True colors

According to, trees have their vibrant autumnal colors all along. It’s just when they stop photosynthesizing and cease the production of chlorophyll that the green drains away, revealing the bright colors we associate with this time of year.

Perhaps it’s because of the unseasonably mild summer or the unseasonably warm autumn (or both), but it seems that the fall colors are a little late this year. Fall officially began on September 22, but it’s only now that the leaves are starting to turn. Some trees seem to have skipped their color stage and gone directly to the dried leaves of the dead of winter.

One doesn’t have to travel to New England or the Sierras (though it would be fun to do so) to get a view of some fall color. There are thousands of trees in Stockton’s own urban forest of almost every kind, though not all are deciduous. Some streets have row upon row of color, while others may have a spot only here or there. My favorite trees are liquid ambers and Chinese pistaches. The ambers have a star-shaped leaf similar to a maple’s. The pistache has small torpedo-like leaves arranged in rows.

What I like about them is their range of colors and the length of time their colors persist. The leaves on a sycamore tree, for example, turn a pale yellow for what seems like only a moment before becoming a dried dusty brown and then scattered across one’s yard. The pistaches and ambers run through a veritable rainbow — yellow, orange, red, and, for the ambers, a deep purple. Some times there will be trees right next to one another each in a different stage of changing color. There are even individual trees exhibiting the whole range of color at the same time. And as they cycle through their colors, they seem to last longer than other trees.

When photographing fall color, lens choice isn’t really critical. Close ups and overalls work equally as well. Just make sure you’re not too far away (the biggest mistake in all photography is not getting close enough). Be aware of your background (a telephone pole or line may ruin the intent our your picture).

I like to shoot the leaves either early in the morning or late afternoon. The sun’s low angle helps to accentuate their colors as does backlighting. If you see a spot that’s full of trees with color and it’s the wrong time of day, make a mental note of it (or better yet write it down) and go back at a better time.

Both the Chinese pistaches and liquid ambers are often used as landscaping for places such as parking lots, city streets and parks and are quite common in Stockton. These trees along with many others contribute to the beauty and richness of the city’s landscape and can make a walk in your neighborhood a colorful experience.


Reader Steve Stocking sent along a little clarification about leaves and their Fall colors.

“ has made it too simple. It is true that the yellow pigments were there all along and show up when the
chlorophyll breaks down. BUT the blue, violet, dark red, and blue colors are different. They are also found in many fruits (grapes etc.), vegetables (radishes etc and flowers (roses etc). These are the anthocyanins.  The following is from the Botany Text;  Biology of Plants by Raven et al. pg 55. (This is a standard text, around for 6 or 7 editions):”

“Anthocycanins are also responsible for the brilliant red colors of some leaves in autumn. These pigments form in response to cold, sunny weather, when the leaves stop producing chlorophyll. As the chlorophyll that is present disintegrates, the newly formed anthocyanins are unmasked. In leaves that do not form anthocyanin pigments, the breakdown of chlorophyll in autumn may unmask more stable yellow to orange carotenoid pigments already present in the chloroplasts. The most spectacular autumnal coloration develops in years when cool, clear weather prevails in the fall,”‘

Thanks Steve, for the additional information!

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