward winter sun mixes so well with the changing colors. At about 4:00 PM on any partly overcast day, the leaves — slightly translucent in their waning days, but flush with iridescent color — seem to glow. I often just go out and look for the subtle or even surprising color variations, like those on a Japanese Maple in front of my house. The tree’s color is headed toward orange and yellow, but I noticed these two tufts of leaves turning red (with a splash of purple). The first frame below shows the two red clumps, about twenty feet off the ground and five feet from each other; followed by separate zooms on the left and right red leaves. Zoom lenses are great to use for this kind of photography, enabling me to move in close enough to isolate the red clumps separately, and create different kinds of foregrounds and backgrounds than those I typically create with macro shots.

With the excellent weather this year, I’ve spent several mornings taking new photos at Oakland Cemetery, an especially fun place for fall photography because of the enormous variety of trees, shrubs, and other plant life that fill its 48 acres. It’s not possible to cover the entire property in a few hours of photo-shooting, especially this time of year when the partial color change segregates and highlights some of the early color amid the remaining green, and The Photographer finds himself obsessively marveling at the abundance of colors in a single tree. Here are some scene-setting shots, showing an area that I’ve spent a lot of time in, where you can see how nicely the colors are turning among three sections of the property.

It’s also a great place to play in the light, something I tried to do with these three photos of a tree (whose name, unfortunately, I don’t know) that produces oval-shaped leaf clusters that are almost like vines. They’re in the process of turning from green to yellow and orange, and bright light filtered through some surrounding oak trees gave these tiny leaves a nice luminous glow.

Here’s a variation on the third image above, a bit of an abstraction with no background and some amped-up leaf detail:

And here is the original RAW image, followed by the two variations, for comparison. I used Lightroom’s spot removal, radial filters, and brushes to eliminate some of the leaves (from the top right corner and bottom of the image), and to soften and darken the background elements in the second version; then duplicated and increased those adjustments in the third version to completely eliminate the background.

I recently finished reading Melody Warnick’s book This is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are, where the author provides practical suggestions for developing a greater understanding of and appreciation for the place where you live. Warnick’s book occupies a space in my library alongside John Stilgoe’s Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places, Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, and Robert Archibald’s A Place To Remember: Using History to Build Community — books that explore the interconnected meanings of geographical spaces from perspectives of history, culture, human experience, and landscape theory. Photography and imagery also make an appearance in these books — sometimes indirectly — with their emphasis on “seeing places with a new pair of eyes” which prompted me to try and look at my photography differently on this year’s fall photo-shoots.

With that thinking in mind, I decided to experiment with some different types of images: studies that take advantage of the plentiful architectural structures on the grounds of the cemetery, and the contrast between their hard lines, textures, and colors and the plants that adorn the cemetery plots. Here are three examples — there will be more! — showing a bushy past-prime hydrangea against the stony detail of one of the mausoleums.

As with all the galleries on this post, select any image to see larger versions in a slideshow.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!


Pretty in Pink (and Red and White)

Last week — on one of the final days of our three-month heatwave — I took a morning trip to Oakland Cemetery to snap a few new photos. I out-maneuvered the heat for about two hours by mostly slinking around in the shade, and ended up with a nice collection of images of some of the many plants that are still blooming this late in the gardening season. The photos I posted on Wordless Wednesday: Four Small Signs of Early Fall were from that same trip.

With more fall-like weather finally making it into Atlanta, I’ll be heading back for more photoshoots in the coming months, as fall is one of the best seasons to spend time at this beautiful Victorian garden cemetery — 48 acres of greenery, flowers, tombstones, mausoleums, and architecture surrounded by an 8- to 10-foot brick wall that immerses you in silence, despite being located at the intersections of some traffic-heavy neighborhood streets.

I didn’t see any markers near the flowers featured in these galleries to help me identify them, but did figure out that the last nine photos in the second gallery are Spider Lilies — a hardy, early-fall-blooming lily of rich red color and a complex flower structure. And a likely addition to my garden — but for next year, as 2019 gardening will be wrapping up pretty soon.

Thanks for taking a look!


