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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Lepp On Fall Color


As the days shorten and the leaves turn, Tech Tips offers up some advice for getting your best shots of the season

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A variety of lenses will give creative results. In any landscape project, lenses are important creative elements. The scene may seem to dictate an appropriate approach, from fisheye to extreme telephoto, but it can be very rewarding to play with different perspectives. Wide-angle lenses can give a unique point of view in confined spaces, such as within woods; point a fisheye straight up for a surreal effect, through backlit leaves. Macro lenses achieve that close-in, intimate look at patterns of leaves and colored berries. I often use telephoto lenses to extract colorful groups of trees from a grand vista, or to capture a multiple-frame panorama or a GigaPan that can be printed at wall-filling proportions. I typically prefer the panorama to a wide-angle capture of a big view unless I particularly want the distortion the wide-angle brings. A panorama comprised of several images at 50mm will give you a more natural perspective while matching the angle of view offered by a wide-angle lens. I know it's more work, but it's worth it.

Composition counts, even with great color. Fall color can be the subject or the backdrop, but every photograph needs a center of interest. Incorporating natural features such as streams, ponds, waterfalls, cliff faces or even iconic human-made structures can add drama to the final landscape. To make your compositions stand out from the crowd, seek overlooks that take in a great breadth of the scene, or, if you're really serious about the grandscape, consider hiring a small plane to get aerials of a large expanse of color. Look for wildlife subjects. They don't have to have antlers or horns; even smaller mammals and birds among tufted grasses and reeds can give life to a fall color photograph. Water is a wonderful contrast to, or mirror of, fall color; my favorite is streams or small waterfalls rendered silky with long exposures. Colored leaves that have fallen on rocks or stumps are iconic. Just don't place a bunch of leaves in the scene too perfectly with all of them facing up. It looks phony and everyone has already seen it, anyway. And speaking of that....

Try different techniques to spice it up. You could say that if you've seen one colored leaf, you've seen them all. I don't think that's really true, but I do think that it's gotten to be very difficult for photographers to find unique fall subjects and perspectives. One of the ways we keep photography fresh in the digital age is by learning and applying new digital techniques to leverage creative power. We can revisit old, favorite subjects and show them in a new way. Try HDR to open up the dark areas of the composition, enrich the sky or even take it over the top with outrageous, saturated color. Put stacking to work to get unlimited depth of field either in landscape or macro captures. Panoramas and GigaPans really convey the enormity of a scene with high-resolution projection and big, big prints.

Move it! Like it or not, the photographic world is in motion. Use it! Telling the story of fall in a time-lapse movie can add great interest to a slideshow of stills. You'll need a beautiful setting and movement—clouds billowing in the sky, leaves falling, a stream, a sunrise or sunset. If you can photograph the same location repeatedly over several days or weeks, you might even document the entire event in a time-lapse, from the first change of color to the peak and on to the last falling leaf. You can shoot straight time-lapse with the camera anchored to a sturdy tripod, and if you're interested in taking it to the next level, add a simple motion device like the Radian from Alpine Labs or even a motorized slider.

Need to work faster? Try a video approach. Straight video takes less time than time-lapse, but incorporating video into your digital slideshow works the same way. It's a break from the norm, and it brings your audience into the scene. You'll need to try different angles, capture the falling leaves, waterfalls, eddies of swirling leaves, animals grazing through tall grasses. If it moves, it lends itself to video.

Tell a story. Whether video or stills, great photography tells a story. The narrative may reveal itself serendipitously as you photograph a place over time, or you might write and direct it yourself, considering in advance all the elements that, when assembled, will help your viewers experience everything you want to tell them about a subject. The story of fall might be revealed in a wall of images including landscapes, medium extractions and close-ups, for example. You can do the same with a multimedia show that you might take to your camera club or other audience. Or, loop a series of images on your big screen at home via Apple TV, or make a computer screen saver with a variety of shots that remind you throughout the winter just how grand autumn really was.

Follow George Lepp's exploits, see his latest photographs and be part of the discussion on his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/georgelepp. Lepp is part of the OP Blog at www.outdoorphotographer.com/blog/author/glepp.

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