Featured Photo: Fall Leaf
October has arrived, and the fall leaves are starting to turn color here in California. (Yes, we have fall color in California.) I found the first sign of fall recently while walking through the redwoods in Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve, near Half Moon Bay, CA. It was just a single leaf of a bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) lying in the creek, but it caught my attention enough to take a closer look.
I thought it might be fun to get an image of the leaf that featured the small creek as well, instead of the typical close-up from above. As a test, I just held my camera near the water’s surface, without looking through the viewfinder, and snapped a shot.
“Hey, that’s kind of neat.” Sure, out-of-focus and poorly composed (I wasn’t looking, after all), but still kind of neat. So off came the camera backpack and out came the tripod, and I set about trying to create an image that captured this single yellow leaf in the creek in the forest.
The redwood forest is dark, so to get enough depth-of-field while keeping the ISO low, a tripod was going to be a must. In addition, I decided to use a polarizer to cut the reflections from the water and saturate the colors a bit. That’s a loss of two stops — even more need for a tripod.
The trick was getting the camera close enough to the water’s surface to get the angle I wanted. The tripod I use, a Gitzo G1257, has independent legs that can do the splits, making it relatively easy to get really close to the ground (or water). I splayed out the legs and dropped the camera way down; putting the tripod legs in the creek itself was unavoidable, and I had to completely disassemble and dry it (especially the joints) when I got back.
Having the camera this close to the water makes looking through the viewfinder really awkward without just lying down in the creek. But low-and-behold, I remembered the camera I was using, a Nikon D300, has Live View, which allowed me to compose the image using the LCD preview screen like (cough) a point-and-shoot. Boy, that’s helpful.
I used a Sigma 10-20mm lens to capture the leaf and put it in the context of the forest at that low angle. I tried several compositions, both horizontal and vertical, from slightly different positions. At one point, I actually had to turn the camera upside down to get it low enough.
Finally, a really long shutter speed (the result of a small aperture used to maximize depth-of-field) softened the water’s motion to a pleasing blur. I captured two versions I liked, including this vertical.
Having the leaf low in the frame helps anchor the photo, and balances the trees in the upper portion; the very subtle S-curve of creek and diagonal line of the leaf’s stem help draw the eye into the image.
Final image specs
Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 (at 19mm)
20 seconds @ f/22, ISO 200