Speaking Softly

October 19, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

DELIGHTFULLY DIFFERENTDELIGHTFULLY DIFFERENTInteresting variegated color on a sumac plant during autumn foliage season.

Stratham, New Hampshire

One can find beauty in nature throughout the year. For many landscape photographers, though, the autumnal foliage display is the pièce de résistance. 

I wasn't always a big fan of autumn, but moving to New Hampshire changed my mind about that.

To be clear, this attitude adjustment doesn't mean I love everything about the season: raking leaves, for example. You'll never convince me that's anything other than a miserable chore. Then there's that period of time after all the leaves have fallen and before winter sets in, which I will admit can be a little dreary. Even nature has its foibles.

While I'm not as gung ho about the situation after the leaves drop, that's okay. The fiery spectacle as they perform their dramatic finale with a flourish more than makes up for it. Glorious overachievers. 

From where I stand, northern New England is the undisputed champion as far as the foliage extravaganza is concerned. The best of the best. That said, autumn has so completely captivated me I've become enthusiastic about "touring productions" of the show, too: out-of-town stagings that don't feature my favorite A-Listers. (That would be Acer Saccharum - sugar maples.) 

Consider the Intermountain West, where sugar maples are absent and somebody else gets top billing. I've learned to appreciate aspens and find their displays to be lovely. 

Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? 

Autumn color is something special. The landscape shouts with exuberance and irrepressible joy. It's high-spirited. Animated. Unrestrained.

It begs us to pull out our cameras.

Sometimes all that color is so bold and pronounced - so loud - it's a challenge to photograph. Trying to include too much of it in your composition may result in more of a cacophony than a symphony. 

That's not to say you should avoid grand landscapes. I'm simply suggesting there are many "quiet" autumnal scenes waiting to be noticed. 

These types of compositions can be just as impactful as those featuring wide vistas painted in a riot of vivid hues. Speaking softly doesn't mean you won't be heard.

I'm not necessarily thinking about macro photography, though that certainly qualifies. A quiet landscape might mean a composition in which vibrant foliage is isolated. Instead of an expanse of fiery reds, yellows and oranges, maybe you concentrate on a single focal point of color. 

One great thing about these "quieter" scenes is that they increase your creative options and vastly broaden location possibilities. Case in point: the image at the top of the post was made behind a supermarket not far from my home in New Hampshire's seacoast. 

One drizzly Saturday morning I spotted this grouping of sumac while running errands in town. Already colorful, the wet conditions really made them pop - but it was the fact that the plants were only a few feet high that caught my attention.

Sumac are fantastic exhibitionists in the autumn, but notoriously difficult to photograph. Mostly wild, the plants grow on roadsides and in fields. Typically they have very tall stems. As striking as are the vibrantly colored leaves, the plants themselves are leggy and not very attractive.

These sumac tucked behind the store hadn't had enough time yet to grow into rather inelegant adulthood. 

They were stunning, especially in the damp conditions. I shot for so long that the rain stopped and the droplets on the leaves began to dry. You can see what I found interesting about this particular plant: the variegation. 

Below, even though this is a wider landscape, the photograph speaks softly. I made this in Grand Teton National Park a few weeks ago. In this area as the sun sets and for a while afterward, any pops of vibrant foliage are accentuated thanks to backlighting. They almost glow. I framed the shot to isolate the single tree with its nearly-neon yellow, chose to exclude any of the easily identifiable Teton peaks, and made the photo before too much color developed from the sunset. That one little tree is the star of the show.  

Even though broad swaths of color created by hundreds of trees are vying for your attention, you don't have to include all of them in your composition at once. 

With color overhead and underfoot, there's no shortage of opportunity to find quieter scenes. The foliage season can be depicted in many ways. 


Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

“Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree.”
Emily Brontë


Odds and Ends

September visitor numbers for Yellowstone just came out and they were in the stratosphere: north of 838,000. Year-to-date they're at more than 4 million. Crazy. I was working there the first weekend of this month; it was very busy, which is unusual for October. 

Grand Teton National Park has also been busy, with 3.5 million visitors between January 1st and August 31st. That's a 13% year-over-year increase.  

Also in GTNP, Blondie (Grizzly 793) was spotted earlier this month along with her two cubs. As far as I know that was the first sighting of her this year. It's good to know she is well, and that she has youngsters.

There has been no further news regarding 610 since she was struck by a vehicle last week.

All campgrounds within both parks are now closed for the season. If you're thinking ahead to 2024, remember it's a rolling 6-month-in-advance reservation window. 


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