Photographing Fall Color

Posted by on Sep 4, 2012 in Articles | No Comments

Maine barn

Here are some hints on how to get your best pictures this fall.

1. Go out on rainy, misty days- don’t go inside. Fall color will appear the richest, most saturated on rainy days. And yes, your camera gear will be okay. Don’t go out in a downpour but when it is lightly raining your gear will be as comfortable and as tolerant as you are. Also rocks, especially in streams, look much better when they are wet. Stick your camera under a rain coat or in your backpack when you are wandering around but don’t worry when you are using it. Put a small towel in your camera bag if you want to wipe things off.

2. Use a polarizing filter. This is especially important on rainy, misty days. Wet leaves pick up a sheen (the reflection of the white clouds overhead) that diminishes their color. A polarizer eliminates that sheen and lets the true rich color come through. Please don’t use a blue-gold polarizer or an orange-green, purple-puse or whatever polarizer. They are too heavy handed to pass off as anything but contrived and unrealistic. Plus, it is so easy to selectively punch up a color in Lightroom or in Photoshop or Aperture that colored polarizers are (or should be) a thing of the past.

3. Use a lens hood to keep water off the front element of your lens. If you are using a polarizing filter with a lens hood be careful that the hood doesn’t cause vignetting. I solve this problem by screwing my hood directly on to my polarizer (rather than having the polarizer inside my lens hood and impossible to reach). If my lens hood is elsewhere I have often used a baseball cap to protect my lens glass from rain. I’m not so concerned with water on my lens, it is water on the front glass that destroys an image

4. If you are out on a sunny day try shooting backlit scenes.

Vermont forest

This can really make the color sing. This is an especially good idea if the color is just okay and you are trying to capture a little pizazz.

5. If you want to shoot one of those looking straight up the tree trunk shots(and who doesn’t?) wait for a clear blue sky to do so. White clouds will ruin these compositions. If you get close to one trunk it makes for a good leading line for your composition.

6. Please don’t go out at noon and shoot a scene with HDR and then brag about it. HDR used with pretty light can work great. HDR used when the light is awful is awful- you’ve just gone out and captured all the subtleties of terrible light. If you find Bigfoot and Elvis chatting at noon on a rock and you want to make a poster then fine, shoot HDR but otherwise please don’t. I’m begging you.

7. Don’t just shoot the obvious colorful leaves shoot what you find with the leaves- roads, reflections, milkweed pods, grave stones, fences, spiders, covered bridges, even dead branches. The grey of dead branches can make a very nice counter point color to the bright colors of fall.

8. Drive until you find good color and then linger there. If it is mostly green where you are either go north or go higher in elevation. If if it mostly bare branches where you are either go south or lower in elevation. Any coastal area will be a week behind inland areas for peak color so if you are not satisfied on the coast head inland and north.

9. Cemeteries are great spots to photograph specimen trees, especially sugar maples in New England because the trees have room to spread out. You may get some funny looks but that’s okay, the pictures will be worth it.

10.Don’t use flash, use your tripod, don’t carry every lens you own you only need a couple, walk around whenever you can, ask permission if you want to photograph on private property, limit the caffeine but not the dark chocolate, talk to locals, turn around and see what’s back there and enjoy yourself, this is supposed to be fun!

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