Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Pro Tips For Dynamic Fall Color
Top professionals share their techniques for capturing the best of autumn
Every nature photographer knows that fall is prime time. Landscapes are transformed into vibrant tapestries of yellow-orange and red, and the angle of the sun gives us some beautiful light to work with. We asked several OP contributors for their insight on getting the most out of autumn, and these seasoned pros had some great tips and techniques that can help you take your fall color photography to the next level.
Shoot autumn color reflected in water to create stunning abstract fall photos. These shots work best early or late on a sunny day. Ideally, you want reflected foliage to be sunlit and the rest of the scene to be in shade. If you have lots of yellows, oranges and reds on the trees, you'll end up with beautiful warm tones reflected in water and on wet surfaces. Objects in shade (such as river rocks and rapids) are lit only by light reflecting from the blue sky above, rendering them blue. By mixing the two types of light, warm and cool, you can get a lovely blend of colors. Experiment with white balance until you find a setting that optimizes reds, yellows and oranges, yet at the same time retains some of the blues as well. Try the Daylight setting (about 5500K) or slightly cooler (I sometimes go as low as 4500K) to get the right look. A polarizer can make your autumn reflection photos pop, but avoid full polarization, which removes reflections entirely. Partial polarization enhances the colors in your reflection scene. A telephoto zoom works best to create tight-cropped images; a 70-200mm lens often will get you close enough, although a 100-400mm is even better. Try to create compositions that feature a pleasing arrangement and juxtaposition of colors surrounding an attractive set of rapids or river rocks. With reflection photos, abstract and impressionistic images often work best, so zooming in tight on just a few key details can make all the difference. Because you're working with moving water, consider using longer shutter speeds to create motion blur; a half-second or longer will give your images a dreamy, impressionistic look, merging and swirling colors and creating a silky look in the water. Experiment freely until you get the effect you want.
By default, most digital cameras display a luminosity histogram, showing the distribution of tones across all color channels. This histogram is useful in evaluating overall exposure; however, it doesn't always tell the whole story. In particular, when photographing bold colors, such as autumn foliage, one or more of the individual color channels (red, green or blue) may be clipped and lacking in detail. Bright yellow foliage may clip the blue channel, bright red foliage may clip the red channel, and so on. By examining the individual RGB histograms, you'll be able to see whether specific channels are clipped and correct as necessary.
If you underexpose red, it will become a deep maroon red; overexpose red, and it will become pink. The same goes for colors like orange and yellow. If you miss exposures on these colors, you'll lose a big part of your autumn scene. Learn how to expose scenes like this and your autumn landscapes will improve. Another trick is using your strobe in shady situations. Light adds color, so if you capture wonderful warm autumn hues in the cool light of shade, these colors tend to cancel each other out; add flash to these scenes and the direct specular light brings that color back.
Photographing a majestic landscape is often beyond the capabilities of a traditional single exposure with a 2:3 ratio. Be prepared to take several exposures to cover the width or height of the scene. Basic panorama tools—a double bubble level and a leveled tripod—will keep your captures in line. You can go even farther with a GigaPan for super-high-resolution panoramas or some of the panorama tools from Really Right Stuff.
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