Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Autumnal Tints - photographed with the Fuji X-T1 and X100T

Thoreau's essay about the colors of autumn was published around the time of his death in 1862. In "Autumnal Tints" Thoreau saw the fading leaves of autumn, not as a sybols of death and decay, but as part of the beautiful process in regenerating new life.

As a photographer, I have spent many years photographing the peak colors of autumn. After reading Thoreau's essay, I took a new look at the leaves and began to realized that even after they have lost their brighter colors and begun their process of decay they display a sculptural beauty. I began photographing these late leaves of autumn in the 1980's with my Hasselblad, collecting the leaves and bringing them into the studio to be treated like any elegant prop and given a special treatment of lighting to bring out their best qualities. I have continued this project every year since.

The photos below are the results from this year's session of photographing for Autumnal Tints. They were taken on both the Fuji X-T1 with a Zeiss Touit 50mm macro lens, and the X100T set to macro mode with its 23mm f/2 lens. The optical qualities of each of these lenses are different. The Zeiss Touit is a superbly sharp modern lens producing crisp detail even when used wide open at f/2.8, as it was here. The Fujis 23mm f/2 lens is a gem in its own way. I like to use it wide open at f/2 where it has a softening quality similar to using older, uncoated optics on a digital camera.

The color images were processed as 16-bit RAW files into Classic Chrome and muted further by reducing the vibrance. Then, in Photoshop, I changed the color from Adobe RGB to LAB and punched up the muted tones. The colors are still very mute, but have a greater depth to the color range. Once finished the image is then converted back to RGB.

This photo was taken with the Fuji 23mm f/2 on the X100T, while the one below was shot with the X-T1 and Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 macro. Both were used with a wide open aperture.  The Touit is super sharp, then drifts quickly to a definite out-of-focus area, whereas the Fuji 23mm is somewhat sharp where focused and progresses slowly into out-of-focus with a pleasing atmospheric haze reminiscent of 19th century optics. 

Here is the quote from Thoreau's "Autumnal Tints" that inspired me to begin this project so many years ago. I reread it every year before I begin to photograph.  The essay, "Autumnal Tints",  is perhaps the best piece ever written on the subject of the changing leaves and what we might learn from it.

"It is pleasant to walk over the beds of these fresh, crisp, and rustling leaves. How beautifully they go to their graves! how gently lay themselves down and turn to mould!--painted of a thousand hues, and fit to make the beds of us living. So they troop to their last resting place, light and frisky. They put on no weeds, but merrily they go scampering over the earth, selecting the spot, choosing a lot, ordering no iron fence, whispering all through the woods about it,--some choosing the spot where the bodies of men are mouldering beneath, and meeting them half-way. How many flutterings before they rest quietly in their graves! They that soared so loftily, how contentedly they return to dust again, and are laid low, resigned to lie and decay at the foot of the tree, and afford nourishment to new generations of their kind, as well as to flutter on high! They teach us how to die. One wonders if the time will ever come when men, with their boasted faith in immortality, will lie down as gracefully and as ripe,--with such an Indian-summer serenity will shed their bodies, as they do their hair and nails."


  1. Lovely work, Tom. Shamed to admit it, but I'm not even sure what LAB is in Photoshop.

  2. LAB is a colorspace, like RGB or CMYK, but it is the most expansive colorspace containing all of the perceptive colors not just part of the spectrum. Working in LAB you can color enhance an image much more extensively to greater intensity without excessive contrast. It is non-destructive. Images must be converted back to RGB or CMYK for use when finished. That's a nutshell description. A fuller explanation would take a lot more than this comment space to describe its use. Access it through the Image>Mode> menu in Photoshop.

    1. Thank you, Tom. Very generous of you to share that summary of LAB's value ... along with where it appears in PS. Must file this away in memory for possible future experimentation.

      And I'll echo what the other commenter said: if you don't teach workshops [even small intimate ones in NYC], it seems like you really should.


  3. Tom,
    I have never, ever said this to ANY photographer, or even thought it but your images are just freakin' amazing man. I love your blog. It is INSPIRATIONAL to me. The ideas you come up with, the lighting, the stock work. Just amazing. I'm the same guy who a few months ago asked if you do any classes/workshops on stock work... Depending on what you charge I may/may not be able to attend but if you don't, it's something you definitely should consider!