Says Mary Oliver: “Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore unsuitable. I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours. Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible.”

Oak trees with Lace lichen, or Ramalina menziesii in autumn , Rush Creek Open Space, Marin County overlooking Petaluma Marsh

I feel the same way when I go for a walk, especially when I bring my camera. I go expecting to get lost in whatever I find. Some days I just need to go and get lost in beauty, looking for the gifts that nature gives us without her even trying.

On such a day in late autumn, needing a break from the tedium of the computer, I went across the avenue to be among the Oak trees on Pinheiro Ridge. A tree or two had some lingering leaves and it seemed the perfect time to witness the transition from autumn to winter.

Panorama of Quercus kelloggii, California Black Oak trees in autumn on Pinheiro Fire Road, on ridge of Rush Creek Open Space, Marin County

With the trees in various stages of undress I need to decide whether to photograph the foliage of autumn or the starkness of winter. I began with winter; bare trees and silhouettes.

Every small difference in camera angle revealed a new composition, every move a new juxtaposition of lines.

Quercus kelloggii, California Black Oak trees against the sky in winter on Pinheiro Fire Road, Rush Creek Open Space, Marin County

Exhausted by the dizzying possibilities of black and white branch pattern mosaics, I needed color and turned back to fall foiage.

Quercus kelloggii, California Black Oak trees in autumn on Pinheiro Fire Road, Rush Creek Open Space, Marin County

Going directly under the tree and looking up, I became mesmerized by a new group of mosaics.

Looking up at Quercus kelloggii, California Black Oak tree with leaf pattern in fall color silhouette

Pointing the camera straight up atop my extended tripod, and using the four sides of the viewfinder as a framing tool, wonderful compositions appeared.

Sometimes what I saw did not fit into the perfect rectangle of my viewfinder, the 2:3 ratio of a full frame 35mm camera. But how easy it is, in the days of digital files, to crop a photo to what the photographer previsualized. From this full frame:

… to one full frame perfect rectangle crop:

… To this panorama – cropped from the top half off the original image:

The more I looked, the more I saw. Here in this full frame group of leaves becomes a Japanese block print, once it was cropped from this:

To this:


Quercus kelloggii, California Black Oak trees in autumn on Pinheiro Fire Road, Rush Creek Open Space, Marin County

What exhilarating fun. I spent hours looking at these compositions, finally needing a break when my neck began to ache from standing under the extended tripod looking up and squinting through the camera.

Back in the office the work of transforming the raw images into photos does require the computer to bring the previsualized scene back into the digital file, but really, it is fun too. Just as magical as the darkroom.

Screenshot – highlight recovery, oak branches

The complex tools of photo post productional are another lesson for another day.

I began this conversation admiring Mary Oliver, saying “I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend”. But truth be told, I did not. As man’s best friend, Kona enjoyed her walk too.

Kona dog under Oak trees in autumn on Pinheiro Fire Road, Rush Creek Open Space, Marin County

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