I’ve been particularly excited to watch the seasons change this year.  There’s something about a sparkling hot summer fading into a brisk and brilliant autumn that is just mesmerizing.  So when the trees around starting to change from green to golden, I knew I had to bring my toys to High Park and see what sort of whimsy could be found in the fall colour.

Despite the vibrant colour in the downtown trees that we passed every day on our way to work, Paddy and I arrived at High Park to find everything still mostly on the green side of things.  Which put a bit of a crimp in my whole ‘autumn brilliance' vision.  Undaunted, we wandered into the Park, looking for inspiration.  Well, I was looking for inspiration.  I’m pretty sure Paddy was just looking for squirrels.  

It wasn’t long before we happened on a tiny little stream.  Hardly more than a trickle, it certainly wasn’t much of a highlight for landscape photographers.  For a close-up toy photographer, however, it was perfect.  There were rocks covered in moss, a brilliant blue sky overhead to reflect its colour into the stream, and beautiful dappled sunlight.

Unfortunately, I was so excited about the potential of this little stream that I forgot just how much of a royal pain a bright afternoon sun filtered through tree leaves can be for photographers.  I fiddled around and fired off a bunch of test shots until I found settings that didn't blow out my highlights and started shooting.

As always, location photography is a learning experience.  Here are some of the things I learned this time:

  • Fimo is remarkably sturdy.  It can get attacked by waves or bounced off rocks into a stream without showing so much as a scratch.  Mind you, I don't want to test their ruggedness much more, but it's nice to know that my little creations are not too fragile for the adventures I'm sending them on.
  • Paddy is a good and patient assistant.  He's really getting the hang of location scouting (he is the one who first noticed the delightful stream) and he keeps me company, even while I fuss over teeny details and take a billion shots of each setup from every conceivable angle.
  • Midday, dappled light truly is the bane of my existence.  
  • Perching on slippery, moss-covered rocks at the muddy banks of a tiny stream is a great workout for the legs.  I'm sure I looked all kinds of ridiculous contorting myself to get just the right angle... And I'm seriously surprised that I didn't end up in the water at one point or another.

Suffice it to say, it was a fun adventure for me, and a great stop in Winslow and his monsters' journey.

Not only did the location test both my balance and my technical skills, the images required a good deal of my attention when I got them onto my computer.  

First of all, that lovely-to-my-eyes dappled light had produced images that were far more contrasty than I wanted.  I first tried to fix this doing faux-HDR: I edited 3 versions of each shot in  Lightroom varying the exposure by 0.5, then combined them using Photoshop's merge to HDR feature. Perhaps it's because I'm not familiar with this tool, but the results were far from what I had hoped.  Luckily, the solution was quite simple.  I noticed that the shadows in the middle (originally shot) exposure were just fine, it was the highlights that bothered me.  So I placed the darker exposure (with the more reasonable highlights) overtop of the original image and used a layer mask set to luminosity.  Bam.  Reasonable highlights and rich moody shadows.  I love the results.

The second challenge was a bit simpler to deal with; more of an annoyance, really. Turns out that delightful little babbling streams are also rather messy, particularly in autumn.  In order to ensure that my little guys got the visual attention that they deserved, I found that I needed to tidy up a bunch of little bits of spiderweb, pine needles and assorted branches.  It's more editing than I usually do for images, but I wanted to be sure that Winslow and his crew had full focus in the image, with no distractions.

Well, I think that's more than enough technical detail for one post.  Here's the results of all that effort!  

    I hope that you're enjoying Winslow's journey as much as I am ... I can't wait to see what sort of adventures they get into as the seasons change again!

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