Cover Story: When a Peaceful Nature Photo Becomes a Crime Scene


Photo © Paul Edmondson

I have some news for Paul Edmondson when I call to talk about his photograph.

I’d been looking for a nature photo—a grabber with a story behind it. I found it on the cover of The Killing Lessons, a compelling, disturbing crime novel I was reading. The photo had obviously been manipulated to serve the novel’s plot, so in addition to a likely story behind the image, there’s a story ahead of it as well.

I call Edmondson, tell him who I am and what I’m doing. Then I say, “What do you think about the blood?” He says, “Blood?”

Seems he’s often unaware who buys his stock photos or how they’re used. Sometimes he learns about it when he spots them in bookstores. (He’s in Seattle; they still have bookstores.) I assure him the blood is stylishly done, in keeping with the elegance of the image. I send a screenshot to show him. Later we talk again.

“The photo’s a section of the Boardman Tree Farm, near the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon,” he says. “I drive by frequently and take pictures at all times of the year. I’m always presented with a fresh look at something—new trees starting, others leaning or blown down, leaves changing color. I’ve been photographing there for probably ten years.”

He says he loves how the photo was used, mostly because the designer didn’t go for the road-down-the-middle cliché he avoided in his composition. “The cover’s pretty clever,” he says.

Edmondson, a “self-assigning” landscape and fine art photographer, tells me he’s intrigued by landscapes, especially how they’re affected by man.

Later he sends an e-mail: “What’s interesting to me is that the stand of trees can really be quite spooky, especially at night. I’ve car-camped there numerous times, and you wouldn’t believe how creepy it can feel.”

The Killing Lessons: A Novel © 2015 by Saul Black. Reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press. All Rights Reserved.

Oh, I believed it all right. I’d finished the book.

Tech Talk: Paul Edmondson made the photo with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and an EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens. Settings were 1/5 second, f/16, ISO 100, aperture priority, and Evaluative metering. In Lightroom he used a VSCO Film plug-in for a black-and-white, almost infrared look.

Nature, landscape, still life, urban, and Instagram images by Paul Edmondson are featured at his website,