The splendor of autumn foliage makes Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains a favorite stop on the annual circuit of many nomadic nature photographers in North America. I went there myself one moody October day, looking for opportunities. As I was driving through arching tunnels of trees, I was dazzled by the gorgeous colors, but whenever I stopped to photograph, my euphoria faded into routine decision-making about cameras, lenses and tripods in a static setting. And I wondered: if I could only capture the feeling of enchantment that came from viscerally connecting with the beauty of the forest as I moved through it.
So I decided to try something different. With my wife at the wheel, I began to photograph out of the passenger window as we cruised along slowly. Whenever an interesting stretch of forest caught my eye, I responded instantly with an exposure on my Nikon DSLR. Through trial and error, I worked out a set of parameters involving different combinations of car speed, shutter speed and the way I tracked the camera along with the passing scenery. This technique led to renderings of the forest as impressions of color and texture in which details were dissolved by motion, yet in the most successful frames, enough form was retained to suggest a sense of place.
Reviewing images on the back of my camera as soon as I made them became an integral part of the creative process and enabled me to fine-tune new rules in uncharted territory—something I could never have done in the days of film. As I discovered the potential of this novel way of capturing fall color, my elation grew. I imagined the feelings of a musician in a jam session, interacting spontaneously with patterns—and that’s what I was doing as well. You might call this improvisational photography, getting results in which each frame is unique—as long as you use your camera to jam with the scene.
Get creative during one of Frans Lanting’s popular workshops at his studio in coastal California. See a video clip at www.lanting.com/workshops.