The autumn leaves with greatest and most appealing individual variation that I have found tend to be from sumach (straight and cut leaved variety), Japanese maple (the species works better than any variety I have come across) and liquidambar, although some other types of maple, some types of American oaks, and dogwood can also produce good effects. I dry the leaves otherwise they tend to reflect light too strongly; I use different drying processes to vary the degree of flatness and curl in the resultant leaves.
I find on the whole the leaves are the most photogenic when they retain some element of fading green, showing the transition from life to death. Equally, I want to have a quota of brown spots and fringes as I believe the beauty is made more poignant in contrast to the effects of decay. They are also a nod to the inescapable presence of digital manipulation – even if some real flaws remain it doesn’t mean that the photograph represents the truth.
In order to get enlargements of some 10-20 times the size of the actual leaves I use a 150mm macro lens, which enables the camera to focus whilst close (around 10cm) to the subject. Because the camera is so close, however, the depth of field is small compared to the thickness of the subject. This means that multiple shots are required of the same part of the subject, each at incremental focus points.
I normally have 20-30 taken in this way (I use the passive, as the camera is tethered to the computer which adjusts the focus). Fewer could be taken if the aperture of the lens is reduced but this would increase diffraction/reduce sharpness – the ideal aperture is f8. These photographs are then ‘stacked’ by the computer, which takes only those parts of each photograph which are in focus and adds them together to make a single sharp picture of part of the subject.
This process is repeated to cover the whole surface/horizontal area of the subject. Depending on its size, it could involve my photographing up to 20 separate parts of the whole area of the subject (each with 20-30 ‘vertically’ stacked photographs). The horizontal areas taken need to overlap, as a separate computer programme will stitch them together to form one large photograph (in similar fashion to the panoramas taken by your smart-phone).
The files underlying each final photograph containing the full set of up to 400+ photographs can be over 50GB. The final picture could contain over 300 mega-pixels - only with this many pixels can a high quality print be achieved at the requisite scale.
I need to take care over lighting the subject in order to achieve a relatively flat light. I believe this increases the sense of abstraction. The remarkable lighting in the finest Dutch still life has a symbolic purpose but is also there to parade the skill of the artist and would be a distraction in the context of my pictures.
There is a fair amount of post-production work in terms of: (a) colour management; (b) patching up areas where the computer stitching is inaccurate (this occurs because the end of the lens is so close to the subject a parallax effect is created when the subject is relatively ‘deep’); and (c) ‘cutting out’ the images and placing them on a black background to increase the sense of abstraction (a few are on an earth background but this has been extended across the frame in post-production). The effect of the large size of the files on computer speed makes all of this time-consuming work even slower.
The prints are made on Hahnemühle Baryte Fine Art paper, backed by aluminium, available behind acrylic sheets (DIASEC). The larger sizes of each picture come in an edition of four (plus artist’s proof) and the smaller versions, in editions of five. Each picture has a certificate, signed and numbered, on the back. There will be no other printed editions of the pictures (other than uncertificated copies that appear, for example, in this or similar publications).
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