Cattail Fiesta
South Dakota

Cattail Fiesta

20×20 prints are $1,250
30×30 prints are $2,500

In 1994 Ruth and I went on a fall photo trip starting in Idaho, Montana and South Dakota. Then Minnesota, New England, Appalachia and the deep southern states for a total of 13,700 miles in 52 days. Whew. We really appreciated our self-contained camper van.

While in South Dakota we came upon a large marshy area full of cattails that had changed into their autumn colors. The backlit leaves overlapped, making fascinating and beautiful patterns. There was some wind but it wasn’t too strong and it came and went.

I set up my 8×10 camera and calculated that I needed a one second exposure at f/45 on Provia film. The wind would die down, I’d pull my darkslide out, my hand on the cable release ready to make the photo. But the wind would not quite stop and the cattails still kept moving. And then the wind would pick up again. What a teaser. I waited with my hand on the shutter release for 1.5 hours and never got the shot. Bleah.

I put the 8×10 camera away and saddled up the Hasselblad with my 250mm Superachromat lens. Going to the smaller format camera enabled me to make exposures of 1/8 second at f/16 on Provia film. More doable, but to be certain I got a photo that was sharp throughout I made six identical exposures, each one when the wind had almost died down.

When making Cibachrome prints of this image the color balance is very critical due to the contrasting colors and brightness levels within the field of cattails. Also, the contrast level is touchy. Too high and the image doesn’t hang together, too low and the image is flat and dead.

On the final Cibachrome prints the leaves are so abstract that my eyes would get lost in the thicket if it weren’t for the five cattail heads which provide solid reference points. The image is full of life, bounding and exuberant.

Format: Medium (square)
Location: South Dakota
Reference key: ctf