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updated: 11/6/2012 10:20 AM

Aurora photographer's fall image captures Photo Finish prize

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  • Mark Kuhlmann of Aurora captured the winning photo in our October Photo Finish contest at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle.

    Mark Kuhlmann of Aurora captured the winning photo in our October Photo Finish contest at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle.


You've seen them.

The extreme close-ups of a leaf sprinkled with dewdrops. A kid happily tossing leaves from a neat pile into the air. The Standard Postcards of Autumn.

That's all fine, of course, but Mark Kuhlmann wanted a more than ordinary shot of the season.

The 23-year-old Aurora man waited until just the right moment when the flaming foliage reached its peak. He decided three weeks ago was his chance and made his first trip to the Morton Arboretum in Lisle. He drove his car and walked the trails across the grounds, snapping more than 200 pictures with his Canon digital SLR camera.

"It was a full-day adventure," said Kuhlmann, a web designer for a research lab. "It was just a really peaceful, surreal thing, and I was happy to be there that day and very lucky to be there that day."

Lucky, it turns out, because Kuhlmann's timing was perfect. He whipped out his camera and wide angle lens when he found a wooden bridge leading into a forest exploding with red-orange color. He positioned his camera in the center of the bridge and shot from ground level.

That position forces the viewer to peer a little longer and a little closer. Is there a trail? The leaves seem to disguise a pathway into the forest. Where does it lead?

Using photo editing software, he tweaked the saturation and contrast with a light hand.

For the shutterbug, "the bridge mixed with the color of the leaves really was unique."

The Daily Herald photo staff agreed, choosing his image as the top picture in our monthly Photo Finish contest. As his prize, Kuhlmann will receive a $50 gift certificate from PJ's Camera, 662 Roosevelt Road in Glen Ellyn.

DuPage Photo Director Scott Sanders applauded Kuhlmann's technique.

"I like it due to the dramatically intense fall colors and the low angle the photographer used on the bridge," Sanders said. "This effect leads the reader's eye right into the photo."

It also is the top-seller on Kuhlmann's website,, where he showcases his portfolio as a freelance photographer and graphic designer. Prices are based on the size of prints and mounting options.

Kuhlmann picked up photography only a year ago after his graphic design classes at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn touched on the art. After graduating, he taught himself through online tutorials and a handful of photography books.

"It's really become a passion for me over this last year," Kuhlmann said. "I've really dedicated myself to it and try to improve at it every day."

He honed his skills as a graphic design and photography intern for the Joliet Slammers baseball team. Now, he's returning to his roots photographing nature scenes.

"I just find it really peaceful just going out there and shooting landscapes because you can just kind of get away from everything," he said.

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