Depends on where you look

tree trunk climbing in fall canopyWe are rapidly approaching ‘peak’ autumn color season here in this section of NC, which is slightly misleading in a couple of ways. First off, peak is different depending on latitude, humidity, and the conditions that the trees were in throughout the summer, so you never have to go very far to find different color conditions. Second, the trees all change at different times and different rates, so each species has its own time for brightest colors, and the best that anyone can aim for (if they’re looking for broad landscapes anyway,) are periods where the greatest number of species visible are closest together in ideal color. Obviously there’s a challenge to this, compounded by the bare fact that a good wind or rain storm near such times can wipe all the leaves from the trees. However, if you’re selective and go for smaller compositions rather than something like an entire hillside, you can shoot ‘peak’ colors for weeks.

Last weekend and yesterday, I got out chasing whatever subjects could be found, and right now that’s primarily autumn scenics – the arthropods have largely called it quits for the year, and even the waterfowl and mammals seem to be scarce, at least where I’ve been. The winter slump has begun, which means I’m going to go into my seasonal funk and try to find various projects to tackle for the next few months. Plus more archive shots will be used, naturally.

But not yet.

green oak leaves against sunlit fall colorsEarly morning is often a good time for scenic shots, but there’s a particular exception at this time of year: it’s not good if you’re in the woods looking for images, because it takes a long time for the sunlight to penetrate, and even if you find good colors, they’re likely to appear drab until the sun illuminates them, especially if you have to frame against the sky. So you end up watching for open patches where the sun can bring out the color, and perhaps even provide a little glowing backlight. Thus, here we have some oak leaves stubbornly clinging to their chlorophyll while in the background another species puts on a flamboyant display, and I took advantage of the contrast; you can see that not even the entire oak branch was catching the light. Note that some colors actually do well in open shade; the subtleties of lots of different fallen leaves often look better in subdued light than in bright light, which increases contrast too much. Most of the forest floor on these trips were carpets of lackluster browns and yellows, nothing too distinctive, so no compelling compositions could be found there yet, but perhaps I’ll dig up something a little later on.

beginning fall colors above an old tree stumpLast weekend was even harder, as the colors were sparse and widely separated, so a lot of selectivity and careful framing was in order – even though only two thin trees are producing color here, the angle made the most of them within the frame, and the stump formed the primary point of focus so the colors just kind of fill out the background as the setting. The sky was too clouded to provide any color itself, so the muted light is communicating the grey fall day thing, and you can see that the colors on the ground aren’t anything to write home (or a post) about. However, after getting back and seeing how this frame turned out, I realized I could have changed my angle only slightly and made that cluster of thicker trunks appear almost to ‘sprout’ from the stump, nicely aligned with the sides. I hate it when I get creative after the fact…

A week ago I posted the photo of the marbled orb weaver striving to be fartsy, and mentioned that those were close to the only wildlife I’d been seeing. This naturally means that I got more photos of the same species, and again, did my best to try and be creative; suffice to say that these aren’t going to win any awards, but are enough to show off on the blog.

marbled orb weaver Araneus marmoreus suspended against beginning fall colorsSuspended in the middle distance over a significant dropoff, I wasn’t going to get very close to this one, so I settled for capturing its subtle presence against the backdrop of the beginning autumn colors, managing to get a hint of the orb web in the image. Marbled orb weavers (Araneus marmoreus) seem to be conflicted: visible here and in that previous linked shot, they have very high visibility markings with the banded legs and the brilliant body colors, which is nature’s way of saying, “Back off!” without having the evolve little Yosemite Sam mudflaps, but they depend on their webs not being obvious in order to feed at all. To the best of my knowledge, flying insects take no note of their colors nor the curious ability to hover in midair apparently unsupported, and thus blunder into the webs, but the birds which might consider them a (sizable) tasty meal are alerted by the incongruous contrast and position. It’s one of those funny things, because like the black-and-yellow argiopes, it’s actually very easy to walk into such a web despite the bright colors, simply because they spider isn’t moving at all; we’re more attuned to movement and larger things ourselves, and can easily lose the spider against the background (more so as the colors develop.) This species is probably worse on the unexpected encounters scale, since argiopes tend to make webs at waist height, but all of the marmoreus I saw placed them right at face level or slightly higher. We managed not to experience that mistake, though.

