Featured Photo: Fall Leaf

Fall Leaf

A quick test snapshot

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.

Tripod in creek

Getting the right angle

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.

Autumn Leaf in Creek

An autumn leaf of a bigleaf maple (Acer macrophylum) resting in Purisima Creek, Purisima Creek Open Space, California

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

Nikon D300
Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 (at 19mm)
B+H polarizer
20 seconds @ f/22, ISO 200

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