Folhas Secas, part three

Our family house in the Tropical region sits in the heart of an Atlantic Forest remnant. In the Rainforest, water is widely available, and light is something plants must compete for. Consequently, rainforest plants tend to have large leaves to catch more light under the dense canopy. These leaves tend to be thin, and when they dry out, they curl to interesting shapes and forms, while their veins stand out, revealing striking textures. In two previous posts, The leaf of the Embaúba and Folhas secas, a new project, I showed photographs of two tropical leaves.

The dominant biome in the Central Valley of California, where the climate is classified as Mediterranean, is the chaparral. Here, water is a limiting factor, while light is plenty. The leaves of the plants here tend to be small to minimize sunlight exposure and they are often thick, covered with a layer of wax that helps them to conserve water. When they dry out, these leaves tend to retain their shape, they glow, and reveal subtle texture.  

Why did I write all that? Well, those differences in the leaves have caused me to make some changes in the way I work on my project “Folhas Secas”.

After taking several photos of dry leaves in different positions, first in Brazil, and then here in California, I have decided on two changes:

1) While the large leaves from the tropics could be easily photographed with my 24-70 mm lens, I will mostly be using my 105 mm macro henceforward, to be able to fill the frame with my subject;

2) Even though I used natural window light for the large, tropical leaves, I will be using artificial light in my home studio. I want to emphasize texture in the smaller, flat leaves, and artificial light gives me more control.

Take a look at the featured image for an example of a leaf from a California-native, Platanus racemosa, the Western sycamore. To take that photo, I used a speed light positioned at seven o’clock with respect to the leaf, a LED light behind it, and a reflector on the right hand side. The leaf is positioned against a black curtain and is on a black surface. To hold the leaf, I used Fun-Tak (the bottom of the picture will need to be cropped out). Below is an example of my setup, using the leaf of the Cottonwood.


Working with the leaves commonly found in California, I decided to make the following technical changes in the way I execute my project: 

  1. Use a different lens (a macro lens);
  2. Use artificial light. 

On my next post in this series, I write about printing my photos to choose a subsample to represent this project.

5 thoughts on “Folhas Secas, part three

  1. howg2211 says:

    Another beautiful image. Love hearing your process. I’m interested in the LED light behind the leaf. Is that to give it some trans illumination or more as a rim light?


    1. Alessandra Chaves says:

      Howard, this is to illuminate the leaf from behind and bring out it’s texture. This is the photo I printed on the paper you suggested and I can see every vein! You need to diffuse the LED light (I used a foam) and then balance it with the flash (I did not try to do this with natural light). I needed 1″ exposure for the “see through” light to make a difference, and the flash was on low power (if you use fast shutter speeds, the camera does not “see” this LED, seem obvious but worth remembering). I hope that this helps.


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