marbled orb weaver Araneus marmoreus building new webVenturing out onto the slope the fell off underneath the web and switching lenses, I got a bit more of a detail shot of the same spider, seen now to be constructing the web – this was early morning, so I cannot say if this indicates that marbled orb weavers are more diurnal or if this one was simply making repairs after the previous web was damaged. The conditions hadn’t been quite right for dew, but you can make out a faintly beaded appearance along the web strands; I don’t know if this is actually dew or sticky fluid produced by the spider to increase the efficacy of the web. Now I’m going to have to observe these more closely, though I have rarely seen the species close by at all.

The next find, from yesterday morning, comes courtesy of the Ineluctable Al Bugg, who has had plenty of time to get the jump on me with his own images but is still displaying a beach trip from September as his latest post, possibly to rub it in. It was he, though, that was gazing up at the foliage (that I had already dismissed as being not interesting enough,) and said, “Hey, there’s a rainbow up there!” Now, it was almost perfectly clear at that time and no rainbow was going to be showing in the direction he was facing, since they appear opposite the sun and not nearly straight up, but I figured he had spotted a sundog. The canopy was thick and I had to wander back and forth a bit to make it out, but eventually saw something much more interesting, which disappeared and reappeared over a period of about 15 minutes, finally allowing for a better composition.

circumzenithal arc over autumn colorsThis… is a circumzenithal arc, probably the first I’ve seen and certainly the most vivid. A wide-angle shot at 19mm, this image shows the arc off nicely but doesn’t do it justice because it looks smaller than it was. The name indicates that it describes a partial arc around the zenith (“straight up”) and is notable because the sun is towards the bottom of the frame, thus making the rainbow inverted from what we expect. They’re caused by high-altitude ice crystals, which in this case were sporadic and fleeting, and if I can judge from the size, not all that high either. Here’s a shot through the foliage at 80mm instead.

autumn leaves silhouetted against circumzenithal arcAs I mentioned before, any shots of rainbows and similar sky phenomena should be bracketed in exposure, and more than a couple of frames too – if the camera reads exposure from the foreground subjects it might bleach out the sky and wash out the colors of the arc, and even with minor changes of 1/3 stop, there will be one particular setting where the colors really pop. Don’t be stingy, and use exposure compensation liberally to enure that you get what you want.

circumzenithal arc with sun visible through foliageNow for a bit of trivia. While shooting this, I had the presence of mind not just to try and frame the sun with the arc for comparative purposes, but to note the time of day and the relative positions of both sun (bursting through the trees near the bottom of the image) and arc, because at that time I didn’t even know what a circumzenithal arc was. I could only estimate the altitude of the sun and arc, but figured 30° for the sun and 75-80° for the arc. Later on as I looked up details, I found a source that said that the arc is usually about 46° above the sun. Naturally, I pumped my fist in the air and whooped and did all of those other egotistical guy things (EGTs.) But then, with some playing around with Stellarium and the view-angles I should have been getting from the lens, I ended up with the sun at 20° and the arc at 59° – wasted those whoops, it seems. Though I’m skeptical, because I would swear that the arc was higher. The site that I just linked to, by the way, says that the best times to see such arcs is when the sun is around 22° in altitude, so that lines up, at least…

[A quick nonsense note, while the subject has been brought up: people can be really bad about estimating the altitude of things in the sky above the horizon, especially about “straight up” – this is known to astronomers and is a significant factor in things like UFO sightings. Most times when we think we’re looking straight up we’re actually quite far off the mark, 20° or more, and true 90° up is actually very uncomfortable to do. I know this, have for a long time really, and was trying to be careful about my measurements, but so much for that.]

tiny cluster of red leaves sprouting from hole in tree trunkI finish off with another selective composition, because the tiny sapling venturing from a hole in the tree trunk was interesting enough, more so with the color. It wasn’t much later than this that the humidity built too high and the light conditions descended into heavy haze, dropping the wooded areas into deeper shade and destroying any chances for colorful backlighting. But we got enough frames for the day, I’m thinking.