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Make the Late Season Work for You

Have you ever traveled to a destination to photograph a specific season? Lots of planning is needed and usually if done right you hit it perfectly…but not always! Even the most seasoned pros sometimes think it was timed perfectly only to discover you missed the peak foliage by just a single unforeseen early season freeze or wind storm. This is what happened to me recently and I realized that despite missing the peak of fall colors, I could still make the location work for me by simply keeping upbeat and remembering that I shoot photos not just for the images, but because I love being outdoors and if you have that – then you can’t go wrong.

Now all that positivity aside,  that doesn’t mean I don’t TRY to still find places that look like peak seasons and work hard to make my images look their best. I refer to these seasons as the “in between” and really it only happens at the worst twice a year – in the transition from fall to winter (which if lucky, can be nice but usually it’s just brown and bland) and winter to spring (as snow melts and before buds appear). In the American East, this is exceptionally poignant where so much of the vivid landscape is dictated by the appearance of leaves and flowers.

In Great Smoky Mountains, I missed autumn but still managed to find some scenes that despite being “late season” still lent a pastoral, magical quality both by finding unique lighting and composition but also by taking advantage o the heavy brown foliage on the ground. The shot below was nothing special most of the day (I liked the waterfall and kept checking-in), but just as the sun was about to dip behind the mountain, a sliver of light cut through the woods creating a magical scene.

The other trick I employ is to photograph the more abstract, which can still be a large landscape image that works off of shape, line and silhouettes with creative lighting. This panoramic, stitched in Adobe as a photomerge from two frames is a good example of this:

Of course, sometimes just looking for the medium landscape where only a free trees still had some color, will work, too. Simply a long exposure at ISO 50 (L) and a polarizer.