Off-Peak Performance: Dealing With Pre- and Post-Peak Fall Foliage Periods

Pre-peak colors in the White Mountains National Forest (5-image HDR compilation).
Pre-peak colors in the White Mountains National Forest (5-image HDR compilation).

Story & photos by F. M. Kearney

A few years ago, I went to the White Mountains National Forest in New Hampshire to capture the fall colors. I booked the trip weeks in advance, scheduled for mid-September – figuring that should be around the peak period in that part of the country. It was my first time visiting the New England area, so I was really anxious to witness and photograph its legendary color display. As fate would have it, I arrived about a week too soon. The photo above, shot along the Saco River in Bartlett, NH, was representative of the amount of color (or lack thereof) I was greeted with. Although the scenery was quite beautiful, the colors were nowhere near as vivid as what I was expecting.

When I got back home, I turned to Photoshop to see how I might improve my images. In the past, I had gotten terrific results using a special blur filter, called the Gaussian Blur. This filter adds a beautiful glow to your image, while also increasing its color saturation. It can be applied locally to selected areas, or globally – affecting the entire image. For my purposes, I chose the latter. Below is the opening photo with the Gaussian Blur technique applied.

Pre-peak colors enhanced with the Gaussian Blur technique.
Pre-peak colors enhanced with the Gaussian Blur technique.

Unfortunately, this filter alone will not produce the effect you see here. In fact, simply applying it to your image will only result in a blurry image. It’s definitely not a one-click solution to a perfect photo. Hence, the reason why I use the word “technique” instead of “filter.” To achieve optimum results, a considerable amount of prep is necessary, but the end results are well worth the effort.

To start off, I create a “high-key” image in the Camera Raw software. I lighten the exposure, highlights and whites; while reducing the contrast, shadows and blacks. Once I bring it into Photoshop, I copy the image by duplicating the layer. I then open a Levels Adjustment Layer and lighten the image even more. (I’ll explain the reason for all of this lightening in a second.) Next, I click on the background copy and apply the filter: Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. Duplicating the layers is what prevents you from ending up with a blurry image. The blur is only applied to the background copy, while the original background remains sharp – creating an overall, soft glow. The amount of radius (blur) to apply is subjective, but I find that a single-digit setting for small files and a 20+ setting for larger files generally works well. My files are over 200mb, so I usually choose a setting between 34 and 36. I then make sure that the Opacity, located with the Layers panel, is set to 100% and select “Multiply” as the blending mode. This is why I lighten the image so much. The Multiple mode drastically increases the contrast and saturation. When I first started using the Gaussian Blur, I would only apply it to images taken on cloudy days. The high-contrast levels I got with this blending mode were consistently blocking up my shadow details. I could have chosen other modes, but they didn’t produce quite the same type of effect. The excessive over-lightening solved that problem. However, if you don’t experience these issues, you can probably skip the lightening step in Camera Raw. Finally, I return to the Levels layer and adjust the exposure to my liking. In most cases, the image will still need a bit of fine-tuning. After some selective burning and dodging and a desaturation of some of the more overly vivid colors, the image is finally complete. If you absolutely hate doing a lot of digital editing, a much easier workaround would be to simply increase the color saturation globally, or of specific colors. However, the overall tone won’t be as rich, and of course, you won’t get that nice, soft glow.

Original photo without Gaussian Blur technique.
Original photo without Gaussian Blur technique.
Gaussian Blur technique applied.
Gaussian Blur technique applied.

The Gaussian Blur technique doesn’t just come in handy during the off-peak periods. Last year, I photographed the fall colors at their peak in Wolfe’s Pond Park, in Staten Island, NY. The image above on the left is the finished, original photo. On the right, is the photo with the technique applied. Since the colors didn’t really need that much enhancing, I spent most of my time desaturating them afterwards. But the technique still produced a much richer-looking image overall.

