Before and After: Exposing Hidden Autumn


“Photographs led me to cameras, and over the years the camera became an object I could think with. I could think about light and shadow, about composing the frame, and about what it meant to live in a certain way, to make decisions at many levels, and to document the world.” — from the essay “Salvaged Photographs” by Glorianna Davenport in Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, edited by Sherry Turkle

“Nobody can commit photography alone.” — from Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan


One of the reasons I’ve always liked photography – and why I’m often drawn to closeup or macro photography – is that viewing the world through a camera creates an opportunity to focus on sights that might otherwise remain unseen. Looking through the camera restricts my view to what fits within the frame, letting distractions fall away, and that remains true if I zoom in or out, or pan horizontally or vertically: what I see through the lens becomes what I choose to see at that moment, and most of what’s outside the frame slides from awareness as I make those choices. I might add to or subtract from that view by manipulating the camera or the lens; but when I take the photo, I’ve selected something that’s captured my interest, or struck me as aesthetically pleasing, or has frozen an instant of time that seems to matter subjectively.

After taking the shots, what I do with them now includes a set of additional (and for me, recently learned) choices that give me the chance to further refine the images toward this deceptively simple idea: this is what I saw and this is what I want to show you.

I assembled the gallery of images below from those I’ve been working on for my Flickr Reboot project; they were all taken at Point Au Roche Interpretive Center or near the city of Plattsburgh in northern New York. While I’ve been posting quite a few similar images (see Autumn Close Up: A Photo Gallery), I set these aside for a couple of reasons. First, as I was reviewing my archived photos, I had flagged every one of these (and quite a few others) to be deleted. Second, I didn’t actually delete any of them and decided to take another look once I got more experience with the tools I was learning, to see what I might do with them even though I originally thought they should be deleted. Other than being on the chopping block for a while, these images had something else in common: they were all hidden bits of autumn, subjects tucked away behind tree trunks, barely visible among shrubs, or nearly buried under fallen logs. Because they were all so hidden – and it was an overcast day as well – the exposures were pretty poor and most of the original images were very dark. I remember crawling on the ground at times to get some of these shots and was disappointed that they ended out being so badly exposed, but I kept them anyway from some vague notion that one day I would figure out what, if anything, to do with them.

With the help of new skills, I wanted to find out if I could recover each of these well enough to create an acceptable image, and simultaneously learn more about how to think about image post-processing. It can be quite a challenge to convey the thought process involved in work like this – words fail and the images help resolve the ambiguity – yet here are a few things, technically and otherwise, that I think I’ve learned:

  • There are limitations to what you can do with an image that is out of focus and most of the tools emphasize rather than reduce the out-of-focus condition. Yet still, if the composition and content of the image seem to matter, those tools that intentionally render the image with special effects (blur, softening, and grain, for example) may help you produce something that is creatively satisfying.
  • Digital cameras capture so much detail that even an under-exposed image may have embedded surprises hidden in the dark. One technique I use often is to over-adjust the image in Lightroom (setting exposure, contrast, highlights, and shadows to an upper or lower extreme) to get a look at what I might easily miss, then dial back the settings to something more subtle.
  • Composition and content rule. Spot removal helps eliminate distractions and shift a viewer’s focus to key elements of the image. And I’ve also seen how replacement of foreground elements (for example, removing a stray branch or stem of grass that seems to intrude on the frame) or blending colors in background elements to improve their consistency, both change the image to help direct the eye toward the intended subject. Changes like this also reduce the amount of information a viewer’s mind has to comprehend when looking at the image, something I think is especially appropriate for closeup or macro shots.
  • Knowing what options you will have in post-processing changes how you compose on a photo shoot. But that can be a double-edged sword and it’s a good idea to take the best image you can, regardless of what you might do with it later. It’s better, for me anyway, to think of post-processing as a way to enhance a vision or point-of-view on what I’m trying to convey, rather than assume I’ll be fixing things I did poorly while toting around the camera. This isn’t an argument against post-processing; it’s recognition that learning those techniques is as important as understanding the camera’s settings and buttons, and that the creative arc of photography extends through all the technology and tools you might use to produce your images.
  • The first gallery below includes my final versions of these seventeen images. The second gallery shows the before and after versions of each one, where hopefully you can see by comparison how I’ve used some of the ideas described above.

    More soon; thanks for reading and taking a look!



    Autumn in Grant Park (Set 4 of 4)

    The gallery below contains the last of four sets of photos I took at Grant Park in Atlanta, on Sunday, November 11. Among these photos you will also find the rare Yellow Ribbon leaf, which I was surprised to find hidden within the foliage in the park.

