It’s fun to look back on some of the things we used to do in the past. Out-of-fashion hairstyles and clothing are always good for a laugh. Old photographs can reveal poor techniques or embarrassing mistakes. I’m sometimes surprised at what I used to consider quality photography. Comparing my early work with what I shoot today can be like comparing night to day. Sometimes, however, the changes are less drastic.
Years ago, for example, I read a weekly article in the Sunday paper called, “Then and Now.” It was a photo feature comparing a random street scene from the turn of the century to a modern-day capture shot from the exact same perspective. It was amazing to see just how foreign some of the most familiar areas of town used to look. Buildings, unless designated historical landmarks, can go through drastic changes over the years.
The same thing can’t be said about nature. The images illustrating this article were taken during peak autumn color at Hessian Lake in Bear Mountain State Park in upstate New York. The sunny day photo was shot 10 years before the overcast image. Aside from illustrating how fall foliage can be successfully photographed in either condition, the images also show that very little has changed in this scene over the past decade. Even my compositional style remained fairly consistent. Unlike the “Then and Now” newspaper articles, I wasn’t consciously trying to duplicate the older image. In fact, it wasn’t until I was perusing through some of my old slides that I even remembered it existed.
Despite their similarities, there are a few obvious differences between the two images. I placed the horizon at center frame in the (older) sunny day photo to emphasize the dramatic, cumulus clouds. I considerably lowered the angle in the more recent shot in order to crop out most of the white, featureless sky. Also, the slight change in perspective created a distinct foreground, middle-ground and background—giving the image more depth.
In both cases, a polarizing filter was invaluable. This filter is most commonly used on sunny days to make white, puffy clouds pop—a job it performed nicely here.
Perhaps more important is the filter’s effect on cloudy days. It darkened the water in the overcast image by removing the glare, thereby revealing the rocks beneath the surface. The resulting darkness also created the perfect backdrop to offset the small orange bush on the tiny island. I adjusted the height of my tripod to place the bush in the shadowed area of the reflection behind it. Another benefit of diminished glare is richer and more saturated colors. For these reasons, I now prefer to shoot autumn color in overcast conditions.
Nature scenes may not change as much or as often as city scenes, but the photographer’s methods of photographing them might. In some cases, there may not be much of a change at all.
F.M. Kearney is a fine-art nature photographer, specializing in unique floral and landscape images. To see more of his work, please visit www.starlitecollection.com.