While shooting in that same park, I came across a more wooded area where the colors were a bit past-peak. I could have used the Gaussian Blur technique here as well, but in this case, it wouldn’t have produced the effect I wanted. What initially attracted me to the scene was the abundance of tall trees receding into the background. Staten Island, the most rural of the five boroughs, is one of the few places within the confines of New York City where you can see scenes like this. I wanted to emphasize, not only the trees, but also the dwindling amount of foliage remaining. The photo below conveys what I saw, but not necessarily what I envisioned.

Past-peak conditions (original photo).
Past-peak conditions (original photo).

In order to emphasize the trees, I turned to another one of Photoshop’s blur filters, called the Motion Blur: Filter>Blur>Motion blur. Before applying it I, once again, duplicated the layer. The Motion Blur is defaulted to apply the blur at a 90-degree angle, which is exactly what I wanted for this image. If that doesn’t suit your needs, you can change the angle to whatever you want. I then selected the “Distance,” which determines the amount of blur. My image was now completely blurred with a vertical streak. This emphasized the trees, but did nothing for the foliage. But, because I duplicated the layer, I could now remove the effect from select portions of the image. I applied a layer mask to the background copy and selected the brush tool. With the foreground color set to black, I could now “paint” back in the foliage in selected locations. (If I go too far and remove too much blur, I can paint it back in by setting the foreground color to white.) All of this is completely customizable by adjusting the Opacity and Flow amounts. The photo below represents my vision of the scene.

Past-peak conditions with Motion Blur filter.
Past-peak conditions with Motion Blur filter.

Sometimes, you might be faced with a situation of great color in one area, but hardly any other significant color around it. You could, of course, just zoom in on it and call it a day. However, tight closeups can’t convey a “sense of place.” If the place is especially grand, you might want to show more of it than just a little snippet – which could have been shot anywhere. 

A patch of color along the Saco River in the White Mountains National Forest.
A patch of color along the Saco River in the White Mountains National Forest.

The image above is another scene from the White Mountains National Forest. Unlike the opening photo, a significant amount of color is localized right in the center of the frame. Rather than trying to enhance what little color there was surrounding it, I decided to go in a totally different direction.

Patch of color enhanced by a greyscale rendition.
Patch of color enhanced by a greyscale rendition.

Rendering everything else as a greyscale really made the color stand out – sort of like when a bride deliberately chooses the most hideous bridesmaids dresses in creation in order to make herself look better by comparison. But, unlike an insecure bride’s intentions, this method produces an almost fine-art version of the scene. It also gives the illusion that the entire area was awash with color. That can just be your little secret!

This effect is very easy to do. I just made a selection of the patch of color (including the reflection in the river) and inversed the selection. This selects everything but the color patch. I then converted the image to greyscale: Image>Adjustments>Black & White. Lastly, I inversed the selection again to reselect the patch, then slightly increased the overall color saturation. Also, when making a selection like this, when the intended effect will be drastic, it’s important to feather the selection with the Refine Edge tool. This will prevent a visible transition edge.

So, if you’re faced with less than stellar color this autumn… don’t despair. Using techniques like these just might produce images preferable to the standard fare.

F. M. Kearney began his photography career as a photojournalist for New York City newspapers. His focus soon shifted to capturing the beauty of the natural world. As an award-winning nature photographer, Kearney’s images have been widely published. A slight departure from photography, his recently published horror novel, “They Only Come Out at Night,” about supernatural happenings in the New York City subway (partially inspired by his travels as a photojournalist), is available on Amazon. To see more of Kearney’s work, visit http://www.starlitecollection.com.

Showcase 2019 Winner Profile – David Armer

Showcase 2019, Best in Show, Birds: Rough-legged Hawk in Flight with Catch © David Armer.

Showcase 2019, Best in Show, Birds: Rough-legged Hawk in Flight with Catch © David R. Armer.

