Editor's Choice

Autumn Leaves, Autumn Light by Norman Piluke

For more than 30 years, the photographic art of Norman Piluke has brought the beauty of the Canadian wilderness to audiences around the world. With a long list of published works, and gallery images hanging in the corporate collections of more than a dozen of the nation’s leading institutions and corporations, it is very likely that PHOTO News readers have enjoyed many of his works over the years… but Norman and Joanie Piluke are very lowkey when it comes to their many accomplishments – despite pages of “best in show” and gold medal awards for wildlife, landscape, and commercial photography.


Photo Copyright Norman Piluke - Dawn at Algonquin Park
The early morning light dances across the landscape in this shot, taken with a Linhof 4×5 view camera. Shooting into the sun, using a lens hood plus a hat as a makeshift gobo to keep stray light from the surface of the lens. There is a story behind this image – Norman scrambled down a steep bank to find the ideal point of view, and set up his tripod on top of a beaver house – the image comes alive when printed on canvas, with the black enhanced to bring out detail.


I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon at DSM Photographic, tucked into Norman’s studio at Dufferin and Dundas streets in Toronto. This former metal working shop has been transformed into a gallery, where dozens of magnificent paper and canvas prints line the walls, and hundreds of prints wait in display racks for the chance to catch your eye – each and every one printed to match the colour balance of the light in which the photograph will be displayed, and carefully crafted to bring out the very best in colour and detail.

Norman Piluke is a meticulous shooter and a highly skilled fine art printer. His workshop includes a range of large format digital printers, mounting tables, and a computer suite that would make any photographer turn green with envy. With decades of scanned images from the days when Norman shot in 4×5, 5×7 and 8×10 format, to a vast collection of digital images, it was a memorable experience sifting through the portfolio to provide the series of Autumn images that are featured in this issue of PHOTO News. Readers can share this adventure – just call Norman and Joanie to arrange a visit to the gallery – it is open every day, except when the couple are on the trail of new photographic adventures.


Photo Copyright Norman Piluke - Beaver Pond
Beaver Pond, photographed in Muskoka (back from Algonquin Park). Norm and Joanie returned to this spot every autumn for six years. For several years, the beaver dam had been partially removed, in an effort to encourage the beavers to relocate so that highway construction could proceed without major environmental impact. The year that they took this shot, they passed the location every day for a week, watching for the right combination of weather, lighting, and the degree of change in the colours of the leaves. Photographed on film, 5×7 format. The next year, the rock had been blasted away, and the spot is now part of Highway 400,near Go Home Bay.


With so much experience to share, I asked Norman to focus on the subtle nuances of the Canadian autumn. Each of the images portrayed here embodies a dedicated approach to the art of photography – some were captured in an instant, when the autumn light brought a special magic to the landscape – others were the result of many visits to a specific location, in a quest for that special combination of seasonal colour and light that distinguishes the Canadian wilderness from all other places on earth… hence the theme for this presentation – Autumn Leaves, Autumn Light. The photos speak for themselves; the captions describe the techniques and circumstances that make each photograph a special moment in time. Like many professionals, Norman and Joanie shoot RAW, with no filters, and no gimmicks – just the basic lens hoods, very sturdy tripods with cable releases, and LOTS of patience. Norman and Joanie Piluke have been taking photo workshops into Algonquin Park for 20 years – today, we join them in a photo excursion in print.

Read on, and imagine how you can enhance your personal vision of the Canadian wilderness as the autumn leaves and autumn light transform the forests into a palette of magnificent hues.


Photo Copyright Norman Piluke - Rapids in the Mist
Sometimes, you have to make a personal sacrifice to capture the perfect image. For this shot, Norman ventured out at dawn to record the mist forming above the rapids. To say that it was cold would be an understatement – this was not the dry cold of the Canadian winter – it was the bone chilling cold of an early autumn morning. Norman shot from a perch atop a rock, with the tripod legs submerged in the water. Photographed with a 5×7 view camera, using a 3 second exposure to soften the effect of the water. Norman and Joanie return to this spot every year, but the mist is an elusive element – you have to take the shot when the opportunity presents itself. Many people find that this shot creates a very calming effect.



Photo Copyright Norman Piluke - Shooting Straight Down
Shooting straight down produces a very sharp image from corner to corner, choosing relatively still water helps frame the image. EOS 1 DS MK 3 with a 24-105mm lens at 95mm, f/11 at 1/25 second. Manfrotto 055 carbon fibre tripod.



Photo Copyright Joanie Piluke - Autumn Colours
Joanie tiptoed from rock to rock, steadying herself with the tripod legs, before placing the tripod feet in the water and composing the image in the viewfinder of her Canon EOS 20D. The tree was at the peak of it’s autumn colour – they had watched it for a week, waiting until the colour was just right. Diagonal composition elements, the reflection in the water, and the still air made the shot – printing on canvas with slightly enhanced saturation for brilliant colour makes this a very successful gallery image. 28-135mm zoom at 28mm, f/11 at 1/120 second, ISO 200.



Photo Copyright Norman Piluke - Lake Opeongo
Late one afternoon, after the rain subsided, Norman and Joanie were looking for a moose that had been frequenting this spot, on Opeongo Road, off Route 60, at the east side of Algonquin Park. The quality of the light and the rainbow made the shot – the combination of the rocks, the marsh, and the forest sky caught their eye. Sometimes, the subtleties of light contribute more to the success of the shot than the subject matter. EOS 1 MK 3, 1/20 second at f/16, ISO 160.



Photo Copyright Norman Piluke - Autumn View
A classic autumn view, showing backlight technique. In the days when Norman shot large format film and transparency, two shots had to be enough to capture the image – one at the metered exposure, one at +1 EV to compensate for the backlight. This image wows the crowds at every exhibition, with the greens, yellows, and reds of autumn – but it is the small cluster of red maple leaves in the foreground that draws the eye, and sells the print.



Photo Copyright Norman Piluke - Maple Trail
Maple Trail – in many cases, the best time to take Autumn foliage
photos is after the leaves peak – with leaf litter on the forest floor,
and more light penetrating the forest canopy, the balance between
light and shadow is more gentle, revealing the subtle beauty of the
autumn colours.


Article by Norman Piluke







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