David Noton On Location
Autumn colours in the Pertes de l'ain, Jura, Franche-comté. 15:47. 20 August 2017.
Our roving Canon photographer heads to France to capture the autumn colours in Jura
David Norton continues his journey across France and sets up, patiently awaiting the perfect lighting for his shot of a vibrant, lively forest full of opportunities…
It’s mid-afternoon and I’m stood by the tripod in the damp, dripping woods deep in a limestone gorge in eastern France, waiting for the sun to go in. It feels all wrong. My whole life seems to have been spent waiting for a gap in the clouds that sometimes never comes, now I’m impatiently hoping the glorious warm autumn sun will be obscured and the heavy, leaden grey skies will roll in again. Us photographers; we're seldom satisfied even in perfect instances.
The soft top-lighting of an overcast day is an undramatic light source that rarely gets the pulse racing. Distant views and landscapes rarely look their best under such lighting, as we all know only too well after many damp dispiriting days spent under leaden skies in Llanberis or Glencoe. But for subjects closer to the lens such as people, animals, plants, creepy crawlies and the details of nature's art in miniature diffused light from above is often perfect.
Dedicated macro photographers love soft top lighting and often take reflectors to soften the light further. Studio photographers replicate such lighting with fish friers, hazy heads, light tunnels, diffusers and reflectors. Most of us just have to wait for a grey day. In the places I go to its not often a long wait.
Natural light that's been diffused by cloud is perfect when venturing into the woods whether we be in Scotland's Tay Valley, under the maples in Nova Scotia, or here, immersed in the task of exposing moss covered rocks, scattered leaves and golden trees deep in the wooded limestone gorges of the Jura. Of course soft top-lighting isn't the only option for forest photography; low backlighting can be very effective. However, if we want to show all the lush colours, textures and details of an autumnal woodland then the low contrast light which has been softened by Mother Nature's big diffuser in the sky is the answer. Which is why
I’m waiting for the sun to go in here.
Eventually, it does, and I get back to work. I love these autumn days spent messing about in the woods getting all photographically self-indulgent. Hours slide past easily; its wonderfully therapeutic. Partners and family are unlikely to understand though; the notion of spending all afternoon making one picture will likely seem bizarre to them. But what do they know? There is something deeply satisfying about working one woodland valley, exploring all the options and methodically progressing towards photographic satisfaction. What else could you possibly prefer to be doing?
I compose another picture and contemplate my composition. It goes without saying that in the woods a good tripod is an absolute necessity, one that can get both high, and low. Don't even think about shooting hand held; it's just not an option, even at sky high ISOS. Stability aside working with good sturdy legs is so much more satisfying then battling with a flimsy tripod; it just feels right and everything fits into place. Another invaluable tool is a polarizing filter; wet leaves and mosses just look a deeper and more saturated colour at the right angle of rotation.
After what feels like a few minutes I glance at my watch; another hour has passed. It’s starting to get dark. Down here in the gorge the dim light levels are plunging; I’ve no need of neutral density filters for slow exposures here. Time for one more set up though. I re-frame, check my focus point and depth of field and take a test shot to check my exposure. I read on social media the other day some guy postulating that he doesn’t need to consider his histogram anymore as the dynamic range of cameras is so good now, but I don’t go with that at all. Making the perfect exposure to maximize signal to noise ratio makes sense whatever camera we’re using. And besides; it’s all part of the process, and the quest for perfection.