A biologist paints with lightNovember 02, 2016
Fall leaf color has a beauty of its own, even though it is the net effect of some amazing internal chemistry of leaves.
The green pigment in leaves is chlorophyll, which absorbs red and blue light from the sunlight that falls on them. Chloroplasts inside the leaves capture the energy of photons, liberated from the sun and traveling at 186,000 miles per second, to blast apart carbon dioxide and water to reform as oxygen and carbohydrates.
As the leaves bring about their magic in the fall, the pigment of chlorophyll is absorbing parts of the light spectrum and reflecting others, thus the reds and yellows are reflected even more as the fall breakdown of chlorophyll fades from the leaves and exposes this cascade of color. Two other pigments in plant leaves contribute to the array of fall colors: carotenes, producing yellow reflected light, and anthocyanins, making the reds.
With the physiology of leaves aside, the beauty of fall color is one of the highlights of the year in many parts of the country. In the northeast, New England, Michigan, and Wisconsin, fall color tourism is a major part of the economy. In Michigan more than $1 billon comes into the economy each year from the fall color visitors. This includes fall color hotlines, catalogs showing where to go, and websites that direct travelers to the ever-changing color hotspots.
On Oregon’s north coast, vine maple trees produce some of the most spectacular visual displays and can best be found along rivers and streams. Most of these images were made in what North Coast Land Conservancy calls the Necanicum Wildlife Corridor.
About the photography: Using the camera as a medium to “paint with light” is a technique I used to create images that amplify the sense of movement in the final print. I found many of the displays of fall leaves along the Necanicum River and then selected long shutter speeds that allowed me to move the camera during the exposure or rotate the zoom lens with the shutter open.
The goal of the project was to create a sense of motion and dynamics representing the life process of leaves and their part in driving the entire energy cycle (99% of it) on planet Earth.
Naturalist and photographer Neal Maine of PacificLight Images was the founding executive director of North Coast Land Conservancy. Large, full-size prints of these and other images are currently on display at the Seaside Public Library.