All great parks must have a great tree. It's a law. Or it should be. There needs to be a tree that captures the imagination of the little kids who play nearby, and for those adults who wander past, the tree should stir something inside of them; they should feel the same flash of inspiration and yearning that the child experiences.
In Trexler Park in Allentown, the magical tree that calls to visitors is a magnolia. There are those people who barely notice its presence, even though it is right off the main path. But those who do see the tree - really see the tree - are awed by it. Its branches flow outward from the trunk - a dozen tentacles of some ancient mythical creature, wild and proud and untamed. Children climb the limbs like tropical monkeys, runners smile a little through their deep, measured breathing as they pass, and dogs pull at their leashes to get a more satisfying whiff of the olfactory wonders beneath.
Each and every time I see the tree, I create an image in mind. I've stood in front of it composing a picture, placing imaginary subjects underneath it, in it, beside it. I've explored every angle of the tree. I've watched it in different light, manipulating the image depending on the time of day.
Finally, after a long time of creating the image in my head, I had a clear vision of what I wanted to capture with the picture. I talked to my good friend Stacy and recruited her daughter Ella for the shoot. We checked the weather, picked a day, confirmed that afternoon, as the sky had just the right amount of cloud cover with plenty of blue sky and sunshine kicking through. We planned to meet just before Golden Hour hit. And then...
It totally clouded over.
And a cold wind kicked up hard.
And then Ella fell asleep on the way to the park.
So... the shot I had planned in my head didn't quite happen. What did happen, however, was a totally different set of shots that worked just as well. The mood of my original, imagined picture could probably best be described as "magical." We ended up with a totally different version of the main image I had pictured, and the new mood might be labeled "eerie."
The ghostly but warm illumination of the little girl in a red cloak holding flowers with her eyes closed - something about it felt right.
I went ahead and took some more portraits of Ella using the flash, underexposing the ambient light and using the HSS of the Phottix Mitros flash, triggered with the Odin triggers. The darkness of the ambient, combined with a bit of blue in the processing helped create the eerie mood. I will say, however, that other than the first image above, I don't think "eerie" is quite the right mood - maybe "magical," but still different than my original backlit idea. Ella (and Stacy) were warmed up by the use of a CTO gel on the flash, which helped create the blue ambient light even before post processing.
Despite the chill of the wind and being a little sleepy, Ella looks cool and confident here - perhaps it's the energy of the tree.
I made Stacy get in there for a picture as well.
After shooting some pictures with the flash, I packed all that stuff up, and we took some quick natural light portraits. Even after doing this for quite a while, I'm still amazed at the range of moods you can get in images just by manipulating the tools. Even though these were taken after the pictures above, they look bright, cheery, and warm.
And if you're looking for a 3rd mood in 1/2 hour, here's Ella looking adorable (and vintage) and Ella being a little goofball. (Goofball element exaggerated by the wide angle lens.)