Depth of Field: The Story Behind the Image: “Autumn Afternoon”

By: Chris Murray

Volume 14, Issue 10, October 2019

“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.” ~ William Cullen Bryant

While strolling along the Macsherry Trail one autumn afternoon, I was delighted to discover the spectacular fall foliage surrounding the beaver pond.

“Autumn Afternoon”.Exposure Data: 3-stop HDR, f/16, ISO 250 Nikon D800E camera, Nikkor 28-70mm lens at 48mm

While the colors were beautiful in their own right, it was the magnificent side lighting that really made them sing. I knew immediately there was a stunning photograph to be had here, but there were challenges to be overcome.

As beautiful as the foliage was, I knew it wasn’t enough to make a powerful and compelling photograph, I also needed a strong composition. The shoreline of the pond was rather busy and chaotic, strewn with numerous downed trees, stumps, and tall grasses.

Nature is by its nature chaotic, it is the challenge for the photographer to find order amidst the chaos. I also needed a strong subject in the foreground. Toward the end of the pond, I came upon these two maple trees, their leaves aglow with backlighting and trunks cast in lovely light and shadow. Placing the trees on the left served to not only anchor the composition, but also frame the colorful trees on the far shoreline.

With the composition set my attention turned to exposing the scene. It quickly became evident based on the camera’s histogram that the wide range of light in the scene (referred to as high dynamic range, or HDR) would make it difficult to adequately render the scene with only one exposure. (Camera sensors are unable to record the contrast range that the human eye can detect).

I shot three exposures, varying only the shutter speed, making certain that I captured detail both in the highlights and dark shadows that were present. I then combined the three exposures using HDR software to arrive at the final composite image.

This image is an excellent example of how careful and considered composition along with proper exposure can elevate a photo from a snapshot to a finely crafted work of art. My goal was to arrive at an image with such a strong sense of place that the viewer feels that they are “there”.

By Chris Murray

Chris Murray is a full-time photographer, instructor, and writer. His work has appeared in several magazines including Popular Photography, Shutterbug, Adirondack Life, Life in the Finger Lakes, and New York State Conservationist, among others. Chris teaches classes at the Thousand Islands Arts Center in Clayton and at Jefferson Community College. He is a staff instructor with the Adirondack Photography Institute. API’s 2019 workshop schedule is now available at

For more of Chris’ work visit

Posted in: Volume 14, Issue 10, October 2019, Photography, Nature

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