Posted by: kerryl29 | November 9, 2011

On Lemonade and the Making Thereof

My friend, highly accomplished professional photographer Jim Moore, is fond of applying the old adage about making lemonade out of lemons to photography. It’s good advice, because it’s commonplace to find oneself in the field in less than ideal conditions.  When you get something other than what you expect–or hope for–it’s extremely helpful if you’re able to pivot and make the most of what you have in front of you at any given time.

Autumn Alcove, Eagle Creek Park, Indiana

I’ve done virtually no fall photography in the areas around my home bases–northeast Illinois and central Indiana–in several years, for a variety of reasons.  The color in the region wasn’t very good in 2010, due to the extremely dry summer experienced in much of the eastern half of the United States last year.  The year before, my opportunities were limited due to a variety of unrelated matters.

Inside the Rainbow, Eagle Creek Park, Indiana

I was in the Canaan Valley area of West Virginia during the first week of October this year (more about that experience in a future post).  As I was returning to central Indiana on October 9, I noticed that the color–which was better than last year, but still not great–was essentially at peak.  (This is more than two weeks ahead of “normal” schedule.)  Due to my week-long absence, I needed four days to catch up on things before I could get out with my camera, by which time color was clearly past peak.  Still, on October 13 I went over to Eagle Creek Park, on the western edge of Indianapolis.  It was a day of off-and-on light rain.  Though past peak, there were plenty of spots with fresh leaf cover on the ground and pockets of good color on the trees.  Conditions may have been less than ideal but opportunities abounded; it was simply a matter of making the best of what was available.  Lemonade.

Fallen Leaves, Eagle Creek Park, Indiana

On October 17, I headed back to the Chicago area.  Given what I had seen in central Indiana, 150-odd miles southeast of Chicago as the crow flies, I anticipated no fall color opportunities to speak of in northeast Illinois.  Wrong.  Many trees–mostly maples and oaks, which provide the biggest bang for the buck when it comes to fall color in northern Illinois–were still green.  Peak was, surprisingly, going to be late in northeast Illinois.  Since I would be on the ground in the area until the final day of October, this would work out well as long weather conditions remained cooperative and I could work around what seemed like an endless list of unrelated obligations.

Turning Gold, Morton Arboretum, Illinois

Free days in which to shoot turned out to be extremely limited; I finally managed to set aside some time on October 26.  Weather conditions were not ideal–heavy rain was a threat and it was extremely windy.  Still, I headed out to the Morton Arboretum, no more than 20 minutes from my base, in the morning and spent nearly seven hours in the field.  The rain held off and the wind, while gusty, was sufficiently variable to allow me to repeatedly wait it out before clicking the shutter release.  The color in the arboretum was outstanding–among the best I’ve ever seen there.  The maples and oaks were in their full splendor.

Oak Tree Splendor, Morton Arboretum, Illinois

The circumstances were different, then, than they had been at Eagle Creek Park a couple of weeks earlier in that the the color was much better.  But in this case, the weather conditions were far less than ideal.  The milky, detail-free skies made wide shots largely unappealing.  So the key was to identify compositions that optimized the wonderful color and the even light without falling victim to the unattractive sky and windy conditions.  Lemonade.

Oaks and Maples, Morton Arboretum, Illinois

Landscape photography is, the vast majority of the time, a case of making the best of a situation because rare is the occasion when conditions are ideal.  Adopting an attitude of making lemonade out of lemons–or lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness, if you prefer a proverbial expression–will maximize the likelihood of obtaining satisfying images since it will free one’s mind up from expecting a certain type of image.  Give yourself the chance to make the best images that conditions allow rather than fixating on the best images that theoretically could be made.

A Celebration of Color, Morton Arboretum, Illinois



  1. Delicious Kerry — smacking my lips over your lemonade. There’s something lush about colors on overcast / rainy days that’s always appealed to me. You nailed these.

    I finally got out in the fog this week. Went out on Monday and Thursday morning and got a few decent shots — at least for the first time out in the fog. Thanks for the inspiration. I posted shots yesterday and again today.

    • Thanks, John. Agreed–overcast light (and some light rain) can be perfect for certain subjects, and that definitely includes (relatively) tight shots of fall color subjects.

      Now I’m off to check your fog shots.

  2. Hi Kerry,

    Just wanted to let you know I’ve posted more foggy morning pics, yesterday and just a few minutes ago today. Thanks for the nice feedback last week.

    • John–great. I’m off to check the new posts.

  3. […] compelling imagery but by no means were good shots impossible to find.  So there was a bit of the “lemonade from lemons” rationale to apply, but only a degree.  The images accompanying this entry were all made on the […]

  4. […] was faced with having to deal with the less than optimal conditions.  And, given that I’ve done that before, why should it be that difficult to do it again?  If you check out the linked entry in the […]

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