Blood-sucking freaks

So after the relatively bug-free California environment I get back up here and am basically in a cloud of mosquitoes every time I set foot out of the house.  This time of year being a woodland photographer really sucks.  Literally.  Between the mosquitoes and the ticks I’m down a pint.

No.  Not really.  But they are so distracting and annoying that more than once I’ve given up and fled.  Running in a backpack with an 8-pound tripod is really not something I recommend.

Still I’ve had an idea brewing around in my head a while and braving the blood-sucking hordes is just something I had to do.

I’ve always loved mountain laurel.  Growing up there were a few huge bushes in our yard and when you’re little there’s nothing better than crawling in among the fantastically twisted trunks and hiding.  Like a little private world which as a kid is a pretty rare thing.

These days I value them for other things.  In winter they add a nice touch of color with their seemingly everlasting green leaves.  In spring they can help frame and give dimension to a forest landscape.  Early summer though, is when they really shine.  Those delicate white blossoms with their secret pink tracery.  The stuff of fantasy and just a wee bit Asian…like those beautiful paintings of cherry blossoms.  So after walking through Purgatory Brook earlier this year I knew I’d have to go back when they bloomed.  I visited about 10 days before this shoot and all the blossoms were out, but still clenched like tight little bonnets.  Now though, they’re out and lining the banks and trails.

My goal and initial vision was to try for landscapes featuring the brook and the plants.  As I explored the area though I became aware just how difficult it was going to be since you can’t really move the bushes or the brook.  Few compositions worked without a great deal of effort and contortions on the part of me and the tripod.  But it was worth it.  I may even go back.

I spent a lot of time on the banks looking for compositions.  Even climbing out onto big boulders in the middle.  Not much was really working you know?  Something was off.  It seemed like to capture the jungleyness of the area was to introduce a lot of chaos into the shot.  But as I worked the scenes things started to come together.

Overall I wanted to show the relationship between the water and the laurel.  How the laurel seemed to hug the banks even though it grows all over the woods here.

After a while I started to isolate blossoms as they cantalevered out over the rushing stream.  Lucky for me the day was relatively still wind-wise and I could get medium long exposures.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen photos of mountain laurel shot like this and even though they’re a bit strange, I like them.  It’s how I see them at Purgatory Brook.

As the light changed and the clouds thinned I got a bit of translucence in the leaves which was a bonus, really.  Contortions, mosquitoes and almost falling in the brook aside, I’m pretty pleased with how these came out.  I had a rough idea of what I wanted and as I worked the location it came together.  I think this is how I work best; a loose framework for the images, something definite in terms of subject, but execution can remain to be seen.

Processing-wise I fiddled with the light balance to warm them up, gave the greens and yellows a touch of luminance.  Some got more clarity, some less to emphasize the gauzy quality of the flowers.  Others got minimal sharpening and noise reduction, some cropping.  I think all of them had the vibrance turned down a bit; after the rains the color was so saturated it just looked unreal although it was intense.

Anyway, that’s it for the moment.  I’ve got a few more shots of giant rhododendron to do once they blossom.  That shoot is going to be challenging, but I’ve been thinking about it for months.  I hope they bloom soon.  Everything is so weird this year.  Some things are late, some are early.  Crazy.

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