The Hunt for the Perfect Foliage Shot
New England presents myriad photo opportunities in autumn for those people patient enough to seek them out. So what does it take to capture the essence of fall foliage in a photograph? For photographer Sara Gray, it’s nine days in October spent searching for the perfect blend of subject, light, and color.
We feel the stirrings by mid-September, when the color floods the northernmost mountain peaks and then begins its sweep southward, not halting until late October along the flats by the Connecticut shoreline. It’s a desire to capture the perfect harmony of light and color and to hold it forever in a single photographic frame. And it rarely if ever happens. But photographers never cease the quest.
Sara Gray lives in West Falmouth, Maine, and for nine days last fall she went looking for that shot, as she has for the past two decades. Her first day was October 3, her final one October 19. The farthest she strayed from home was 60 miles. She roamed marshlands and beaches to the south, and softly settled villages in the Ossipee Mountains and the foothills of the Whites to the west. She poked among the lakes and ponds tucked between groves of forest. When she found herself in a lovely place but without lovely light, she returned later, often leaving home before dawn. She was drawn not just to brilliant color, but something harder to describe: where swaths of green hold on and reds, oranges, and yellows wrap through the landscape like sudden bursts of breeze.
Velvia is very fine-grained and the colors are extremely saturated … And when I look through the Hasselblad’s viewfinder, I’m lost in the image; I’m lost in the world inside that viewfinder. I look at the whole of the landscape, not the pieces, to create a feeling of drama, serenity, solitude.”
And yet autumn shooting sometimes shreds the stillness. “Autumn is the most stressful time to shoot,” she says. “It’s not just light and subject. It’s light, subject, and color.” And, she admits, “It’s harder doing stories close to home, because you never know when you are done. I always see another shot.”
When she sent us her hundred images, she said, “I feel it’s still eluding me–that one shot.” Which is why all of us, not just photographers, wait every year, no matter how many times we’ve seen autumn arrive and depart. That one shot may be a fierce yellow light or a sudden burst of red, or simply the softness of sunlight across swaying marsh grasses. We hope we’ll be there when it comes.
Sara Gray’s new solo exhibit opens October 7 and continues through November at Gleason Fine Art, 545 Congress St., Portland, ME. 207-699-5599; gleasonfineart.com