The prophet of Fall Color slowly gets our attention. Starting the end of August, leaves gradually turn from greens to reds and yellows until peak season stops us in our tracks. Without saying a word, Fall Color even speaks to people indifferent toward nature.
The prophet tells us that transformation is unstoppable. And, it can be beautiful.
Fall Color even has a way of transforming spectators into thinkers, artists and scientists. Throughout time, those very fall colors are captured in poetry, paintings, photography and scholarly essays.
Robert Louis Stevenson, circa 1885, penned in “A Child’s Garden of Verses:”
Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers.
The red fire blazes,
The gray smoke towers.
Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer, Fires in the fall!
Painters have been able to illustrate year-round by putting to canvas the “fires in the fall.” Plein-air artists surround themselves in the colorful outdoors and paint a detailed scene to last for decades. Others work in the studio to bring fall color to life.
Treadwell artist Marie Cummings has garnered two methods of capturing fall colors. “I pick leaves and use them as stamps or stencils in my artwork,” she said.
Cummings’ art studio is equipped with bright color paints. “The fall colors are first brushed onto the canvas as a background,” explained Cummings. “Then, I’ll paint a leaf and use it as a stamp on the painting.”
To highlight the intricacies of the leaf, Cummings said, “I’ve added gold paint to the leaf along the veins.”
“As for using leaves as a stencil, you can create a negative painting,” said Cummings. “A negative painting paints around the object, rather than painting the object, or leaf. I created a piece that was finished with a patina, giving a look of fall colors reflected in water.”
“I first textured the board with a gel medium,” explained Cummings. “After letting it dry, I painted the board a fall color, generally a lighter color. Then I lay the leaf on the board as a stencil. While painting another layer of a different fall color over the whole board, the area under the leaf remains untouched.” Repeating the layers and stenciling, the final result contains leaves of many fall colors, true to life.
Amy Lowell, circa 1919, penned in “Pictures of the Floating World”:
Flung out of a pale green stalk,
Round, ripe gold
Meticulously frilled and flaming,
A fire-ball of proclamation:
Fecundity decked in staring yellow
For all the world to see.
All day I have watched the purple vine leaves
Fall into the water.
And now in the moonlight they still fall,
But each leaf is fringed with silver.
Only in the last century have photographers been able to capture fall colors. “Back in the 1980s, I had to start a business offering wedding photography to pay for my nature shooting habit,” said Mike Stuligross of Walton, who has fall color photography hanging on the walls at the family home. “Before the advent of digital cameras, paying for film and developing got expensive.”
Stuligross took photography classes when he was a kid. “I also took a black-and-white (photography) class at Hartwick College after I got married in 1987.” Now, he teaches photography to 4-H members and tells them, “Take many, many pictures. Digital shooting allows for you to take many pictures and then select the best.”
“Taking pictures of the beautiful hillsides is generally accessible to anyone,” Stuligross said. “You can find a vista point or stop on the road and take pictures. Avoid telephone lines and poles.”
Besides landscapes painted with many different colors, Stuligross also experiments with close-up shots of leaves.
“One method, is I’ll collect radiant leaves and put them in a bag, then walk around the woods until I find a unique setting such as a large rock,” Stuligross said. “I’ll place leaves on the rock and take pictures.”
Variety is key to getting good results, Stuligross explained.
“I change the camera settings multiple times,” he said. “Under expose, over expose, move around, and keep snapping pictures. In the end, I have a large choice to select the best picture from.”
Timing is important, too. “I recommend shooting fall color pictures from sunrise to an hour after, or from an hour before sunset to sunset,” added Stuligross. “Morning dew is great. Mid-day sun tends to give the picture a bleached look. But, if it rains during the day, you usually can get a good picture. Water adds to a photo.”
When teaching, Stuligross purposefully gives vague assignments to his students, because, “The kids are creative. They’ll do things I hadn’t thought of, like take a picture from under a leaf or looking up through the trees, or they’ll lie on the ground and take many pictures.”
To frame your subject artfully, Stuligross offered up a trick to remember.
“A key rule is to offset the main object of interest in the photo,” he said. “I look through the lens and mentally draw tic-tac-toe lines. I put the main object, not dead center in the picture, but on one of the cross marks of the tic-tac-toe lines.”
The right frame can offer an artistic counterpoint to the finished print.
“Once you get the perfect photo, you can find a mat and frame to finish the picture,” said Stuligross. “I take the photo with me to the store and match it to a mat. The mat should complement the picture.”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, circa 1883, penned in “The Autumn:”
Hear not the wind—view not the woods
Look out o’er vale and hill
In spring, the sky encircle them
The sky is round them still.
Come autumn’s scathe — come winter’s cold
Come change — and human fate!
Whatever prospect Heaven doth bound,
Can ne’er be desolate.
Not to be dismissed, the scientist, moved by fall colors, has uncovered knowledge in regard to the unbearably stunning phenomenon of fall colors. The fall color change is due to a chemical process in the leaves instigated by shorter days and cooler air. During the growing season, most tree leaves appear green because they’re full of chlorophyll and reflect green light, obscuring other leaf pigments from being reflected.
The shorter autumnal days causes the chlorophyll to stop being produced, allowing the other leaf pigments to show their presence of yellows, oranges, reds and purples. At the same time, surging sugar concentrations cause increased production of the different pigments.
In “The Autumn,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning bid us:
Go, sit upon the lofty hill,
And turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild,
Do hymn an autumn sound.