K Madhavan Pillai: Exploring Fallen Leaves
The almost spiritual nature of the structural breakdown displayed by fallen leaves on a wet, transluscent roof left K Madhavan Pillai fascinated and humbled.
- Description An attempt to produce a series that shows the delicacy of forms and textures, while capturing the deeper meaning that I derived from it
- Duration An hour of observing the patterns to identify potential frames and two hours of shooting
- Notes The angle of the roof, low and constantly changing levels of light, and reflections were the challenges.
Weekend getaways are the best times to have your camera with you. It gives you a chance to unwind, relax, and leisurely look at things. On a recent weekend trip, after a wonderfully muddy, six-hour trek, I checked into a quaint, secluded, ecofriendly hotel called ‘The Lion’s Den’, at Lonavala, a hill station near Mumbai. It was raining heavily without respite. At the hotel, I spotted a tiny pathway, leading to a backyard greenhouse and an open lawn. The pathway was sheltered from the rain with a sloping, corrugated, blue PVC roof. It was covered with fallen leaves in various stages of atrophy. A few of these leaves were still fresh and green. The others were slowly deteriorating in their decay. Patches of moss had grown all over. Initially, what caught my attention was the forms, patterns and colours on the roof.
As I stood there enjoying the roof, I began to see the entire cycle of disintegration. A fresh, green leaf, broken from the trees above by the wind and rain, would start dying from the edges, slowly turning black and opaque. Over time, it would start fraying and flaking, leaving behind serrated edges, holes and gaps. After a while, the only thing that remained was the skeletal structure. This would further break down into smaller particles until it was completely washed away, as if it had not existed at all.
Generally, in these sort of shooting situations, the more one looks at something, the more one tends to see. The best frames are often hidden… like a puzzle. Before getting the camera out, I spent a while looking at the small details and identifying potential shots.
I wanted to capture every detail well so I decided to use lower ISOs of 100 or 200. Light levels were low. This meant that my shutterspeeds were between 1/8sec and 1/30sec, depending on which part of the roof I was shooting. I did not have a tripod and the roof was sloping. To get perfect focus on all parts of the frame, I had to angle the camera so that the lens plane was parallel to the sloping roof. I also wanted perfect framing so that I did not have to crop any of the shots later.
I ended up taking three or four shots of every composition in RAW, checking for sharpness and reflections across the frame. I moved to the next frame only after I was completely satisfied with the previous shot.
After three hours, my back was painfully stiff because I was constantly pointing the camera upwards. In all, I managed to get 40 satisfying photographs, with which I also plan to create a few polyptychs.
My Equipment: I used an Olympus PEN E-P2 mirrorless camera along with the 9–18mm f/4-5.6 and the 14–150mm f/4-5.6 lens for these shots. However, any camera, even a good basic compact, would have been be able to deliver fairly good results in a situation like this.
When Details Are Important…
- Shoot in RAW so that you have additional control over the final image when you process it later. If your camera does not have RAW, set the JPEG quality to Fine or Superfine for minimal file compression.
- Use a low ISO setting to avoid noise or grain. With low ISO, your shutterspeed may become too slow to shoot handheld. Image stabilisation helps, but a tripod is a better alternative in situations where the sutterspeed is too low.
- Sharpness is important. Ensure that the selected area is perfectly in focus.
- Review your shots at 100% on the LCD to confirm the sharpness and details.
- Compose your shots perfectly so that you do not have to crop the image later.
This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Better Photography.
An attempt to produce a series that shows the
delicacy of forms and textures, while capturing the
deeper meaning that I derived from it
An hour of observing the patterns to identify
potential frames and two hours of shooting
The angle of the roof, low and constantly changing
levels of light, and reflections were the challenges