Background and Process



I've lived most of my life in a northern suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, a place where grass is scarce and seasons are nonexistent - unless of course you count "hot" and "scorching" as seasons. When I moved to Rochester I was taken by the plant life. Not since I was 7 years old had I experienced an autumn during which the leaves on the trees changed colors and dropped with the temperature. I spent my first two northeastern American autumns collecting, pressing, and appreciating the brilliant foliage I saw all around me. This fall I chose to study the process via photomacrography to see just what happens to those leaves through their colorful journey.

I chose to focus specifically on four trees: white birch, silver maple, red maple, and pigeon cherry; and a maleberry shrub. Having no real knowledge of trees in general, I chose these species based on the location/accessibility of each plant and the size and shape of its leaves. I photographed the leaves I chose at least once a week for 6 weeks starting in mid to late September. The first two weeks proved ultimately to be practice for the remaining four. Luckily, as all the leaves were changing and falling around the plants I had chosen, those seemed to belong to a group of plants which lose their leaves towards the very end of the season. I visited the hosts of my subjects today (11/9/08) and found that most leaves I would have wanted to use have now been evacuated by the elements.

During those six weeks I took over a specific Zeiss Stereoscope in our lab at school and gradually developed a method for efficiently photographing these challenging subjects under episcopic illumination. The stereoscope is tethered to a computer with AxioCam image capturing software which I took full advantage of. To photograph each leaf, I began by taping the tip and stem to a piece of poster paper or cardstock. I would then gently spread the leaf outward to ensure it was as flat as possible and tape down most, if not all, the edges. After the first few times shooting I decided to produce images at 2x and 5x at capture. My first shot for each leaf was always one of the stem and base of the leaf at 2:1 at capture. My intention was to give viewers an idea of each leaf's size compared to others from the same plant. My light source of choice quickly became a set of fiber optic lights easily controlled for a delicate lighting situation. As I began photographing I noticed a problem, with some leaves more than others; due to the inherent characteristics of the subject, I was imaging almost more diffraction than anything else. I began using water to help with the problem. The water worked to mostly rid my image of diffraction yet was difficult to focus through and contain. A couple shoots later I was pointed in the direction of glycerin and gave up water entirely. Glycerin provided a considerable amount of contrast and was much more manageable, due to its high viscosity. I was so excited with my images through glycerin but at the same time disappointed that I had not learned about it earlier. Something else I began trying late in the season was slicing out the stem from the center of the leaf after I got my first image in hopes of making the subject more parallel to the camera. I would not have minded realizing sooner that most of the challenge in getting the leaf to be in one plane parallel to the sensor was caused by the varying thickness of its stem.

If I was still shooting, I would still be learning how to improve upon and modify my method. I feel this year more than the last two that autumn came and went in a flash of brilliant hues all too quickly.