It’s autumn – gone are the mornings of hazy white skies. Sunrise now greets us with a crisp blue and a chill in the air. The air is fresh and clean, a sense of change permeates the environment, and all living forms seem to sense the transformation that’s about to take place. The monochromatic green that dominated summer gives way to nature’s magic as the environment takes on a palette of warm tones and changing colors. For the photographer who loves color, it’s a glorious time. Due to the number of autumn tips I want to share, this is a two part series. In this second installment of fall color tips, I will take you on a photographic journey to show you how to improve your autumn photographs. Be sure to see last week’s Tip of the Week for more
Bring on the Morning Mist: A warm autumn day followed by a chilly autumn night motivates me to get into the field early the next morning. These are the conditions that create ground fog and mist. Capturing this mood with fall color as a bonus is a nature photographer’s dream. Obtaining a proper exposure is pretty much straight forward unless the fog is backlit. If so, check your histogram to see how you need to compensate as shooting into the sun tends to produce underexposure. Compositionally, shoot it wide, shoot it tight, isolate a detail, shoot vertically and shoot horizontally. In other words, as I say so many times, “exhaust all possibilities.” These are magical conditions. Make sure you capture all aspects of the moment.
Bring on the Overcast: If the weather deals me an overcast hand, I take advantage and concentrate on just the leaves as the reds, yellows and oranges saturate well in this condition. The reason for this is glare from the sun that would otherwise rob the foliage of its saturation doesn’t factor into the equation. The thickness of gray determines if it’s necessary to add warmth to the photo. Set the white balance to cloudy or adjust the RAW capture when you post process. The yellow imparted by the cloudy white balance helps negate the dull color of the gray sky. If you encounter overcast skies, look for low growing branches and zero in on a single leaf or clump that has a nice composition. Look toward the ground for the intimate landscape that may often go unnoticed. Red leaves nestled in pine needles, the veining of a single oak leaf, or a log surrounded by an autumn mosaic all deserve more than just a few pixels worth of capture.
Look For Color Harmony: Look for kids in warm toned clothes and photograph them against a background of autumn leaves. Look for a yellow or red car and isolate an interesting portion and offset it against a fall colored urban tree – a taxi would be a great candidate. Search your environment for these opportunities and use this strategy to improve your fall photos.
Send In The Clouds: Totally clear blue skies are indicative of lots of sun, but they also mean a plain backdrop of a single color. In the world of nature photographers, it’s referred to as “severe clear.” While severe clear has its place, a sky dotted with interesting shapes of clouds produces much more drama. There’s a thin line between too many clouds and clouds that add drama. As soon as the portion of the sky behind the main subject becomes a wash of white or gray, no matter what the rest of the sky holds, the image will suffer. The right amount of clouds creates depth and intrigue. If the clouds add interest, emphasize their existence and include a lot of sky. If the opposite holds true, crop the sky out of the image. Use the 1/3 vs 2/3 rule whereby if the sky has interest, devote more of the composition to it and if the land space has the intrigue, 2/3 of the photo should receive its attention.
Follow Its Trail: If time, motivation and your checkbook allow you to follow the foliage from high to low elevations or from the north to the south, you can enjoy close to three full months of photography in the US. Although the exact dates of peak are dependent on numerous factors, there are windows of a week or two that specific locations treat you to natural fireworks. Check the internet for fall color hotlines that post peak color updates. Look for blogs that do the same. Although my list of fall color destinations is too long to ever be able to cross them all off, I will never let an autumn go by without getting into the field to capture the beauty.