The Fall of Splendor: Etseri, Svaneti


It’s that season again. Temperatures begin to dip towards freezing on clear nights, the first frost appears on the ground early mornings, and trees start to change and prepare for winter.

Did you know that autumn deciduous leaf color changes are less often due to an addition of something, but to a removal? The thing withdrawing is chlorophyll, the green-colored food-producing part of leaves which reacts with sunlight. It is pulled back as the trees stop making food and get ready for a long winter hibernation. It’s what is left, which gives the reds, yellows and browns, is the leaves’ real color once the green is pulled back!

We have an especially pretty autumn palette up here thanks to the mixes of various leaf-bearing and evergreen trees. The latter, of course, the conifers, have needles instead of leaves, and also have different processes, and don’t change color for autumn. So, the warm hues are stirred together with the various shades of green as you look across the landscape. You can even see a change from day to day.

The next layer we are sometimes lucky enough to have is added when two important things happen. First, the air remains free enough of wind that the leaves stay on long enough… for, second, a light first season’s snowfall to cover everything with icing sugar! This might happen only on the surrounding mountains’ upper layer, showing a line above which is a whiteness over the warm and green colors, and below which are the same hues without the snow. A real inter-season moment. If you see it, photograph it immediately, because that thin layer of snow can easily melt or blow off before the day is done. Don’t wait for better light, because an hour or two can strip it away, and before it returns, the leaves might all fall anyway, as is their destiny.

I am writing this from Tbilisi, where I have been for nearly a week, with another to go before I ascend home again. But at least I was able to see the fall colors in all their glory before I left, if not this year the snow layer on top. I will be very surprised if leaves enough remain for my return later this month, and I get to witness the first snow over them. But you never know.

In the days before I left, I had the chance to walk around the village and note some good vantage points for the specific landscape compositions I was looking for, especially ones with Etseri’s only complete watchtower in them against a fall background. Then I waited for the right light, which makes all the difference in such photography.

But, to be honest, some of the very best views are to be had simply by going upstairs, opening a window north or south, and shooting. My choice of zoom or wide-angle lenses lets me capture just a small part of the scenes before me, or the whole thing. I often also turn the camera to a vertical frame and shoot a carefully overlapped set (ideally on a tripod). My computer then “stitches” these together for a massive seamless panorama, more closely copying what my eyes see as I scan the magnificence before me. From vertical frames, so that their pixel dimension is as large as possible, and the whole panorama’s width is made of four or more frames, up to as many as 16 or 20 even, and it really gets huge. Such are the joys of autumn.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1900 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

By Tony Hanmer

11 October 2018 17:14