The Making Of "Autumn Colors in a Big-Toothed Aspen Leaf"

How the winning photo of the "Fall Colors" contest was made

By Tamia in Photo Contests on Dec 28, 2017
The Making Of "Autumn Colors in a Big-Toothed Aspen Leaf"

Heartfelt thanks to everyone who nominated my photo, "Autumn Colors in a Big Toothed Aspen Leaf," for inclusion in the Pentax Forum's November Monthly Contest. Need I say that I'm both pleased and honored? I thought not -- but I am.

When the contest's theme ("Fall Colors") was announced, I had something of an embarras de choix. The woods around my home in New York's northern Adirondacks "light up" every October, and my photo archive therefore contains hundreds of colorful "calendar shot" scenics. But the imp of the perverse persuaded me to focus close, instead.

I shot the big-tooth aspen leaf on a small sandy beach alongside the "best dammed little river in the state/country/world" (your choice). It had rained hard all through the night, leaving the many fallen leaves dappled with droplets. The sky was overcast. My goal for the day was to illustrate fossils in the making, and the subject of my shot was one in a progression of images, but I was drawn to this one simply because of its beauty. The gradient of colors from golden yellow to cadmium red to a deep purple seem to me to capture the transitional nature of the autumn season while also echoing the palette of hues in the surrounding hills.

I had only one lens with me that day, a legacy manual Pentax SMC M-50/1.7 -- purchased from a fellow Pentaxian who'd listed it in the Marketplace -- and it was mounted on my Pentax K200D. The camera was in manual mode, with shake reduction engaged to damp the tremor in my shivering hands. (It was chilly and the light was iffy.) I shot in JPG rather than RAW, since I was shooting for the Web, choosing an aperture of F8 for the best balance of sharpness and depth of field while still letting through enough light to allow me to hand-hold the camera. To minimize digital noise, the ISO was set to 100 -- that's as low as the K200D goes -- and I selected a shutter speed of 1/30s without any exposure bias.

Here's a downsized version of the original image, without any other adjustments than resizing:

Original image

I felt that this composition was too static, so I cropped the photo to give it a portrait aspect, with the central vein of the leaf extending from the stem in the lower left and sweeping the eye onward to the "northeast," where it could then return in an arc along the right side of the leaf. I wanted to retain as much of the beach sand as possible in the cropped image to provide a neutral backdrop and to add a gritty texture in contrast to the smooth surfaces of the droplets and leaf. I was pleased with the final crop, though I regret that I failed to include the whole of the leaf's large teeth on the lower right in my original photo.

Post-processing notes: In tweaking the final image for display, I imposed a touch of S-curve, then gently boosted contrast and saturation to better reproduce what I'd seen in the field. I also sharpened the image a touch.

Last, but certainly not least, my thanks to Adam and Ole for all their work in maintaining the Pentax Forums, to the contest sponsors, and to the forum moderators and members, whose collective efforts have created that rarest of Internet phenomena: a true community. I've learned a great deal from all of you.

- Tamia Nelson (Tamia)

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