If at first you don’t succeed…

Gary Hart Photography, Yosemite autumn leaves

Floating, Merced River, Yosemite
Canon EOS-5D Mark III
105 mm
.6 seconds
ISO 800

In early November of 2007 I took a picture that didn’t quite work out. That’s not so unusual, but somehow this one stuck with me, and I’ve spent seven years trying to recreate the moment I missed that night.

On that evening seven years ago, the sun was down and the scene I’d been working for nearly an hour, autumn leaves clinging to a log in the Merced River, was receding into the gathering gloom. The river darkened more rapidly than the leaves, and soon, with my polarizer turned to remove reflections from the river, the the leaves appeared to be suspended in a black void. Every few frames I’d add more light, weighing the noise introduced by a higher ISO versus the potential for motion blur of a longer shutter speed.

Yet despite the great potential, I struggled to find a composition that would do the scene justice. About the time I decided my scene lacked a visual anchor, a place for the eye to land, a leaf drifted along the top of my frame and I clicked. On my LCD the result looked perfect, and I felt rewarded for my persistence. But back home on my large monitor, I could see that everything in the frame was sharp except my anchor point. If only I’d have bumped my ISO instead of my shutter speed….

Intrigued by the unrealized potential, I returned to this spot each autumn, but the stars never aligned—too much water (motion); dead (brown) leaves; no leaves; too many leaves; no anchor point—until this week. Not only did I find the drought-starved Merced utterly still, “my” log was perfectly adorned with a colorful leaf assortment anchored by an interlocked pair of heart-shaped cottonwood leaves.

I worked the scene until the darkness forced too much compromise with my exposure settings. In the meantime, I filled my card with horizontal and vertical, wide and tight, versions of the scene with the log both straight and diagonal. I also played with the polarizer, sometimes dialing up the reflection of overhanging trees. But I ultimately decided on the one you see her, which is pretty close to my original vision.

I can’t begin to express how happy photographing these quiet scenes makes me. I’ve done this long enough to know that it’s the dramatic landscapes and colorful sunsets that garner the most print sales and Facebook “Likes,” but nothing gives me more personal satisfaction than capturing these intimate interpretations of nature.

A gallery of autumn intimates

Click an image for a closer look, and to enjoy the slide show

8 Comments on “If at first you don’t succeed…

  1. Hi Gary,

    I’m with you! Some of the most satisfying photographs that I’ve taken satisfy me and not many others. Fortunately I don’t have to rely on others to judge what I like or don’t like. Don’t get me wrong, I love to have positive feedback from others, but in the end if I’m not pleased then it doesn’t work.


    Ralph French

    Have camera Will Shoot

  2. These are among my favorites as well Gary. They are beautiful! I get lost in intimate scenes like this, and lose track of time… and sometimes get in trouble from my workshop group buddies, who are waiting on me to go to breakfast! 🙂

  3. Gary- the beauty of these photos is the inspiration that they bring to me. Viewing your work helps open my eyes to see how to shoot in a different way, rather than the “traditional” way. Thanks for the time and effort that you put into your images.

  4. Nice set of photos. Persistence has its rewards. I like the black frame bisected by the twisted log and its subtle reflection. The colorful anchors help to pull in the eye.

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