Autumn Color Leaves of Black Oak & Stanislaus River

Autumn Color Leaves of Black Oak & Stanislaus River

full print size of 23.6x31.6 inches @304.8ppi, above displayed at 1/178
Copyright © David Senesac 2005   view detailed crop

geranium Calaveras Big Trees State Park, Calaveras County
mid morning Thursday November 3, 2005, slide 05-DD-1
Wisner 4x5 Expedition, 90mm Caltar, Gitzo G1325 Mk2
ICG Drum scanned Fuji Provia 100F 4x5 film to 200mb RGB file
Adobe Photoshop 6.0 processed for accurate image fidelity
Lightjet5000 printed on Fuji Crystal Archive paper, signature bottom center

Black oak, quercus kelloggii, grow on western Sierra forested slopes at 3000 to 7000 foot elevations as well as in other mountainous areas of the state. It is our highest elevation oak species in California. Thus in the yellow pine belt one finds these fine 30 to 80 foot tall oaks with broad spreading canopies below the usually taller conifers. The bark on mature black oaks tends to be smooth small dark plates hence the name. The large leaves are 4 to 10 by 2.5 to 6 inches wide, with three lobes on each side ending in coarse pointed teeth. It is one of the last tree species in California mountains to undergo fall color changes. Overwhelmingly most leaves change to shades of yellow. Far fewer trees also have orange to red leaf colors and most of those tend to be smaller trees rather than large mature oaks.

Late in the fall of 2005 I decided to try and find some good black oak color and to do so would drive some lower elevation highways I'd never ventured through previously at this time of year. The first region I chose to look for trees was along state route 4 where I'd seen quite a number of these trees and where there was some opportunity to venture off back roads onto public lands. Much of the black oak range is inaccessible below our national forest areas on private lands. After viewing trees along the easily accessed paved roads without locating anything worthy, I decided to try hiking in the area. I also became determined to find a specimen with the rare red and orange leaves since those additional colors added a considerable aesthetic. The Stanislaus River runs through this old state park at an optimal elevation so I set upon a lengthy ramble of several miles beside the river with just some awkward fishermen's paths and animal trails to follow.

Eventually I found this old oak above the Stanislaus River one can see in the background here through the leaves. It was easily the best situation I'd seen and even after days of subsequent hunting would be by far the best.

I spent most of an hour trying to size up a way to shoot the tree. I was hindered in doing so due to the steep rocky slope it grows on and by adjacent trees that either got in the way or prevented my backing up enough to compose an image. Finally I managed to tripod backed up into a precarious and cramped position beside adjacent incense cedars where I could frame the better leaf areas backlit that would intensify translucent leaf color. In doing so I had to push a few dead cedar branches aside with a bunji cord. Fortunately there were lots of high hazy clouds in the atmosphere that contributed to a more even lighting in the understory. Composing the shot likewise took most of an hour as I wrestled with where to set the plain of optimal focus with the view camera tilt and swing movements. In the end it was a compromise that included stopping down as far as I could. Another issue was an increasing breeze that plagued periods when the sun seemed to shine through the high clouds enough. Patiently waiting quite some time, I managed this one shot during brief total calm. I also managed to correctly expose the narrow latitude Provia 100F film despite a difficult dim exposure selection. Later upon printing out the master, I reveled at the wonderful color this effort produced.

Also at frame left to the left of the dark upright branch in sunlight is a young yellow pine, pinus ponderosa. Also a number of long dried yellow pine needles hang where they have been caught in branches against the dark background of the main oak trunk. A young incense cedar, libocedrus decurrens, is visible just below center frame. Providing a nice lighter component against the dark shadowed lower trunk of the black oak are the handsome branches and leaves of quite uncommon pacific yew, taxus brevifolia. In the left corner are shaded branches and light green leaves of green manzanita, arctostaphylos patula. Other shorter manzanita bushes can be seen in sunlight lower right. Adding a wonderful light component to the oak are areas of drooping Spanish moss while other green mosses cover the black oak's shady trunk and branches.

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   David Senesac

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