Three weeks ago, my friend Adam Barbanell, a fellow fencer, photographer, and fencing photographer, invited me to accompany him on a photo-trek through the Morton Arboretum out west in Lisle, Illinois. He had been searching for the warm orange and red autumn foliage for some weeks prior with little success; everything he found was still more or less green.
I myself had been waiting for the leaves to change. For most of October, autumn seemed to had eluded Chicago for most of downtown and my residing area of Hyde Park. Only by the end of the month had I finally noticed some yellow peeking out from green. It was therefore only a matter of time before the trees become so vivid with orange and red that it would send me into a another bout of lamenting over never having had the chance to shoot with Kodachrome 64 film.
I was out and about doing some street shooting on the first Saturday of November when Adam messaged me with an invitation to go shoot at Morton the next day. I accepted without hesitation and prepped my gear as soon as I returned home. Par for the course for a nature shoot, I packed a wide-to-normal and a telephoto zoom, some macro extension tubes, polarizers, and, of course, granola bars. The next day, I met up with Adam around noon, and we both set out for Morton.
On approach to Morton, things looked promising. The trees along the interstate looked like what they should have been several weeks prior: orange, with some trace of green remaining. It felt relaxing and peaceful to get out of the city for a change along with the chance to capture some more organic and natural scenic frames. When we arrived at the entrance and parking lot, however, the prospect of having some sense of serenity from nature disappeared. Cars and people were EVERYWHERE. It was as though Disney had opened up there instead. Adam had warned me, based on his first visit to Morton a few weeks before, that a possible obstacle would be having tourists and sightseers drifting into the shots. This, however, would work for a new sub-genre of photography we both have been practicing since: pictures of people taking pictures of people.
We began our trek close to the visitor center, which reminded me of Jurassic Park for some reason (to be fair, many visitor centers remind me Jurassic Park), and proceed on foot around the area until it got too touristy; after which we got back into the car and drove on the trail, stopping along the way to get out and shoot. The deeper we drove, the thicker the woods got. At one point of the trail, Adam stopped the car abruptly and got out to shoot a dried creek he spotted. After I stepped out myself, I spotted something moving in the distance. I squinted a bit, and my initial thoughts were correct. It was a deer. As quickly as possible, I switched over to my 80-200mm, quickly but quietly got closer, crouching down as I approached until I was only 20 or so meters away, and snapped a few shots before another car loudly drove past the trail, and the deer sprung off into the thick wood. Those few shots alone made the trip worth it, but of course, there was much more to discover.
Soon enough as Adam and I proceeded on foot again into the woods, we were surrounded by a sea of orange. After taking a few shots of another dried creek and a mushroom growing out from a fallen tree, we moved onwards again. Along the way, we found more orange and red trees popping out in under a vivid blue sky, more people of taking pictures of other people, a new way to take “selfies”, and a bridge that was quite popular with other sightseers and a professional photographer using it for an engagement portrait. Soon, though, we were fighting against time. Daylight savings had ended just the night before; we had one hour less of sunlight. It was not long after shooting around a pond with some ducks that the sun had set and it was time to pack up and return home.
Our mission was a success. We had found autumn and photographed it at last. While I was able to capture some more autumn shots around Grand Park downtown and Hyde Park the flowing week, the snow that fell not long after signaled the ending of such a brief season. The trees outside my window right now are almost bear in the 25° F air. Of course, that just means that snow and winter shots are not long now.
All images © K. Dao Photography 2013, all rights reserved.