Bio:

I was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. In grade school, I used my Dad’s Kodak Brownie and started shooting anything and everything.  In middle school, my Graphic Arts teacher taught me black and white processing and printing. This was the beginning of my love for photography.

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Nature Photographers Support the CASE Act

Photo of law  books.
Image by witwiccan, copyright cleared under license from Pixabay.

Story by Sean Fitzgerald

NANPA has worked long and hard to get Congress to pass the CASE Act (Copyright Alternative Small Claims Enforcement Act), which would provide photographers with the option of pursuing infringers in a small claims-type of process instead of federal district court.  You can read more about how the CASE Act will help photographers here: https://www.nanpa.org/advocacy/intellectual-property/case-act/

The good news is that the CASE Act has picked up bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. It just passed through committee in the Senate and will soon come before the House Judiciary Committee. If it passes there, the Act will proceed to a final vote in both chambers. 

In other words, this might actually happen! 

The CASE Act, HR 2426.
The CASE Act, HR 2426.

Is it a done deal? Nope. Unfortunately the so- called protectors of an “open internet” have awoken. Backed with cash from Silicon Valley, an army of lobbyists, and a fear-mongering scare campaign they have descended on Washington D.C. to righteously proclaim that the CASE Act is just an evil plot to destroy the internet by unleashing copyright trolls on unsuspecting innocents. They screech that the “sky is falling” because photographers like you and me want to use it to go after innocent grandmothers who repost social media memes on their Facebook pages.  

As we say in Texas, “I s#*t you not.”

Here is where you come in. Your voice will help drown out the nay-sayers and push this bill over the finish line. Over the next few weeks, NANPA is joining the “50 States in 20 Days” campaign to send specific messages to legislators in each state on a single, specific day. Be on the lookout for emails with specific instructions for the messages we would like you to send. Contacting your representatives will only take a few minutes, but will help make a huge difference.

WE CAN DO THIS!

Hidden Rivers

Chub nest
Chub nest.

A film and photography exhibit celebrating the freshwater life of Southern Appalachia

Story and photos by David Herasimtschuk

A true spectacle of biodiversity, freshwater hosts a teeming collage of colors, shapes and behaviors. These flowing waters are essential to life. Yet, as a society dependent upon this vital resource, how often do we look beneath the water’s surface? Over the last ten years, Freshwaters Illustrated has worked to document the vibrancy and wonder of life found in the rivers and streams of Southern Appalachia, North America’s most biologically-rich waters. This unique region harbors the world’s richest temperate fish fauna and is home to the highest diversity of freshwater mussels, snails, crayfish and salamanders on the planet. Highlighting this great variety, Freshwaters Illustrated created its newest feature film, Hidden Rivers, which follows the work of conservation biologists and explorers throughout the region and reveals both the beauty and vulnerability of these ecosystems.

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National Parks in Appalachia

The Temple of Karnak is one of the more angular of the many limestone formations deep inside Mammoth Cave, Mammoth Cave National Park, KY.
The Temple of Karnak is one of the more angular of the many limestone formations deep inside Mammoth Cave, Mammoth Cave National Park, KY.

Story & photos by Jerry Ginsberg

The national park movement originally grew out of the 19th century recognition that it was important to protect the spectacular natural wonders of the American west. It took a few more decades for the eastern part of our country to gain some respect for its own scenic gems. Eventually, however, many national parks were established east of the Mississippi and now play host to scores of millions of visitors annually. Three of these, Mammoth Cave, Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains, form a line through the Appalachians and were created at the urging of FDR.

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Showcase 2019 Winner Profile – Betty Sederquist

Showcase 2019, Judges' Choice, Altered Reality: Painterly View of Tom Turkey © Betty Sederquist.

Showcase 2019, Judges’ Choice, Altered Reality: Painterly View of Tom Turkey © Betty Sederquist.

