The Portland Japanese Garden is a source of inspiration for me personally and photographically. Explosions of fall color, falling leaves, reflections in water, and thousands of tiny details reveal themselves to the open observer. Of all the garden’s marvels however, this one maple tree stands out. Every fall I find myself moved at the sight of this tree. Despite being one of the most photographed life forms on the planet, I set out to create a new and iconic image of it. It is always a challenge to photograph the familiar in a new way.
The first step was to examine what it is about this tree that is so moving. Of course the color is dazzling, but the underlying structure is what really captures my imagination. There is something about the way that the strong base supports all those medium branches that lead to the smaller finger-like branches. It reminds me of the nature of life itself on both the macro and micro scales. I see new young productive life supported and nurtured by the older and wiser that came before. I also see nature’s cyclical pattern of life, death, and renewal: the fallen leaves and the strength of that structure to withstand winter and start again in the spring. On the micro level I see all sorts of vascular and neural systems alive within myself reflected in this tree.
I really believe that my ultimate goal as a photographer is to feel something about my subject and find a way to use the tools that I have to capture that feeling. In this case, I was patient for just the right light to silhouette that structure against the color of the leaves with perfect contrast for a digital sensor. Other great photographers have photographed this tree, but my innovation was to use a wide-angle-panoramic technique to show a 180 degree view of its structure using soft overcast light in a crop that is reminiscent of the human field of vision. It just looks natural and captures how this beautiful tree emotionally impacts me.
You may feel something completely different about the image based on your own experience and perception, but viewers universally seem to feel something. A photo is successful when it makes you stop and take notice. A photo fails when it fails to convey a feeling or a story.