Understanding the Scene – Colorado Fall Foliage

8 Oct

We  just returned home from a three-day trip to Telluride to shoot the fall colors of Southwestern Colorado in the San Juan Mountains. What I am going to do today is show a  picture from that trip and talk specifically and technically about the thought process of creating the image and the processing involved. This image was captured on Saturday October 2, 2010 at Woods Lake in the Uncompahgre National Forest.

A profusion of fall colors accented by stillness, blue skies, and warm light on a quiet evening at Woods Lake near Telluride, Colorado.

So this is the shot. At first glance, you might really like this or even think that looks kind of generic depending on your preferences. (Hopefully you are reading this because you like my work) The composition and processing look standard right? Before we go any further with this, I just want to say if it get’s too long I’ll break this up into two parts and finish the second part tomorrow. 

Composition

Let’s start by talking about the composition because it is the first thing I do when setting up to take a picture.  Sometimes I’ll spend 20 minutes climbing up or down and scrambling and setting up only to find myself not happy with the composition.  Luckily, it wasn’t the case for this scene. The composition here was pretty straight forward for me.

 Upon arriving at this scene, I did not know too much about this place.  From what I had read, I knew it was a sunset location. Right off the bat, I chose this specific location at the lake for one primary reason and that is the aspens on the left hand side of image. They were absolutely stunning and I thought critical to creating a balance to the scene. Also, I thought the patterns on the right hand side of the foreground are actually kind of interesting to look at and you can still make out the reflection of the aspens.  For your information, I could not move the composition any further to the left because there is a big white sign there that would have gotten into the scene. 

I chose my focal length based on the desire to capture the entire reflection of the aspens.  The amount of sky I included  was based on the fact there wasn’t many clouds (just one little one) in the sky that evening and I tried to incorporate the appropriate amount based on the conditions. The round hill on the right hand side of the scene adds a lot with its dynamic mix of color and shape. I think the scene is well-balanced even though the peak (Mount Wilson) is pretty much centered in the frame.

Capture

Part of my approach to landscape photography involves capturing as many unique elements into the scene as possible at any particular time. Looking at this scene we have several:  peak fall foliage, clear reflection (minimal wind), and warm, directional light.

Normally when I approach a scene I will intently look at the brightest and darkest parts of it to determine the proper exposure. I basically use Ansel Adam’s zone metering system in my head. I normally can tell what the exposure values should be depending on the colors and brightness of the scene.  I knew I wanted to capture this scene right at the edge of light.  Meaning I wanted some direct light on the aspen and conifers around the lake at the base of the mountain and I wanted to capture it just seconds before it fell into shadow.  Luckily, I was successful there; it didn’t last long within a minute of this shot the lights went out on the aspens. The next image I took there was no brightness or glow in the reflection.

 I knew there were two potentially problematic areas with the lighting of this place. First were the exposed aspen trunks getting the direct sunlight. These are very easy to clip with direct light hitting a whitish color. And second, was the dark grove of conifers across the lake on the other side of the aspens. These were showing up very dark in my viewfinder,  although I could certainly make out the detail with my eye. We will stop here today and we will resume this tomorrow. I hope you are getting some out this post. Have an awesome day!

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