Bio:

Betty Sederquist, a resident of northern California, has been publishing her images in magazines, calendars and textbooks since the 1970s. Her first love is nature photography: wildlife and landscapes. Since 1999, she has led photo workshops and trips near and far. A former resident of Alaska, she has returned to the northland with other photographers almost every year since moving from the state in 1979. Another favorite destination is Africa; she has been to Tanzania four times. Other beloved destinations have included Iceland, Ecuador and Bhutan.

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It’s Showtime!

This photo of monarch butterflies was a Top 250 image in last year's Showcase. (It was also a winner in Nature's Best Backyards contest. ) Photo © Tom Haxby.
This photo of monarch butterflies was a Top 250 image in last year’s Showcase. (It was also a winner in Nature’s Best Backyards contest. ) Photo © Tom Haxby.

From the President: Tom Haxby

It is always amazing to look back through my collection of older NANPA Expressions magazines (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2018 and 2019) featuring the top 250 photos from the Showcase competition for that year. I may be missing a few years in my collection, but I am sure the photos in those years are incredible too. NANPA has a lot of really, really talented photographers and I am always in awe of the award-winning nature images our members capture. Occasionally, I have been fortunate to have an image place in the top 250 and I always enjoy seeing my photograph along with all of the other spectacular photos.

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Showcase 2019 Winner Profile – Jeff Vanuga

Showcase 2019, Judges' Choice, Scapes: White Dome Geyser under the Milky Way, Yellowstone, © Jeff Vanuga.

Showcase 2019, Judges’ Choice, Scapes: White Dome Geyser under the Milky Way, Yellowstone, © Jeff Vanuga.

Bio:

Jeff Vanuga is based in Dubois, Wyoming, and specializes in both advertising and editorial media. His work has been published worldwide in magazines and major advertising campaigns. He has won major international awards and leads tours for the largest photography tour company in the world, Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, and additional tours for National Geographic Expeditions, First Light Workshops, African Wildlife Foundation, Nature’s Best Magazine, Santa Fe Workshops and the Moab Photography Symposium. He is represented by Getty Images and the Nature Picture Library stock agencies.

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Showcase 2019 Winner Profile – Jackie Kramer

Showcase 2019, First Runner-up, Altered Reality: Dead Tide – Stolen Lives © Jackie Kramer.

Showcase 2019, First Runner-up, Altered Reality: Dead Tide – Stolen Lives © Jackie Kramer.

Bio:

Jackie Kramer resides in St. Augustine, FL, after living in Alaska for almost 30 years. She has been photographing the natural world, with an emphasis on flowers, since the age of 16. Jackie has earned awards from The International Garden Photographer of the Year (IGPOTY); from the Jacksonville Professional Photographers Guild (Best in Show in 2017 and 2018 and Competitor of the Year in 2017 and 2018), and by the Professional Photographers of America’s International Photographic Competition (Silver Medal in 2018). Jackie maintains an active Facebook group, Phlorography- Artistic Floral Photography, with over 5,000 passionate floral photographers from around the world. She is committed to enriching others through the support and relationships developed and fostered through this network.

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Weekly Wow! Week of August 19, 2019

All of this week’s Weekly Wow! images can be seen in the slideshow on the NANPA homepage at nanpa.org.

Showcase 2019 Top 100 winner: Cubs Play While Protected by Their Mother, Wapusk National Park, Manitoba, Canada. © Steven Barger.

Showcase 2019 Top 100 winner: Cubs Play While Protected by Their Mother, Wapusk National Park, Manitoba, Canada. © Steven Barger.

The following Showcase images have been selected to appear on the NANPA home page for the week beginning Monday, August 19, 2019.  To view all of the top 250 photographs from NANPA’s 2019 Showcase competition, see the photo gallery on the NANPA website.  The period for entering your best shots in this year’s Showcase began August 1st and runs  through September 16th.  What are you waiting for?  Let’s get shooting!  Your best shot might be your next one.

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