Single Frame: Autumn Close Up #2

From the essay “The Allegash and East Branch” in Walden and Other Writings by Henry David Thoreau:

“I was in just the frame of mind to see something wonderful … and it put me on the alert to see more like it…. I let science slide, and rejoiced in that light as if it had been a fellow-creature. I saw that it was excellent…. It suggested to me that there was something to be seen….”

Sometimes you have to take a closer look to see certain colors and textures of autumn, especially in their late stages. The photo below, taken at Point Au Roche State Park in northern New York, shows the red and orange leaves of a withering vine hanging from the branches of a tree and running into the ground — where the colors blended with the forest floor, making the leaves nearly invisible.

Select the image to view a larger version. Thanks for seeing!

Single Frame: Autumn Close Up

From the essay “In Plato’s Cave” in On Photography by Susan Sontag:

“The photograph is a thin slice of space as well as time. In a world ruled by photographic images, all borders (“framing”) seem arbitrary. Anything can be separated from anything else: all that is necessary is to frame the subject differently…. Through photographs, the world becomes a series of unrelated, freestanding particles…. The camera makes reality atomic, manageable, and opaque.”

Below is a photograph of three isolated red leaves — an image I imagine many people would associate with autumn — taken in northern New York one October. You may see the image as having a certain 3D quality to it … that’s a bit of an illusion, an enhancement the brain makes because of the focused foreground and out-of-focus background, with the strong color contrasts emphasizing the illusion. If you close one eye (which eye you should close varies by person), the 3D effect may be strengthened depending on what kind of device you’re using to look at the photo. You may have never tried this before, but it’s often true that you can see this sort of 3D magic when viewing just about anything on a screen that displays in HD quality or better, by using only one eye. Apparently the brain’s not so crazy about seeing the world in two-dimensions, and the realistic image quality of modern screens cause it to over-compensate for the sense of “flatness” that ought to be created by closing one eye.

Here’s a before and after version of this same image; click the first one and page back and forth to compare the two. You can see the 3D quality is somewhat present in the original, and contrast and color enhancements jazz up the illusion: some of the Color Efex filters in the Nik Collection include settings for “perceptual saturation” that can be used for that purpose. You may also notice I removed some spots from the leaves … because, well, I can’t help it!! 🙂

Before and After: Fun with Big Rocks

At the base of Whiteface Mountain in northern New York, on the road to Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort, just before you cross a bridge over the Ausable River and where your eyes widen to take in the size of the mountain close up … there is a large dirt and gravel parking lot. If you park your car and walk up the mountain road, you just might miss the forest opposite the lot: it’s hidden behind rows of birch trees and ferns that have gathered in the sunlight and grown right up to the left edge of the road.

After you step beyond the birch tree gateway and through the knee-high valley of ferns, your feet land in a blanket of soft needles discarded by pine trees that have been growing and shedding for decades. Your sense of hearing is instantly altered: the pine needles absorb and mute sound from the road and river nearby just as if you’d walked through a doorway and closed the door behind you. Your footsteps make no sound. Bird-call that you didn’t hear just a few minutes earlier is suddenly everywhere, accompanied by the rhythm of a breeze fluttering back and forth over the landscape.

Inside this forest, many of the birch trees that likely grew in before the pines took over have become degenerating deadfall, scattered across the forest floor or leaning against the rocks, and the rocks … well, they’re just enormous. You’d need a ladder to climb onto most of them; their surface textures range from smooth but finely pitted to rough like sandpaper to something that feels like it was spit from a volcano — but was more likely created by snow and ice and the slow roll of glaciers that molded the Adirondack Mountains. The rocks with flattened tops have given life to their own miniature forests, where ferns, small shrubs, and even tiny trees have taken root.

Some of the pine trees have grown so close to the rocks that the rock surface and the tree trunk are barely separated: you couldn’t fit your hand in the space between the two. That’s the case with this blue-green monster that blocks your view of the river, poised as it is just a few feet from the cliffs that dive about thirty feet almost straight down. It’s striking that rocks this large are so far above the river, that they remained on higher ground while the river carved and deepened its path.

You wonder about the tension between the rock and the tree if the rock shifts and as the tree continues to grow, then you walk around them both to the clifftop and views of the boulders in the river below. The first few steps feel pretty comfortable; the second ones get your legs a little rubbery as the speed of the water flow seems to increase; then you’re just glad you brought a zoom lens.

After a few shots, you reel the zoom back in, step back into the quiet of the forest, make your way back to the parking lot, and regret that you have to leave, because:

Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life. — John Muir


If you got this far, thanks for reading and taking a look! These photos are among the landscape images I’m reworking; more about that project here: Flickr Reboot. If you would like to see before and after versions of the images that I processed for this post (including two bonus boulders not shown above), select the first photo below to begin a slideshow.

Before and After: Swamp Things

There are two galleries below: the first includes a set of images from a woodland swamp in northern New York, and the second contains the before and after versions of the same images, showing the differences between the original and final versions processed with Lightroom and the Nik Collection.

For the first two images, I tried to emphasize the detail of the beaver cuts on the tree trunks, while still conveying the aged, worn smoothness of those cuts. My approach to the third image was to highlight the pair of trunks topped with moss by adding green saturation and increasing focus and lighting on the trunks to separate them from the background.

With the wider angle images of the swamp, I started by treating them as low-key photographs by significantly darkening the backgrounds. As you can probably imagine from looking at the before images in the second gallery, the gray in the backgrounds — once darkened — would give the scene a heavily shaded, foreboding appearance. Not a bad look overall, and I may still do a set like that. But then I thought it might be interesting to try something else: convert the images from scary-swamp to happy-swamp by intensifying the colors and creating high contrast between the water (and the thick, green algae on the water’s surface) and the twisted deadfall throughout the scenes. The result, I think, suggests a greater sense of standing at the edge of the swamp, with the eye tracking from the greens in each foreground to the depths of the swamp and the trees in the backgrounds. The intensified saturation and contrast also brings out many more colors present in the images that weren’t evident in the original photographs.

I included the last four images from the same area just because I liked them. What photographer can resist a colorful clump of fungus (with a big bug in the middle!), some bright red leaves, and an old Ford truck partly buried in the woods?

Select the first image below to begin a slideshow, then skip to the second gallery if you would like to compare the before and after images.