Autumn is always an exciting time of year for nature photographers and I grab whatever opportunity I can to get out on the trails before it’s over. We don’t see especially vibrant colors here in the Hudson Valley, and that’s ok with me. While I love color, I think it’s easy to be seduced by color alone and disregard the other components of a meaningful image like a strong center of interest or a clear path for the viewer to follow.
This can result in images that while saturated with color, offer little beyond a mere snapshot of a colorful scene. I’ve been seduced many times myself, and a forest full of rich vibrant color makes our eyes see more photographs than actually exist. That is to say, pretty color alone doesn’t make an image.
I’ve also learned to appreciate the scarcity of vibrant color in the Hudson Valley because it forces me to look deeper and more closely at every potential opportunity. It makes me more selective, more focused on how I compose an image. It makes me more appreciative as well.
Such was the case on a recent outing in the Hudson Highlands while exploring a favorite trail. Not really having seen anything that resonated with me the first time I passed this section of the forest, it now had a rich soft light filtering down through what had been a thick fog when I had passed it earlier.
What had seemed rather flat and bland before now had a warm and inviting quality that immediately captured my attention and imagination. For me, that’s when time slows down and I let my senses explore my surroundings, taking in what I see and feel. It’s a subtle but delicate shift that I must give as much of my awareness to, otherwise, the endless stream of thoughts takes over again and I disconnect. It happens to all of us, more often than we even realize.
As I looked at the scene in front of me, what caught my visual attention the most was how the various trees created an interesting pattern that extended into the distance, changing in tonality from darker to lighter. Tonal variation is something you always want to incorporate in your images since it can add depth and dimension in so many ways.
Using my Olympus E-M1 with a 40-150mm zoom lens, I decided to use a vertical orientation right from the start because I thought it would be simpler and stronger than horizontal. Fewer trees, simpler patterns, and stronger lines that lead the viewer into the scene. I composed the image using large shapes of green, the trees, and the small accents of orange color along the left side, which add a suggestion of autumn color.
The trees establish and lay the foundation for the entire composition, and in that respect become what the image is about. You can also see I used the rule of thirds quite deliberately—it works. The important thing is to use it when it actually helps your composition, not simply because it’s a rule.
Camera settings: 1/25 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400, 110mm, no filters
Developing in Lightroom Classic consisted of basic adjustments to improve color and contrast, subtle toning of the green patches in the lower third of the image to improve depth, and making sure I didn’t remove the overall impression I had of the moment.
I wanted to maintain the impression of a forest scene in changing conditions, where the fog had once obscured everything from view. For example, I didn’t add any Clarity since that increases mid-tone contrast, and that removes the feel of diffused light.
Images with soft, diffused light and lots of texture are always candidates for a matte paper. The overall contrast level needed in the print is what determines whether it’s ultimately the best paper choice. If I need maximum contrast (or volume) then a luster or gloss paper is definitely more appropriate.
But in this case, volume is not what I’m trying to convey, so the more “quiet” characteristics of a matte paper with lower levels of black density work best for this image. It conveys the overall visual and emotional impression I had—a quiet, serene, painterly scene that let me reflect on nature’s presence and my response to it.
I selected Canson Infinity PrintMaking Rag, which provides both a nice textured surface that complements all of the texture in the image, and prevents the dark tones of the tree trunks from becoming too dominant as they would with a high contrast paper.
Yes, it’s a matter of degrees and taste, but there is a difference. As creative photographers, we should take advantage of whatever helps us most accurately convey what we feel in a print. After all, the final print is all the viewer will see, and that single impression (and not a comparison to other prints,) should and will determine the viewer’s response.
It’s not a question of specs or comparisons, but rather what works for your creative goals.
Thanks as always for reading and letting me share my experiences of image making with you. I’m working on a book that will consist of previous and new photojournals – to be the first to know when it’s released, subscribe to the CreativePath newsletter.