Saturday, November 7, 2009

Assignment 2: Autumn

Now that autumn is coming to an end here in Munich, I am more or less finished shooting my first series of photographs for the next assignment on colour contrasts.  Over the last month I have taken hundreds of shots of the leaves as they progressively change colour, each day getting out for at least 30 minutes, walking around my office or local neighbourhood.  Although I have also taken larger scale landscapes, often rising early in the morning to head into the Englischer Garten to catch the dawn, my primary focus has been detail and capturing the colour contrasts of the leaves as they come and go.  The fleeting nature of autumn colours has been one of the joys, but also furstrations, of this project.  yesterday I returned to a particularly pleasing combination of red and yellow leaves, that I visited 4 days ago, all was gone, the glory of the leaves was now a sad heap that a street cleaner had brushed into the gutter.

With this particular study has come one of the real pleasures of this course, I am looking at the world around me in more detail and with more concern for structure, colour, and texture.  This is the first time in my life I have ever truly experienced the changing colours of Autumn. Previously I would glance at some trees and declare how pretty they were, but move on without really thinking more.

For this first set of 4 images in assignment 2, my connecting theme is leaf detail and how different colours contrast or harmonize with each other.  Looking carefully at the foliage there is a remarkable range of colours on offer, covering 2 thirds of the colour wheel, with evergreen trees offering darker shades of Green, the sky supplying Blue, and the leaves of varying trees or different stages of change, delivering Green, Yellow, Red, and Orange, with all shades in between.

Of particular interest is control of the luminosity of the colours, with the camera and careful positioning versus the available light it is possible to dramatically alter the intensity and quality of colour in the image.  When taking a photograph of a large number of leaves I try to position the Sun behind the leaves with the light coming directly through, but with no part of the direct sunlight in the frame.  Overexposing by 1 stop can enhance the delicacy of the leaves and provide a much softer look.  With fewer leaves in the frame this will not work as either the leaves will be black or the sky will be completely washed out to soulless white.  For many of the shots I took I simply pointed my camera vertically upwards and captured the light filtering through the canopy of leaves.  I also found that this provided a good intensity balance with Blue sky, in other words I could obtain similar saturations of colour in the leaves and the sky.  However, this took care and much experimentation with position and angle of camera.

From an equipment point of view, I typically used telephoto's or long zooms for this activity, the most versatile lens is my 100-400mm, however, this is very heavy for continued pointing straight upwards, and with a f/5.6 minimum aperture at the long end relatively slow.  When I knew that i would only be shooting detail high in the trees I selected a 200mm or 300mm prime, combined with a 1.4x extender when necessary.  The minimum aperture of f/2.8 and f/4.0 on these two lenses was very useful.  The 300mm telephoto is probably the optimum lens, it is fast, very sharp (when needed) and for this hand held exercise the image stabilization is essential to avoid pushing up the ISO and degrading image quality.  Sharpness at a detail level was not needed for the images I made, the key requirement was the ability to hold different parts of the image in selective focus and then push everything else into blur, so shallow depth of field and good Bokeh were critical.

My concept is to produce 4 images, illustrating the colour contrasts, but also showing how autumn colours vary from tree to tree, but also with time.  Ideally I would like to have 4 images that show the transition through the last few weeks.  In the following presentation of images I have not yet started the final selection, so will restrict myself at present to simple illustration of colour without any narrative.  First an image that contains almost all of the colour palette I have at my disposal

Red is Missing

Colour harmony through similar colours: technically the easiest, autumn delivers this in every direction

Shades of Green

Greens and Yellow

Shades of Yellow

Orange and Yellow

Shades of Orange

Colour Harmony through Complementary Colours: In the autumn palette the most obvious and striking set of complementary colours are orange leaves against a blue sky.  A less common example would be red leaves on a green background

Red and Green

Orange and Blue (Soft Contrast)

Orange and Blue (Hard Contrast)

Colour Contrast through Contrasting Colour: Here the contrasts are primarily between the primaries, Yellow leaves on a Blue background, Red leaves on a yellow background

Yellow and Blue

Red and Yellow

Colour Accent using any combination: Here the most obvious combination is one or two leaves against the blue of the sky, although occasionally a single leaf would provide contrast against many other leaves

Red on Yellow

Yellow on Blue

Orange on Blue

Combining the Images

My goal is to take these images and combine them in a series of four images that work together and could be hung on a wall to provide a harmony as a group and tell a story of Autumn

The first combination is a high contrast, high saturation group, with Orange as a key colour

The second is a softer set with yellow as the dominant colour

My current preference is the second softer set, although I think this may be a slightly better combination:

The problem I have is the Orange on Blue as it disturbs the harmony of the sequence, perhaps this would work better with a Red-Green complimentary versus the Orange-Blue

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