BOBBY MAGILL

Journalist • Photographer

Bobby Magill is a senior science writer for Climate Central in New York and a journalist who has covered fracking and the environment in Colorado and New Mexico since 2001. 

Anatomy of an Image: Dancing Leaf

Of all the images I've displayed in galleries or coffee shops over the last six months, I get more comments about my "Dancing Leaf" image than nearly any other. I had this printed as a canvas giclée, and it's now hanging at Art on Mountain in Fort Collins. People tend to look at it from a few feet away and think the cottonwood leaf is a three-dimensional object that they can touch and pick directly off the canvas. Or, they think I dragged a leaf across the sand and took a picture of it.

This image was taken in February, 2007, in the sandy bed of Courthouse Wash in Arches National Park, Utah. I was on an off-trail hike up the wash with my friend Chas when I looked down and saw that the wind had waltzed this cottonwood leaf across the sand in a peculiar pattern. It certainly begged for a photograph. This was before I had the money or the inclination to invest in expensive camera equipment, so I captured the image with Canon Digital Rebel XTi with its standard kit lens. Nothing fancy.

The image was touched up using Apple Aperture. I gave it a healthy dose of saturation and increased contrast, among other minor touch ups. Here's the original raw (but not RAW, it's a JPEG) image:

I experimented with some other angles, too:

Here's a crappy un-retcouhed and unedited snapshot of the surrounding scene, showing the wash and the surrounding vegetation:

If you've been to Arches National Park and have never ventured off the park highway to give Courthouse Wash a closer look, it's well worth it. The best part is the lower five miles or so between the park road and the park boundary at U.S. 191 near Moab at the Colorado River. The wash forms a deep-ish narrow canyon. I've never hiked the lower reach of the canyon. My sole attempt was sidelined by unexpected single-digit temperatures one December morning, temperatures I wasn't prepared for.

The upper section is wide open with sweeping views. Well worth a visit if you don't mind wading the water and getting a little dirty. Whatever you do, though, stay away from the cryptobiotic soil crust, which is plentiful on the edges of the wash. Here's a sample of what you'll see there:

This is my friend Chas taking pictures on our hike: