Written by: Laura Graham
Photography by: Laura Graham
Ahhhh… it’s here!
Crisp morning air, boots and sweater jackets, hay, pumpkins and hot spiced cider.
Autumn. Who doesn’t love it?
The queen of rusty colors and trees bleeding all their beauty in a display worthy of a gallery exhibit. I don’t know of one photographer that doesn’t get giddy at the very thought of shooting during fall foliage season – vibrant colors can transform an otherwise mundane scene into a blanket of red, yellow, and orange hues.
So how does a professional photographer take advantage of this breathtaking season? There are many things you can do to set your images apart from simple snapshots – some are easy, and others a bit more advanced. Below you’ll find a guide to photographing fall foliage – covering things from light to composition, as well as a few other helpful tips which will improve your fall foliage techniques.
Know Your Light
Since this is a very short-lived season, the last thing you should do is stay indoors due to less-than-ideal weather. You can find a beautiful image with any kind of lighting – you just need to adjust how you evaluate your scene and use what you have to your advantage.
Lighting plays a huge role on the vibrancy of color when photographing fall foliage. While many don’t consider an overcast day to be the best lighting foliage photography, it’s an incredible way to capture the saturated colors of leaves. Overcast lighting has the ability to eliminate harsh shadows and highlights – and in the process, bring out those powerful tones and colors that aren’t visible under the sun.
Of course, nothing can beat those warm tones of the sun combined with the incredible color of fall. The more direct lighting gives you an increase of shadows and highlights which expands the tonal range and drama of an image. In particular, the golden hours have the ability to flood your lens with visible rays of sun – combine this with the foliage color, and you’re in for an incredibly powerful photo.
When shooting under the sun, you’ll undoubtedly run into exposure problems – especially in the morning and evening when the angle of the sun gives you more highlights and shadows to work with. An overexposed sky, underexposed ground, or blown highlights from reflections are all common issues that you may encounter.
When that happens, you have two main options – exposure blending (combining two or more photos with different levels of exposure in Photoshop) or using the Variable ND filters, such as the ones in our Promaster HGX line.
Fall weather is unstable and unpredictable – rain, mist, sometimes frost can show up without notice, but that doesn’t mean you can’t shoot during these conditions. Actually, many landscape photographers look forward to these pleasant surprises as they add more authenticity.
Mist and Fog
Not only is this a show of color, but those cold nights allow for many misty mornings. Fog on water and thick mist in the air can provide a stunning composition – combine this with the light of the golden hours, and you can create an outstanding autumn landscape.
Once peak foliage arrives, it can last a while – anywhere from a week to a month, so you have plenty of time to try out different perspectives and compositions once peak arrives.
Also, it’s good to know that once leaves change color, they don’t become any more vibrant than what you already see. And once they fall, the color only lasts a couple days – so actually your window of opportunity to photograph colorful foliage on the ground is shorter than the peak season itself.
Foliage Shooting Techniques
Weather and light have a huge role to play in the kind of images you create, but what special techniques can you use with your camera to photograph autumn in a unique and powerful way?
Using Polarizer Filters
Many know that a polarizer filter is a wonderful tool that reduces exposure and also deepens the saturation of colors – a huge benefit for autumn. However, what works particularly well for fall foliage is that a polarizer filter’s glare-reducing ability also applies to sun and light reflecting off of leaves, meaning those colorful leaves that were originally washed out from reflections now have color that is deep and vibrant.
Slowing Down Your Shutter
Fall provides a wonderful opportunity to get creative with your camera. By using a slow shutter speed, you can capture movement in a surreal and powerful way. Falling leaves or branches of color swaying in the wind are both excellent opportunities to use a slow shutter speed to get a bit artistic with autumn – and don’t forget about moving water.
During the daylight hours, you’ll need to slow down your shutter tremendously in order to capture movement like this – and using a small aperture generally won’t cut it. Instead, you’ll need to use ND filters of varying strength depending on how slow you want your shutter to be. Don’t be afraid to stack your filters (UV+Polarizer+ND) either for those very long exposures – just watch out for any unwanted vignetting.
If you have a fast lens, fall is the perfect time to use wide apertures and create some outstanding bokeh images. You can photograph bokeh in practically any situation, but autumn is unique – the colorful leaves can create a mosaic of shapes and tones, and they also makes a fantastic backdrop for an outdoor portrait session.
Composing Your Photo
While photographs of a sprawling mountain side can be breathtaking, they’re not the only images you can capture. Fall color is a short-lived season where every style of photography can come into play.
Focus on Simplicity
Minimalism can be equally as powerful as an autumn vista – sun flares, isolated trees, leaves, and macro shots are often ignored in the quest to capture a more complex photograph.
Change Your Perspective
Sometimes the simplest way to improve your autumn photography is the most successful. Changing your vantage point from eye-level to up high or down low can provide a unique perspective that many do not expect.
Hijack Some Foliage
One of the great aspects of fall foliage is that you can take it wherever you go – or at least a small part of it. By positioning a leaf or two in a unique way, you can completely transform an otherwise bland composition by offering a strong focal point – this works especially well with wide angle lenses (the Tamron 10-24mm is one of my favorites).
Fall foliage season is too short to afford a missed photo opportunity. Clouds, sun, day, night – you can always find a stunning composition to capture, whether you’re looking at a beautiful mountain vista, the confinement of your backyard or pick up a few leaves to look at closer. Just grab your camera and have fun!
I wish you all good light!
Laura just started working at Calagaz, but she’s declared us her second family. You know, besides the folks back in Romania…
To view more of Laura’s work, visit her website at www.andreephotography.com
For more information on the products mentioned in this post, or to schedule a private lesson with one of our knowledgable instructors, visit www.calagaz.com or call the Calagaz Photo store nearest you in Mobile Alabama (251-478-0487) or our new location in Pensacola Florida (850-476-2697)