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Frozen Sycamore Leaf

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 3 November 2009 in Landscape & Rural.


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There has always been something about colorful leaf(s) frozen in small streams and pools catches my attention. However, trying to make an image that matched my excitement always seemed to fall short of expectations. Why? Simply the light is coming from the wrong direction (i.e. side, overhead or diffused). Side-light and diffused light were the best, but the image still lacked that "pop" I was looking for. For me, fall foliage usually looks its most colorful if captured with backlight. So how do I get a leaf, lying in a pool, backlit?

I have to confess that the idea for this image came while listening to a podcast from photographer Jim Zuckerman a couple years ago. The image I recall that stirred my imagination was a maple leaf enshrouded in ice. At first glance (as perhaps with this image) one thinks the leaf is caught in a small pool which had frozen. However, upon careful examination, the ice seems translucent and the leaf vibrant, the result of backlighting.

So where is the light coming from? Did he plant a strobe under the ice? Here is how Jim (and I) created this image: First off, to get the light coming from behind the ice, the ice (and enshrouded leaf) cannot be in a pool of water in the ground. That means, I had to create the frozen block of ice with the leaf inside. A quick trip to the kitchen department of my local Target yielded a plastic Tupperware tray. I filled the tray half way with water, set it in the freezer and let the water turn to ice. I then took the leaf (which I had flattened by placing a weight on top of it) and placed it on the frozen bed of ice, then added more water on top of it (about a 1/2 inch). I let it set in the freezer for about 60 minutes, then returned and centered the leaf in its partial frozen state, then let it freeze solid overnight.

About an hour prior to sunset the next day, I began my setup. I determined where the sun was going to set and discovered if I was to place the block of ice on top of the railing of my deck, it would be in a direct line with the setting sun. In order to hold the ice block in place, I used a Bogen Magic Arm, along with two Bogen clamps and attached one clamp to the crossbar of a studio background setup. The other clamp was attached to the block of ice. The Magic Arm allows for precise positioning of the clamp. I made sure to weight down the upright stands with (2) 15-pound sand bags (for each stand) so the whole setup wouldn't topple over.

Then it was just a matter of allowing the sun to near the horizon (I had checked sunset time prior to starting) and then began playing with compositions. I unfortunately cracked-off the top righthand side of the ice block when trying to remove it from the tray (negating the opportunity to photograph the entire leaf - though I did try some frames). I soaked the tray in some warm water to help loosen the ice from the sides of the Tupperware tray, but in the process, the ice cracked (I'll have to work on perfecting that part).

I had a spray bottle filled with warm water and I would spray the ice between captures which allowed for some of the small bubbles seen on the ice block.

For my first attempt I was very pleased with the results. Most importantly, the light is coming from behind (about 30 degrees to camera left) with this image, and it did its magic in getting the color of the sycamore leaf to "pop." I will definitely try some more setups in the near future as this allows me to still photograph even on a clear blue-sky day.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 5/2 seconds F/16.0 ISO 200 100 mm

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