Photographing Fletcher with his Age in Numbers- Behind the Scenes

After Photoshopping and Processing in Lightroom

 Our little tradition of photographing Fletcher next to leaves raked into his age is now 4 years old.  What once was as simple as walking into the backyard and raking ow involves driving and seeking leaves in far off locations.  Those in the north might be looking at their backyards piled with leaves in jealousy right about now… Our latest photo shoot involved a lot of work and a lot of post processing including limb chopping.

When Fletcher was a baby the idea came to me to photograph him next to leaves shaped into his age.  Perhaps this idea came to me because our yard was 2 inches thick with them.  Whatever the case, we were never short of leaves in our apartment in Syracuse NY.  We busily raked leaves into a huge number “1” and positioned him next to it in his best corduroy jacket and his shoes that were scuffed on the tops from crawling on the pavement just moments before the photo was taken.  On that day Steven took the photos from our bathroom window, 2 stories above, while I tried to get Fletcher to keep from crawling away.  Steven made ungodly cat calls and whistles to vie for his attention from the building towering over him but Fletcher was less than amused.  His main concern was trying to attack the leaves.  We walked away from that experience with a so-so picture both in the expression on Fletcher’s face and in technical quality.  I was unaware that photography on a sunny day is the worst time (without open shade) and will create some harsh shadows.  That seems like common sense but it never occurred to me.

The following year when the time came to take Fletcher’s photo next to a number “2” we ran into some problems…  We had just moved into a new duplex in Syracuse.  Our yard was devoid of trees except those in the forest behind the house.  We also didn’t have the height advantage.  We improvised and salvaged leaves in the tree line and brought them to the open yard and Steven photographed Fletcher from the deck which was raised above the sloping yard.  We managed to get a decent shot despite an uncooperative  toddler who was desperately trying to grab leaves.

Our “3” photo presented similar challenges as the 2nd year in terms of leaves and perspective but we lived in the same home and already knew the routine.  We waited for a cloudy day and took Fletcher out in his old man sweater.  This year he was more than cooperative.  His shot was of him jumping in the air and remains my favorite.  Steven took the photo again and I was on the ground helping keep him in position.  After the photo he got to tromp in the leaves and have a lot of fun!

Then we moved to Florida and it occurred to me that leaves weren’t going to be as bountiful as they had been in CNY.  I was hoping to make it to at least 5 or 6 years of leaf pictures.  At first we thought our October trip to North Carolina would be the perfect time to score a photo but it turns out the leaves had only just started to change in the Piedmont and unless I was willing to drive to the mountains there would be no leaves on the ground.  My next hair-brained scheme was asking my in-laws to rake a few bags and bring them when they drove down for Thanksgiving but I abandoned that because it was a little too crazy.  Buy fake craft leaves?  Too expensive for as many as I needed.  I even considered knocking on the door of a home I passed on the way to Fletcher’s school that had large leaves littering their yard, the only yard with any, and ask if I could rake and take them with me.  I was too shy for that one.

3 days before Fletcher’s birthday and I was stumped.  I needed the photo finished in order to complete his 4th birthday video.  At 3:30 pm I decided it was time.  I was making this happen.  I packed my step ladder, a mini-rake, my camera, my kids and mother-in-law and we drove in search of leaves.  Like rebels without a cause we headed towards a park situated near lots of tress that I had been to once before.  My gut told me I could find green grass, flat ground, and leaves.  We drove the length of the park, which was large with two playgrounds on each end and many picnic shelters, and came up short.  I parked near the playground and my MIL watched the kids play while I dove deeper into the grounds.  Far off in the distance I spotted a tree with freshly fallen leaves.  They were oak leaves and not what I was hoping for in size but there were plenty of them and they weren’t too dead and brittle and still had a decent color to them.  Unfortunately this same area was also covered in picnic litter.  I raked my leaves into a pile them grabbed them with the rake and my hands and carried them 20 yards away or so to a clearing of grass.  After 5 trips I shaped my leaves.

Fletcher was summoned and I stood atop my stool and began taking photos only to realize the light had moved and there was none where he stood.  The photo was dead.  I directed his to another area and looked for catch-lights in his eyes.  Then began moving all of the leaves there and re-shaping.

Once again he was told to stand next to the number and I noticed the light was gone again.  Seriously?  I just moved these leaves to a spot with nice lighting and the sun was behind a cloud and almost behind the tree line.  I had to make do.  I was alone with no help positioning him while Everett and my MIL were at the playground.  Fletcher took directions as much as you would expect a 4 year old to.  He pouted and whined and lazily completed the poses I asked him to do all the while asking when it would be over.  We packed up after about 10 minutes and I was doubtful I even got one good shot.  Poor lighting, grumpy kid, and no help made for a potentially wasted photo shoot.

That evening I uploaded our photos and was unimpressed.  Shot after shot of weird faces with no smile.  Finally I came to an image I thought would work.  His face was good, his body was positioned nicely, and it was in focus.  But 1 and a half of his feet were missing.  That bugged me.  Plus his hand was making a strange contortion that wasn’t flattering.  Photoshop to the rescue!  I created a new foot, completed the second one, swapped out one hand for another in a photo where he is holding 4 fingers up.  Adjust the color of the grass, edit in Lightroom, and BAM!  A new photo.  It only took 2 hours of editing and a lot of trouble in terms of just getting the leaves!

Original Photo
After Photoshopping and Processing in Lightroom

When I look at the entire string of images 1-4 I’m so glad we went the extra mile and kept up with our tradition.  It is so cool to see so many together (and a little sad too) and I look forward to building on at least a few more years.  Meanwhile I’m glad I chose baby pumpkins for Everett since those are sold all over the country!

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