Chasing Fall Color

“It was one of those perfect English autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life.”
   P.D. James

In mid-October of 2012 my wife (Pat) and I flew to northeastern Ohio to spend a few days visiting family. It was reasonable to expect good autumn color in the hardwood forests of the region, so I took my photo gear on this trip. All of our flights were on Airbus 319s, which have sufficiently large overhead bins for my pack.

The weather in Ohio was very nice during our stay, but the fall color wasn't great. It had been extremely dry there for part of the summer, which was probably a factor in the less than brilliant color in the trees. We wandered around Cuyahoga Valley National Park on several mornings looking for color. While some trees were still quite green, others had lost their leaves entirely. Many trees were simply brown. I never took my camera from the pack during our time in Ohio, making the trip a vacation, with no work time. It was nice to visit with my parents, sister, neices, and (as always!) friend Dave.

Heading North

Pat's sister and her husband live in west-central Michigan. From Ohio we made the seven-hour drive north and west to visit Barb and Steve, and to see mutual friends in the area. Fall color there was considerably better than we'd seen in Ohio. Birches and maples were blazing yellows and oranges. Oaks were fiery red. We were probably a week or so late for peak color, but it was still very nice. Weather conditions were chilly and quite wet; it rained during most of our time there.

Steve, who shoots multi-frame panoramas almost exclusively, had plotted out a few locations we'd visit for photography. While most of these are areas with which he is very familiar, one was a new location for him. It's on private property; Steve secured the land-owner's permission to walk the property and photograph there.

Shooting in the Rain

Maples and leaf litter on a dark, rainy October morning in west-central Michigan, U.S.

Maples and leaf litter on a dark, rainy October morning in the Haymarsh.

The first morning found us walking in steady rain in the Haymarsh State Game Area. The sky was quite dark; most of the maple trees had full canopies of brilliant yellow leaves, making it darker still on the forest floor. As is often the case in rainy weather, the light was flat and the colors strong and saturated, contrasting starkly against the dark, wet bark of the trees. Haymarsh is a lovely area, one in which we photographed, in much drier conditions and with greater success, during my last trip to Michigan in 2008. The first seven pictures in our Michigan gallery were made during that earlier trip. That trip was timed perfectly for peak fall color, and we had perfect weather and lovely skies. It never hurts to be lucky.

Look for photos from this year's trip to be posted to the Michigan gallery during the next couple of months.

From Haymarsh we moved on to Buckhorn Creek, a little park we also photographed during my 2008 trip. There was fog, a little too dense, over the creek, and steady rain, which eventually became quite a downpour. My aging Canon EOS 5D, a camera not known for being tolerant of moisture, got completely soaked, as did I. To make up for that, I got no pictures there worth keeping. Fortunately, both the camera and I dried out and continue to function properly. Or at least adequately.

A Little Drier

Ted's brilliant maple, Michigan, U.S.

A rare beam of sun breaks through to light a maple posing in front of birches.

The next morning, while still damp, dark and gloomy, started out drier than the previous day. Our first shooting location for the day was on the private property mentioned above. This is about 150 acres of meadow, birch, oak, maple, and pine. A small creek meanders through one corner of the property. Judging by the number of deer stands, some hanging in tatters from trees, others impressively robust and free-standing, the area sees some hunting activity. I don't know the hunting season dates in Michigan, but all was quiet while we were there. Rather than take any chances, we wore blaze orange vests.

The stream turned out to be uninteresting, but there was nice color in the trees, including brilliant reds in the oaks. Oaks often don't exhibit much color, but instead simply turn brown in autumn. Their fiery color this year was a pleasant surprise. Everything was drenched, the sky was leaden, and the colors really popped. Many of the birches were a little past prime color, but in a few places the white bark made a nice, contrasting backdrop to the other trees. We spent a couple of hours wandering the property, filling memory cards with yellows, reds, greens, and golds. I'd have been happy to spend more time there, and I've no doubt Steve will go back in other seasons. But we had plans to visit another area I really wanted to see, so we moved on about 10:00 AM.

An Old Barn, and Power Poles

Our last stop was in a tiny corner of the Manistee National Forest. On the way we passed an interesting old derelict, a crumbling barn tucked into a stand of brilliant maples. I have a weakness for these old wrecks, as described in an article I wrote in December, 2011. The contrast between the wood siding and the golden maples added a nice dimension to what might not have caught my eye had we driven past in mid-summer. Steve obligingly stopped the car, and sensibly waited inside while I played with the scene (in the rain, which had started up again not long before) for a while.

Old barn and golden maple trees, Hinton Twp, Michigan, U.S.

Old barn, new color, Hinton Township, MI.

In the Manistee we photographed in an area of planted red pines. Many of the trees are of a similar age and size, and are in fairly symmetrical rows. It's an fun place to photograph, as one can move around and find interesting compositions using the strong vertical component. I used my panorama rig for most of my work there, resulting in photos like the one at the top of this article. Steve has created a number of panoramas in this area, some of which have been printed up to five feet (1.5 m) wide.

Where I live, in western Montana, we often have very nice fall color; this year was no exception. To find it, one often must look down rather than up into the trees. But we don't have the hardwood forests of the east. The maples, oaks, and beeches aren't common here. We had a very nice time in Ohio and Michigan this fall. Michigan, especially, brought out a nice fall palette for us this year. Thanks, Steve, for the planning and for the days outside photographing a little of Michigan's paintbox.

October, 2012