For a look back

Do people have favorite trees? I do. This is mine - the lovely Tamarack Pine or American Larch. For years now I’ve meant to photograph them seriously, but somehow never have. The area around where I live has them pretty thick in a lot of spots so you’d think it would be easy. Alas, this is the first time I’ve gone out specifically to capture them.

And we had a lot of backlight. When I get this and want to work with it because it is really lovely and striking, I deliberately under expose and try for some repetition in my subject. If I can’t get that I will try for a singularity of subject. I got both here at this wildlife preserve and this is one of those aspects. How did I do?

Specific Feedback Requested

How do you handle backlight in the field? How do you address it in processing? Do you like it or avoid it?

Technical Details



Lr for all processing - boosted exposure, shadows and whites, reduced highlights and blacks. Added vibrance and a bit of texture. No clarity, no wb adjustment. Boosted blues saturation in Calibration panel. Adjusted color channels for greater separation in the golden hues. Some sharpening & nr. Extensive use of masking to massage luminosity values and contrast to help calm the viewing experience.


The subdued backlight here is lovely! (It has proved too harsh for me to handle on clear days.) I love the neat stand with a clear FG – they look like they are all lined up just to pose for you. And I love that the two main trees each have a group of bare trees behind them as supporting cast, appropriately scaled to their sizes! I wonder about some darkening with lower contrast on the FG and less sharpness there.

Thanks @Diane_Miller - I hoped the light wasn’t too odd. Maybe I need to take down the contrast in the front more. I used a mask to do it a bit.

Terrific scene, Kris. Captured well and processed well too. I like the repetition and love the soft feeling of the light. Well done.

Thanks @David_Bostock - glad it seems to work and the idea of softness comes through.

Those orange needles are just glowing in the foreground trees. I really like the composition and how you have the two main trees with the two smaller trees perfectly placed between them . You also don’t block the view of taller leafless trees in the background. The pano comp is just right. I find it tough to do backlit shots well so kudos to you for pulling this off.

Thanks @David_Haynes - I walked all around the area to find a composition that worked and ended up cropping very little with this one.

Tamarack are definitely one of the secret treasures of the north woods. It’s especially nice that they seems to hold their color a good week to ten days after the broadleaf trees have dropped their color.

Backlighting is one of the most attractive strategies for forest scenes, I think, and you’ve captured this one very well. For the sake of having a nit to pick, I do find the brightness of the sky to be a bit too much relative to the trees. I don’t know if slight darkening (or more contrast with the whitest of the clouds) or a slight top crop would solve that issue for me, but I respect that doing so might actually work counter to your motivations for capturing this scene and choosing this processing approach.

These are beautiful trees! I have to drive a bit to find larch, but they are definitely on my bucket list. @Steve_Kennedy and I had planned to try to find some around Leavenworth this fall, but smoke from fires took that away.

Most backlighting I struggle with, but I do think it can really add to fall color. I find backlighting on our huckleberry to really make the colors glow. The challenge for me is how to tame the rest of the lighting. I do like @jefflafrenierre idea of toning down the sky to let those trees really be the stars. As he notes, your goals and YMMV, but I played with that idea:

Thanks @jefflafrenierre & @John_Williams - I played with that sky a lot! It’s so hard to find the right balance of artistic license and realism. The challenge is that the sky is bright and that plays to the light in the trees. Make either too dark and we know something is off. I can mess with it a little more. The masking in Lr is so much easier to control these days so it should be easy to adjust since I’ve already got the mask made.

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