IMAGE TALK with Noella Ballenger: What makes that photo work…

The iconic autumn image for many of us may be a small path or road meandering through a forest of brilliantly colored leaves. But that isn’t the only way fall colors can be depicted. After the leaves have dropped from the trees, look for other elements that still speak of the season. Look for silhouettes and reflections in ponds and lakes. Use the glow of nature’s early morning light to create a landscape photo where the low-angled rays are dancing off the colors within the ground cover.

From Kroonstad, South Africa, Dave Ross shares with us a stunning interpretation of what fall looks like half way around the world.

Awakenings by Dave Ross

Silhouette and reflectionof tree on pond made during the 'golden hour' of pre-down in Kroonstad, South Africa by Dave Ross.
© 2013 Dave Ross. All Rights Reserved.

Subject: Pre-dawn light of fall / winter

Conditions: Dave tells us, “Trees have golden leaves here in autumn, the same as anywhere, but it lasts only a few days then the trees remain naked until the first rains in October. It looks quite parched here as fall turns into winter, but the Freestate is the agricultural capital of South Africa, and soon we have great thunder storms and heavy rains when the trees begin to leaf out again.”


1. Tree silhouette is a dramatic subject

2. Reflection of the tree adds impact
3. Bold oval and triangular shapes
4. ‘Golden hour’ of light
5. Sense of quietness

Noella’s Comments:

This is a beautifully shaped tree and it makes a very strong and dynamic statement in a pastoral scene. As you can see in this image, silhouettes are dramatic subjects and therefore you need to carefully control the composition. When you include a reflection of the silhouette in the image the impact created becomes even more significant. By offsetting the subject in the frame, Dave opened the scene in order for the viewer to also visually move around the tree.

The shapes in this image are subtle but very strong. If you look at the tree and its reflection as one large oval shape, then you can see the importance of the two triangular shapes. The large triangle of grasses to the right of the tree lead the eye directly to the tree and the smaller, but darker triangle in the right foreground, leads the eye to the reflection in the pond. All of these shapes unify the image and hold the viewer’s eye captive.

The photo was taken at a time of day that is one of the magical “golden hours” of light. As the sun rises or sets there is a short time when the quality of light becomes magnificent. The colors are soft in texture and flow gently from one shade to another. In this image the soft hues of pre-dawn color lights up the sky and is reflected in the pond. There is a richness of color in this light that intensifies the deep golden orange hues of the grass. The contrasting, velvety black at the base of the grasses as well as in the tree and its reflection adds to the clarity and intensity of the colors. Combined, the light and the colors make this image unforgettable.

But there is one more thing that Dave captured in this image and that is the sense of stillness. It’s a very quiet image. Everything is hushed and almost seems to be waiting in anticipation for the day to begin. It is that special moment of silence that adds to the tranquil and serene feeling in this photograph.

Beautifully done Dave. Thank you for sharing this special moment from South Africa.

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