Autumn Leaves


For someone who drives on one of three predetermined routes to and from work, biking is refreshing because the journey is the destination. Curiosity and intuition guide me instead of a GPS.

Last November, I pedaled past the usual scene of houses and detoured to the neighborhood park. The parking lot’s pavement, uneven with sound, was still the same. The tennis court was still cracked and missing its net. A suburban dog barked from across the street, but I parked and got off my bike anyway.

You may be thinking where do I live again? Well, never mind that.

While it did not feel like autumn, I discovered dying leaves on the ground that demonstrated their decay with wild color combinations. Each leaf had a different look that was fascinating to study, so I instantly knew that I would photograph each one in my studio-bedroom. I biked back home holding four leaves in my hand, because I don’t own or intend on owning a fanny pack.

My setup consisted of my camera, tripod, a small coffee table, and two sheets of white copy paper near my window. Simple, right? One sheet of paper served as the background, while the other (not pictured) reflected the noon sunlight to brighten the shadows beneath the leaves. I used my 50mm lens at 1/160sec, f/2.2, and ISO 400.

In the gif below, I summed up my image creation process into 8 main steps that require a basic understanding of Lightroom and Photoshop. The leaves were vibrant in reality, but their in-camera images appeared drab. So in steps 2-4, I imported the images into Adobe Lightroom to boost the Contrast, Clarity, and Dehaze settings.

I also prefer a strong presence of color in my artwork, so I exported the images into Photoshop to replace their backgrounds with solid colors in steps 5-8. Isolating an object from its environment removes it from its context and brings it to the center of its viewer’s attention. Even with irregular coloration, the leaves became easier to study by being contained within a plain background.

Each color maintains a shape that interacts with other colors, creating compelling relationships. The green regions look like islands emerging from a dominant orange-yellow ocean, which blends into a punchy orange with the leaf veins at their base.

The entire leaf displays variations of the orange, yellow, and green hues in slow transition into the final dark, dehydrated shade of orange called brown. Each of the colored regions’ shapes fit together in the leaf’s composition. Side note: this would be a fun image to paint.

I got carried away with the pretty colors, so I drew this leaf in my journal with Sharpie pens!

Here’s a different version using small shapes and strokes!

Thanks for reading! Do you have any questions for me about my work or image creation process? If so, please ask in the comments below.

Until next time,