Beyond Colorful Leaves | The Photographer’s Challenge

“November Nightfall” is an older image that I’ve posted previously. However, I’m posting it again to illustrate an important point for nature photographers to consider, especially this time of year during peak autumn color.

As a visual artist and landscape photographer I feel it’s important to not get so anxious over the changing color of trees when capturing the essence of autumn on and in the landscape. I make this point partly due to the fact that I scheduled my Hocking Hills weekend workshop for the last weekend of October, when most of the color is off the trees and the leaves will be on the ground. But I also want to challenge myself and my students to look beyond what we think will be pleasing to those who view our work and explore what it is in the simplicity of form, texture, light and shadow that speaks to our artistic vision. That’s where the REAL photographs begin to emerge.

This image, of the Crescent Moon setting behind a tree line at dusk, was captured in Hocking Hills in late November. It is a ridge line just outside the entrance to Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve. Many of my personal fall favorites from Hocking Hills – the ones which carry the most meaning and memory for me – were captured during November, long after the crowds of “leaf peepers” have left the Park and autumn’s glory lays scattered on the forest floor.

I’ve always found autumn to be more about the almost mystical quality of drifting light and lengthening shadows. Of course it’s always rewarding to find a beautiful grouping of changing Maples, Oaks and Dogwoods but there is so much more behind, over and under the beautiful color.

The landscape photographer is a storyteller and in telling the story of autumn he or she must be willing to explore beyond the common and obvious. The trick is not to try too hard because when there is too much thought and deliberation the resulting image conveys more of a methodical attempt at being different versus just simply reflecting both uniqueness and the originality of the photographer’s creative vision. In other words the discovery of a beautiful image framed in-camera that most casual observers would not have noticed.

The reaction and connection to that drifting, mystical light of sunset in October or the texture of a single leaf, long fallen. There are a million stories of the season hidden in an acre of forest floor or tall grass meadow. It is the artist who succeeds by delivering the narrative to an audience who too often only views the colorful highlights of a multi-act performance. The photographic artist – the landscape photographer – goes deeper, stays longer and engages in a fall landscape that is multifaceted and layers deep in the splendid tale that is the turning of a season.

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