    The previous sets in this series are here:

    Autumn in Grant Park (Set 1 of 4)

    Autumn in Grant Park (Set 2 of 4)

    Autumn in Grant Park (Set 3 of 4)

    What’s next? Well, it’s that time of year when I brave the sixty degree temperatures, head into the woods with an axe and my trusty hound, and chop us down a Christmas tree (read: pull the tree out of the closet and reshape all the branches (not as easy as it sounds (takes half a damn day!))) to begin the holiday decorating frenzy. So you can soon expect a virtually endless (!!) number of photos of decorating in progress, including dust clouds of glitter, piles of flashy self-tangling Christmas lights, and closeups and macros and more closeups and macros of ornaments. Stay tuned!

    Select the first image to begin a slideshow; enjoy the photos, thanks for visiting, and have a great Thanksgiving!

    Autumn in Grant Park (Set 3 of 4)

    The gallery below contains the third of four sets of photos I took at Grant Park in Atlanta, on Sunday, November 11.

    The previous sets in this series are here:

    Autumn in Grant Park (Set 1 of 4)

    Autumn in Grant Park (Set 2 of 4)

    Select the first image to begin a slideshow; enjoy the photos!

    Autumn in Grant Park (Set 2 of 4)

    The gallery below contains the second of four sets of photos I took at Grant Park in Atlanta, on Sunday, November 11. You may notice similarities among some of the photos in this series, but they’re variations, not duplicates; and I’ve tried to mix them up so that they hold together as a decent slideshow. The colors were so captivating that sometimes I zoomed in and out repeatedly to get slightly different views of the same scenes.

    The first set of photos in this series is here: Autumn in Grant Park (Set 1 of 4).

    Select the first image to begin a slideshow; thanks for lookin’!

    Autumn in Grant Park (Set 1 of 4)

    The gallery below contains the first of four sets of photos I took at Grant Park in Atlanta, a 131-acre greenspace located a few blocks from my home at the center of the Grant Park neighborhood and historic district. I took the photos last weekend, on a very bright Sunday morning and afternoon, which gave me a chance to experiment with different kinds of lighting and contrasts, from glowing orange and yellow leaves against the blue sky to smaller trees, plants, and leaves whose images were softened by the light filtering through the oaks, maples, and pines on the park grounds. I have three more sets of similar photos from my walks through the park that day, which I’ll post throughout the week.

    Select the first image to begin a slideshow; thanks for taking a look!

    Autumn Flame at Oakland

    Over the weekend — a pair of bright sunny days in the middle of two weeks of rain — I ventured into the neighborhood to see if the colors of autumn were making any progress. There’s still an enormous amount of green everywhere; many of the huge maples and oaks that form the area’s canopy haven’t started to change yet. On Saturday, I photo-walked Oakland Cemetery — a 48-acre Victorian garden cemetery, established in Atlanta in 1850 as one of the first such garden cemeteries created in the United States — and took the photos you can see in the gallery below. The extreme sunlight provided me with some challenges, as I think I’m more accustomed to — and photographically speaking, more comfortable with — trolling around in the woods and dealing with low-light rather than high-light conditions. Still, I think I ended out with some interesting results, and tried to capture how the yellows, oranges, and reds glowed in the sun, even with excessive backlighting that needed adjustment once I got home.

    On Sunday, I took a similar walk through Grant Park, and I’m working through about 100 photos from spending the morning there. Look for those later in the week. 🙂

    Select the first image below to begin a slideshow; as always, thanks for reading and taking a look!

    Autumn Close Up: A Photo Gallery

    Over the past few weeks, I’ve posted a series of photos that I called “Single Frames: Autumn Close Up” — individual fall images paired with some reasonably relevant quotations, including a few “gothic” quotes as the days got shorter and darker and closed in on Halloween. I had originally picked out several dozen photos for this series, but I decided to stop at twenty and use the remaining photos a little differently in an upcoming blog post.

    I’m working on that new post now; it will include additional autumn photos and some notes on reprocessing those photos with Lightroom and the Nik Collection. It will take me a few days to wrap that post up and prep the photos that go with it, so I thought in the meantime I’d assemble the “Single Frames: Autumn Close Up” images in a single gallery, which you can see below. I had started including all the quotes with the photos, but couldn’t find a good way to do that without creating a 20-foot long blog post.

    If you’d like to see the original photos in this series with their quotations, I’ve tagged all twenty posts so they can be viewed together, here: Single Frames: Autumn Close Up.

    They look kinda nice as a group like this; select the first image in the gallery to begin a slideshow.

    Thanks for reading and taking a look!