Using a Telephoto Lens to Focus on the Spring Color
Having survived stick and waterfall seasons we are now firmly in leaf season. Mid to late spring is a time of infinitely varied curtains of green and it is one of my favorite times of the year. Not only can we say goodbye to the last remnants of winter (I hope), but the colors in the trees rival the autumn for warmth and brilliance. Too soon the leaves will settle into their deeper and more monotonous summer greens, but while it lasts I feel like a kid in a candy shop trying to capture the unique beauty of new beginnings.
Not the Grand View
So far this spring I have been concentrating on macro images of the early buds and flowers, but the colors of the spring leaves lend themselves to a broader canvas. In the Spring and Autumn, when the emphasis is on the color of the foliage, photographers often capture expansive images of hillsides with vast splashes of color. It is tempting to focus on the grand panoramas, but for me, these images are generally monotonously busy and without direction. I prefer to move in on the detail, arranging leaves, trunks and sky into more intimate compositions. I had great fun this early spring limiting myself to the world seen through my 100mm Macro lens, but for the spring foliage I decided to switch to my telephoto zoom generally restricting my view to the 300 - 400 mm range.
The Telephoto View
Long lens' change photographic vision in a number of ways. I found that the massive hunk of glass hanging from my shoulder quickly altered the focus of my attention as I scanned for more distant subjects that I could pull into the viewfinder. The long telephoto restricts the angle of view making it easier to isolate arrangements of leaves, tree trunks, branches and fauna into simple but powerful compositions. It compresses distant layers of foliage creating interesting and complex combinations of differing flora. At the same time, depending on aperture, the telephoto creates a narrow range of sharp focus allowing soft bokeh to simplify the image and draw attention to the main subject(s).
I started by scanning across pastures to the distant forest edge looking for patterns. The variously colored leaves created lovely montages while in other areas the dark branches provided interesting contrast with the soft foliage. Once I started looking, the compositions were everywhere. Foreground elements also helped to provide interest and context to the images. Through the perspective flattening effect of the long lens fences, sheep, and horses were compressed into the scene linking the background with the foreground interest. The effect can be subtle but still provides an almost unstated sense of connection which is very calming.
A couple of days ago I awoke to find a gentle mist hanging on the trees. I rushed out to shoot before the fog melted away. The depth enhancing effect of the mist combined with the compression of the telephoto produced lovely contrasts.
The leaves are beginning to settle into their summer hues. Sadly, the soft spring colors seem as fleeting as autumn's garish display, while it lasts it is well worth zooming in on the show.