Untitled by Russ Hermanson (2010_09_25_15_07_33_D70_3948)
I have a bit of a confession: I am not easily enamored with autumn photographs. For the great majority of you who grew up in climates without color-changing leaves, autumn is a novelty. Photographers flock from all over to the northeast United Stats to capture the golden hues and flaming reds. Many do a great job of capturing autumn in photographs. But many photographs fall short of a great composition. I've grown jaded and overly critical about fall photography in general. So when I bring you this great untitled photograph from Russ Hermanson, be assured I have faith in in the photograph.
Despite my pet peeves, it's impossible to discuss fall photography without speaking of the color. After all, the color is the primary reason for the photograph. Here we have a grove of Quaking Aspen trees, the dominant tree in the photograph. The yellow leaves you see here are their natural fall color. I love the timing of this photo. Many of the leaves litter the ground, yet a good portion still remains on the branches. The effect is a dreamworld between the golden sky and the golden floor of the forest with elegant golden trunks connecting the two. Russ has admitted to boosting the white balance. But having spent a great deal of time in Aspen woodlands, I don't feel he boosted out of reality. The effect of these groves really does seem to eliminate all other colors from your mind. I feel he did a great job of not only recreating this effect, but creating a photograph that is dominated by a single color. So it's fair to say that Russ did a great job handling and using the color in his photograph.
When observing a photograph where color is the key building block, it's sometimes difficult to pay attention to any other building block. A well balanced photograph will not depend on a single building block of design. Color in and of itself does not make for a great photo. So for a true test, I like to consider a photograph in black & white. For the sake of discussion, I've created a black & white version of the photo as you can see here. Suddenly, we can see the photograph for all its worth beyond the color.
I would first like to point out texture. We have a lot of different textures at play here in Russ's photograph. The leaves on the ground are the most prominent of the textures, and the part that is most interesting and representative of autumn (even in black & white). Who would have thought a woodland ground could look so fantastic. I read a book of photography tips that recommended leaving the “dirty” floor of the woods out of your photographs. After viewing this photograph, do you really think that's a good rule of thumb? No. Beyond the floor, the trunks of the Aspen trees, the needles of the hemlock, the leaves still hanging on the trees and the pale trunks of the trees off in the distance form a buffet of textures for the eyes; and they all play quite well with each other.
A photograph with great colors and interesting textures would make for a good photograph. But to create a great photograph, composition is still the king. Compositionally, this is a strong photograph. The nearest and most prominent tree sits about a third from the right edge, the Hemlock holds the left third. Combined, and with contributions from the yellow forest floor, Russ has created a frame, a portal if you will, that shows the viewer the true depth of the forest. This dreamworld carries on as far as the eye can see.
In closing, I would like to thank Russ for giving me a reason to speak about fall photography. Despite my bitterness, I still get excited when I see a great autumn photograph. If you have not yet done so, I would highly recommend checking out Russ’s photostream. He frequently shares a great number of his works (possibly one reason many of his photos are not titled), so there's a lot to view. As of late, he's got a lot of great fall photos that will inspire you.