Sunday, October 31, 2021

Variations on fall color

Autumn Light, Japanese Maple, Seattle, Washington

It has been said that every picture has already been taken. More than a billion pictures are taken each day. And some are largely recreations of images that someone else has taken before.

With such a glut of photography is there anything left to do? It’s a question that was in the back of my mind this past month — a month I mostly spent photographing fall color, something I’ve done every October for more than 20 years now.

Ultimately, I think the people who cry “it’s all been done” are the same people who whine that “things were better in the good old days.” I’m grateful for any day that I get to go outside and create art. That gratitude helps me appreciate things, even when at first glance it seems like the scene before me is largely a re-run.

Even something familiar can still have things left to reveal. Do you have a favorite movie or a song that you’ve replayed over and over and over? Do you occasionally find something new to appreciate about it?

I’ve noticed that I seem to work in themes, even though it’s not something I plan in advance. Last year, I was struck by the sheer variety of colors that were visible. That inspired me to try to create individual images that showed as much of the color spectrum as I could. Here’s one:

Early Autumn Color, Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park, Renton, Washington

This year, my eye was drawn to contrasts. I was in the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park in Washington as the fall colors started to appear. I found myself absolutely captivated by two trees: one was a maple with golden leaves, the other was an evergreen coated with thick green moss. I loved the contrast between the two of them and got into a position where I could place them side by side.

Their differences were most striking when I shot into the sun. The mossy fringe glowed; the backlighting intensified the color of the leaves. Over a half hour, I tried tighter compositions until I found a great balance between the heavy, dark lines of the trunks and the light of the foliage and moss.

Clubmoss and Maple Leaves, Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic National Park, Washington

I didn’t know it at the time, but that shot set the mood for the rest of my fall color work this season. On subsequent outings to different parks, I found myself most interested in intense color that had graceful lines running through it. While there were a lot of beautiful autumn leaves to work with in the Seattle Arboretum, this year I spent all my time with a few Japanese maple trees.

Woodland Garden in Autumn, Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, Washington

That contrast was still interesting to me a few weeks later when I was working in a different Japanese garden in Seattle. I found a maple decked in brilliant color against soothing twists and turns of its trunk and branches. The sun briefly appeared as I was photographing the tree and I tried to position it at a point that would balance the composition.

Is the image (shown at the top of this post) new? I’m not the first to photograph a Japanese maple from the inside out. In fact, while I was in the park, the tree in my picture seemed to be the only one that didn’t regularly have a photographer under it.

I think we should sometimes look at pictures more like how we listen to music. “Take Me Home Country Roads” by John Denver, “Let It Be” by the Beatles, “Don't Stop Believin'” by Journey, and “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga are all based on the same progression of chords, but we have no trouble hearing them as different songs. They use some of the same ingredients, but they produce different messages and feelings.

I intended this image to be more about a feeling of peace and serenity than a documentation of its appearance on the day I visited the park. I was able to make about a dozen variations of this scene before the sun vanished behind the clouds. Tighter crops. More canopy. More ground. Horizontal. Even though each was taken moments apart — sometimes from the same vantage point — they convey different feelings.

In the end, I think this picture is uniquely mine, even if others have used the same basic ingredients.

(Follow Kevin Ebi's photography on Instagram or Facebook. Prints of his images are available through

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