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Monday, October 22, 2012

Focus on Fall: How to Take Fabulous Fall Photos

Bits of fall color can be used to accentuate any autumn image

It seems that the hills, hollows, bluffs and bottom grounds chose this past weekend to erupt with color. I love fall – for me it signals an end to the oppressive heat and humidity here in southern Illinois and the beginning of the hunting seasons/ The cool and damp mornings hold the promise of the cold crisp winter days ahead when the skies fill with  ducks and geese, and huge Illinois whitetail bucks begin their annual show of prowess. 

Including the road you travel upon can lend interest, depth and give your images a sense of place

A quick drive around the neighborhood yesterday told me that the fall color along the rivers that run through our county should just about be at peak,  so I checked my sunrise/sunset calendar and called a pal to schedule a late afternoon drive to photograph some of the gorgeous scenery along the Kaskaskia and Mississippi rivers. 

This wide view gives a look at the colors not only high above the river but across the wide floodplain as well

So often this time of year I receive many questions from other photo enthusiasts regarding the how to of capturing beautiful fall images.  Many times when I’ve been accompanied by a friend  or  aspiring photographer  they look images I’ve taken, then at images images they’ve taken and ask – “Why does mine look so blah compared to yours?” 

By underexposing a teeny bit, and increasing the saturation a smidgen, colors will pop much more

Here a few ways to improve your capture of autumn’s abundant color and have images of your own that “wall hanger worthy”. 

Time of Day – as with most photographic projects the best time of day is going to be the magic or golden hours immediately after sunrise, and right before sunset.  Some photographers consider this to be the first half hour of light and the last half hour of light, I tend to stretch this out to 2 hours because I often shoot in terrain where the steep hills, bluffs etc, block those first and last half hours.  A simple rule of thumb is the light is best when your shadow is longer than you are.

Early morning mist and overcast skies  can give your image  the chilly, damp, feeling yet still render good color
Work With the Sun  - Most of us remember the old adage “always shoot with the sun to your back” . While in general a good rule, when shooting fall colors that rule can easily be broken to achieve some stunning results.  By all means, snap some images with the sun behind you, but turn around and look at how the sun comes through the trees behind you, adding luminance and depth – backlighting and deep shadows can do much to add drama and impact to your scene.  In fact, I usually will shoot from several different directions when I fine an area with lush fall color. The angle of the light to the foliage can change the entire look and feel of an image.  When shooting towards the sun to achieve a backlit effect, position yourself so a branch, leaf,  tree trunk etc will block the the actual disc of the sun itself, and in turn will make exposing  the scene a bit easier.  Speaking of exposure, a very easy and quick way to give fall color just a little extra pop is to underexpose by about one half to a full stop.  

Shooting towards the sun allows the light to shine through sections of the leaves

Compose for Interest – While there is something awe inspiring about entire hillsides covered in color, look for items of interest to make a focal point – include a picnic table, an interesting rock outcropping, and building. Often times just snapping a wide view of that hillside alone ends up a little blah.  Find leading lines, patterns of light and shadow, bands of color that form patterns. Go wide, try out various compositions with a zoom lens at different focal lengths, look up, look down, and don’t be afraid to get close to a single leaf. All can be ways to show off the beauty of autumn. I usually carry a macro lens, a wide angle zoom, and a basic shorter zoom such as a 70-200 in my fall foliage kit.  From the closest look at a single leaf to a near panoramic view,  all the components of autumns color can provide you with  stunning images. 

Leading lines such as the fence in this image will help draw a viewers  eye into the  scene

Extra Helpful Tools – A graduated density filter and a polarizing filter can help you to achieve spme spectacular results. The graduated density filter can enable you to shoot a wide open landscape and sky, expose properly for the leaves and trees, and yet not end up with an over exposed sky.  A polarizing filter goes a long way to enhance fall colors.  Warming filters were commonly used in the film days as well, although many prefer to do that adjustment in post processing now.  A tripod is necessary for many folks to achieve level and tack sharp landscapes, go ahead. Pack it along; it may make the difference between a tack sharp stunning landscape and a slightly soft not so stunning landscape. 
getting close and using a polarizing filter can produce some interesting detail images with vibrant colors

White Balance – experiment with the white balance settings on your camera to achieve a slightly warmer tone. Another way is to do a custom white balance using the tried and true gray card method.  IIn general leaning towards warmer tones in the white balance will give you the best results.  You might also explore setting on your camera to enhance the colors; these may be labeled as vivid, landscape, autumn, or foliage. 

Experiment with vertical landscapes

Most of all get out there! Take your camera, invite a friend, explore, bend, stretch and snap away with abandon. Try lot of different approaches, settings, filters. Experiment and have a great time viewing and capturing these oh so short lasting glorious autumn days! 

And always remember - the outdoors is especially great when shared with a friend!


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