Thursday, 29 September 2022 15:04

Gardening with Peter Bowden: Foliar Flourishes

By Peter Bowden | Home & Garden
Carotenoids make yellow and anthocyanins make red. Carotenoids make yellow and anthocyanins make red.

There’s no place on earth that provides a better show of autumnal awesomeness than the northeastern United States.  We have the good fortune to be right in the middle of an area well known for fine foliar flourishes.  Leaf peepers from across the country come here while all we need to do is wait for the color to arrive in our own neighborhood.

So why the grand show at the end of the growing season?  Where do all these colors come from? For the most part, they were already in the leaves but we couldn’t see them.  While the leaves are growing, the elements that show themselves in fall are masked by the green chlorophyll that converts sunlight into food and energy for the tree.  When the days get short enough, the tree stops creating chlorophyll and as the green fades, the underlying color of the leaf finally gets a chance to strut its stuff.

Carotenoids are responsible for the yellow and orange foliage we see.  As the name suggests, carotenoids are also what makes carrots orange.  Carotenoids color maples, ash, hickory, birch, shadblow and many other trees that display yellow in fall.

Anthocyanins  can claim credit for most of the red and purple.  In fall, anthocyanins tint oaks, some maples, dogwood and others.  Trees will often have both carotenoids and anthocyanins present in their leaves and will display stunning combinations of color.

It would seem that there could be nothing easier than taking a great fall foliage photograph.  I’ve spent years in the area, and I have to tell you that it isn’t as easy as it seems.  It is a spellbinding experience, but it’s difficult to capture the essence of it in a photograph.  I’ve travelled miles seeking the perfect vista with little to show for my effort.  Over the years I’ve discovered, that when photographing fall foliage, the delight is in the details.  Moving in closer allows us to capture more intimate autumn moments in a way that we actually experience when we walk through it. 

On a walk through an autumn forest, our eye is often drawn to the beauty of individual leaves.  When the sun shines through the leaves, they glow in the backlighting.  I became fascinated trying to capture that glow in extreme close-up images or macro images.  Naturally this was very difficult since the leaves are in constant motion. 

I started collecting the best of the brightly tinted leaves to bring them inside to photograph them.  I have a small light table I’ve used in the past for looking at old negatives and slides.  I discovered that I could get great results by placing a leaf on the light table under a small pane of glass to photograph.  You could also use a tablet computer with a blank white screen.  This eliminated any motion and allowed me to move in very close with the camera in its “macro” setting.  Suddenly a whole new way of seeing fall foliage opened up.  These days, most of us have a camera on our phone capable of taking close up images.  Even entry level digital cameras have a “macro” setting that will capture images that once required expensive equipment to get the same results.  These days, all you need is a light source and a little imagination. Have fun and enjoy this season’s display but don’t forget to bring your camera along! 

Thanks for the read!

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