It happened sometime last week, I woke up at the usual time and looked out the window, like every other morning. In the gray pre-dawn light I was greeted by wind driven rain, and barren black tree branches swaying wildly back and forth. Instantly, a sad feeling came over me. Autumn was over.
Sure, the calender says it's fall for five more weeks, but at that moment it unofficially ended. It's not like you couldn't see it coming, the temperature was dropping, the crisp breeze had turned into a biting wind, and the gaudy foliage was fading to more somber hues with each passing day. When the sun went down the night before, though, there were still plenty of leaves on the trees, and the hope of another colorful autumn day. But overnight it all changed, it always seems to happen that way.
For as long as I can remember, fall has been my favorite time of year. No surprise really, autumn in New England is pretty spectacular. I've always liked the cooler weather, fall sports, apples, cider and just about everything else that goes with the season. As a photographer, the spectacular colors and softening light create seemingly limitless picture possibilities, as well.
Every autumn I spend many hours trying diligently to capture the color and beauty I see all around. The pictures always seem to fall a little flat, though, photographs rarely outshine nature itself, or images captured in the human eye and mind. But that doesn't keep me from trying, and the results aren't all bad.
I'm usually most underwhelmed when I first go through the photos, because they don't live up to my memory of the scene. As time goes by and the mental images fade, the photographs tend to grow on me. Shooting fall foliage depends so much on the light. In order to capture the rich colors, I shoot mostly on overcast days, a holdover from the film days. That helps keep the colors saturated, but pictures can look dull and flat. It's harder to capture the brilliant colors on a crisp sunny autumn day, and I rarely shoot foliage in direct sunlight, although I do sometime like the results of backlighting, like the picture above. Another problem I have is, that despite the beautiful colors, editing foliage pictures is very laborious for me and takes away a lot of the fun of the capturing the beauty of the season. With stationary subjects, it's easy to take lots of different views, but I find it painstaking work to choose between them.
I also like to vary my subjects. Trees and foliage are everywhere, but I like to find the equally colorful but less obvious plants, like Sumac and Virginia Creeper. One of those is plants is Glasswort, which grows in salt marshes and turns deep red in the fall. It really stands out to me and every year I shoot it, though I'm rarely happy with the results. This year I photographed a few nice patches of Glasswort and pushed the processing a bit to get the pictures below. The saturated colors in the photographs are a bit exaggerated, but that's how I remember seeing it.
When I find a patch of Glasswort in a marsh, I keep checking it hoping to photograph a bird or animal walking through it, but it never seems to happen. This year I finally found a Great Egret that would feed in such a spot, and even though it was a little past peak, the red plants added a splash of color to the otherwise ordinary pictures.
Since taking an interest in birds, I've come to appreciate fall for yet another reason. With migration in full swing, the variety of birds in Connecticut is great. Whether it's a rare bird passing through the state or a common one found year round, photographing birds with a backdrop of brilliant fall foliage or even a hint of autumn color is always a bit special, and has resulted in some of my favorite pictures over the years. It's also easier and more enjoyable for me to work on pictures that capture the colors of the season, but also have an interesting subject as the focal point.
This fall I spent quite a few mornings working in the community gardens at Bauer Park in Madison. In past years I've photographed there in early September, because the flower gardens attract a good variety of butterflies. With reports of some uncommon birds being seen there this October, I stopped to see if I could get a look at them. I did get to see most of the better sightings in my fist couple visits, including Blue Grosbeak, Grasshopper, Vesper and Lincoln's Sparrows, but didn't get any good pictures of them. What kept me coming back was the colorful autumnal backdrop that had all kinds of picture potential.
I have adopted "ride the hot hand" strategy for photography that has worked out many times over the years. When I find an area where I see good stuff, and get some good shots, I keep going back to it until it cools off. Sometimes these are pretty odd locations, like a stretch of a residential street that I drove through or a commuter parking lot. I may have never seen anything there before, and might never again, but for a week or two the area was hot spot. Bauer Park is a more likely spot, but when I started having some luck there, I kept going back. Most of the birds I photographed were common ones, plain looking goldfinches and sparrows that you could find anywhere. But, feeding on the sunflowers, overgrown weeds gone to seed and fading flowers in the garden, they seemed to capture the color of fall perfectly.
Savannah Sparrows were most plentiful, but their coloring and feather patterns are so variable that they always drew a long look. They also seemed to blend in perfectly with the autumn backdrop.
Among the most colorful birds there were Palm Warblers. They were not feeding on seeds at all, but hopping through the leftover vegetable plants looking for bugs.
These Palm Warblers were the yellow eastern race birds that also seemed to match nicely with the fall color scheme.
One day, from across the garden I kept seeing Eastern Bluebirds landing on the sunflowers. I moved closer, wondering if they were actually eating the sunflower seeds, too. As I got close enough, I could see that it wasn't the seeds they were after, but insects, like the spider caught by this male bluebird.
Eventually, this hot spot cooled off, like they always do. And a couple weeks later, a rainy, windy morning brought this colorful season to an end for another year.