Before and After: Bradford Pear, Blooming in Black and White

From Black & White Photography: The Timeless Art of Monochrome by Michael Freeman:

At the risk of oversimplifying, subtracting colour from imagery allows the other graphic elements and dynamics to increase in importance….

Colour is so integral to our experience of the world, and of imagery, that most people (and most photographers) do not separate it in their mind’s eye from everything else that is going on. In order to understand what happens when we take it away and work in monochrome, we need to know how it fits in to the total range of image qualities; also, how it differs from the other elements in its effect. [Colour] elicits subjective and emotional responses in a way that other image qualities do not…. The subjective response to colour is powerful and pervasive, and as a result, takes over viewer response to many photographs. If the colour component in an image is strong, rich, unusual, or simply noticeable, there is a good chance that it will swamp the attention….

And because colour triggers emotional responses, there is also usually an unquestioned assumption that it works on a scale of beauty, or at least attractiveness. To say “what a spectacular sunset”, or “look at how blue the water is”, or “that gray really sets off the pink”, or any of the many other common value judgments on colour, is to acknowledge that the effect of colour can be likeable — and for most people should be likeable. This gut reaction to colour is by far the most common, and in this way it stands apart from the other formal graphic elements….

There are a number of ways of subdividing the graphic components of an image, but the most generally accepted are: point, line, shape, texture, and colour. In the way that these are used and interact, there is contrast, balance, and dynamics (or vectors). Subtracting colour enhances those remaining. In practice, this means that the components and qualities most affected are the graphic ones of shape, the graphic structure of the image, and the gradation along the gray tonal scale, as well as the three-dimensional ones of volume and texture.

One Wordless Wednesday back in January, I processed and posted a series of color photos of a vintage camera; then a couple of days later, converted the images to black and white and wrote about the workflow I used. That was my first attempt at color to black-and-white conversion with Lightroom or the Nik Collection, and it was fairly easy to get the results I wanted since the color images leaned toward monochrome and the primary subject was mostly black and silver.

After posting some photos of a Bradford Pear blooming in front of my house on last week’s Wordless Wednesday, I wondered how those multi-colored images would look if I turned them into black-and-white. The budding blooms are a key image element and they vary from light green to bright white, depending on how much the blooms had opened. I wanted to see if I could create black-and-white versions that emphasized the opening blossoms, reducing — but not eliminating — background elements that provided additional context (spring!) to the images. My goal was to elevate the quality of the photos by making the blooms, regardless of whether they were opened or not, “pop” out of the image in shiny bright white.

All of my adjustments to create these images were completed in Lightroom; this time, I didn’t use any Nik Collection filters at all. I’ve been trying to better understand where the two tools overlap, when to choose one over the other, and when to use both. For these images, I converted to black and white in Lightroom — which created the flat-looking versions you can see in the middle column of the second gallery below — then made basic image adjustments (to exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks) to emphasize the blossoms and fade the backgrounds. I then worked through the individual color channels in Lightroom’s Black and White Mix panel to balance the blacks, grays, and whites in each image, mostly by adjusting green, yellow, and red channels to create that balance.

I also applied quite a bit of sharpening to the images, which, surprisingly, didn’t create any apparent distortion but helped bring out the textures, patterns, and highlights of the individual blooms — probably because the sharpening tool mainly had whites and light grays to work with. As a final step I experimented with split-toning — a Lightroom tool I haven’t used very much but want to learn more about. For these photos, I used split-toning to shift gray in the shadows from a warm to slightly cooler color, which provided the silver-white brightness I was looking for when I started this workflow.

Select the first image to view larger versions; then, if you are interested, take a look at the second gallery showing the transitions.

Below are three steps in the transition of these photos from color to black and white. The first column shows the processed color image from my original blog post; the second column shows the color image after conversion to black and white but with no other adjustments; and the last column shows the final version, with adjustments to exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites and blacks, the individual color channels, sharpening, and split-toning.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!


Wordless Wednesday: Bradford Pear, Blooming


Wordless Wednesday: Winter Evening Silhouettes