Shooting hot and cold

Over the past year I’ve been playing with the auto settings on my camera. My aesthetic would normally be to go as natural as possible, but there are many times the result simply looks too flat for my taste, even after I sharpen the image or otherwise tweak it afterward. (In the early years of this blog, I didn’t even do that much. Rarely did I even crop the pic except in the camera as I was shooting.)

As I focused on New England foliage last fall, though, I was really struck by how much the supposedly natural settings differed from what I felt I was seeing. The vibrant colors seemed to turn cold by the time I viewed them on my laptop.

On the other hand, the “magic” setting often ran too hot, occasionally even turning lurid. Sometimes the image simply blew out in a burst of red.

Admittedly, often the foliage does appear subdued, but that’s not what we’re looking for. We want that “oh, wow,” to kick in. That brings up the matter of light, which can pop the leaves from so-so to absolutely glorious in a flash — not that the camera always captures that.

What I’m concluding is that cameras have a mind of their own, and sometimes you just have to respect that. Here are two shots from Dover’s Community Trail. Which do you prefer?

Hot …
… and cold.

 

 

Some perspective on prime foliage

Even though I grew up in a northern environment and its deciduous trees, autumn color was pretty much peripheral. We lived in town, after all, and I was essentially indoors at school or the like. Besides, much of the rural landscape around us was open farmland, with here and there a woodlot or riverbank.

My foliage awareness really took off a few months after graduating from college, when I lived in a small city surrounded by forested Appalachian foothills that turned ablaze at the end of September. Like Kenzie in my novel Pit-a-Pat High Jinks, I was working a job that allowed me to get out of the office at mid-afternoon, when my free daylight hours were soon devoted to exploring the visions along backroads in what became a daily epiphany.

From town, it appeared the hills caught fire at their summits and the flaming color then ate its way downslope. And, as I heard, the forests themselves were a blending of New England varieties and those of the South, so we had the best of both worlds for foliage.

In the years and wanderings since, that’s been my standard, though I should question if it was really quite as vivid as my memory would boast. Having lived in northern New England now for 33 years, I’ve often thought our fall foliage was more subdued than its legend, perhaps apart from some spectacular locales like Sugar Hill here in New Hampshire.

This past week, though, has changed my opinion. In driving about, I’ve come across large swaths in full color – not the usual mixed green and bare mixed in – and properly illuminated, even in an early morning mist and fog, not that my camera would capture that. It soon becomes almost too much, too rich, for one’s eyes to handle.

~*~

That first autumn Upstate, I didn’t have a camera, alas. Later, living in an orchard, I was disappointed that the apple, peach, and pear trees turned mostly dun. Finally, what I attempted, with film, my first years in New Hampshire came out so-so, partly a failing on my not knowing quite where to go, when. Only when I took up digital photography, about the time I launched this blog, did I start shooting earnestly, especially my first autumn after taking the buyout at the office and heading into the hills a little north of us.

As I’ve revisited those shots, I’m struck by how often utility lines mar the image – that, and other things our eyes overlook, though the camera is far less forgiving. Those lines stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. Thus, in the past month, as I’ve been shooting, there have been many fine examples of color I’ve out-and-out passed by for that reason.

Another difference this time is that I’m using my second camera, which has a “magic” auto-setting that intensifies the color. In alternating my shots with that and a more subdued tonality, I’m finding that the “hotter” one grabs more of what I’m feeling as I look, while the “cooler” option is closer to the reality … until the sun turns just the right way, which is what’s been happening the past week.

I am surprised our hundred-year drought hasn’t deeply limited the foliage. There was a walnut tree across the street that turned yellow one afternoon – maybe within an hour – but I postponed the shot. The next day was dull and wet, the light was just wrong. And the following day? The leaves had all fallen.

Well, it will all be gone soon. The phenomenon is a lesson in attentiveness and acceptance in the present.

AFTER THE CAMERA BATTERY QUIT …

I was enjoying a leisurely trip back through Vermont, taking many breaks with my camera. All was well until approaching the New Hampshire line, I stopped to capture pictures of a Mennonite church – one of a few in New England – and was about to walk a block or two to take shots of a long covered bridge across the Ottauquechee River. Alas, my camera stopped working.

I assumed the battery simply ran out of juice, though back home I remembered (too late) sometimes you just need to remove it and put it back in – have no idea why that works, but it did on my old Kodak. Well, I’m still getting acquainted with my new Olympus from Christmas.

There would no doubt have also been additional shots of the “quintessential Vermont” general store, a bed and breakfast, and other quaint buildings clustered around the green – this was Taftsville, after all, which turns out to be a neighborhood in the iconic town of Woodstock.

The 189-foot-long span built in 1836 along what’s now U.S. 4 was severely damaged by the remains of Hurricane Irene in late August 2011 and for several years was left dangling precariously from a middle pier. (It’s listed as a Multiple King post and arch design, by the way.) Now, including a fresh coat of red paint, it looks dazzling. Alas, you’ll have to take my word for it.

More missed photo ops took place an hour later, when I stopped for lunch in Lebanon, New Hampshire – not down by the busy interchange along the Connecticut River but up on the hill, around the old green. It’s one of those New England towns that has an opera house as part of city hall, and this one has an actual opera season each summer. This year’s bill includes not just Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio and Bernstein’s West Side Story but also Aaron Copland’s rarely performed Tender Land. What I saw and heard of that, by spying through a crack in double doors from the lobby, was gorgeous. Well, again you’ll have to take my word for it. You would have seen the exterior of the hall from the common.

Finally, much closer to home, as I was stuck in a construction delay at the Lee traffic circle, I looked out my car window and saw three fawns grazing placidly at roadside. If my camera were working, it would have been a classic shot. They’re such small, fragile critters with such big pointy ears!

Well, even with the missed opportunities, I am happy with what I got that day. Now, to plan ahead to scheduling them for this blogging!