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|Harriman State Park, New York. Banerjee used an 80-200mm lens at ƒ/16 with a 1/8 sec. shutter speed on a tripod to maximize depth of field.|
Autumn is a special and an enchanting season for me, not just because the plant habitats here in the Northeast are ideal to showcase a wide gamut of color, but also because of the variety of landscapes—rugged mountains and rolling hills, rushing streams and rivers, deep ravines and flatlands all combine to set up quite a show to behold. There are few places on earth where all nature’s colors mingle with such quintessential romantic and wild sceneries. It happens every year, but still feels fresh and remarkable every time.
In And Around Water
I always try to bring the dynamic nature of water flow into the image to create a sense of symphony with the color scheme. Waterfalls look their best during autumn, be it in the peak season or even past peak when they’re covered with colorful fallen leaves. Try to shoot during overcast days or early and late in the day to avoid direct lighting on the scene. A polarizer is a must. It cuts the glare and the reflection from water while saturating color, and the resulting effects can’t be replicated easily with Photoshop or other digital means. It also can be used to cut light for motion-blur effects. Compositionally, avoid the typical straight head-on shots and the tendency to capture the entire waterfall in the frame. Instead, look for elements that combine well to create a flow and present a sense of place and season. Visiting waterfalls after a rain will get a more robust water flow, as well as wetness on the otherwise dry rocks of the area.
When visiting waterfalls, look beyond just the falls. Often, you’ll be able to walk the streams, up or down, and be able to find many other unique images. Try combining rushing water flow with submerged boulders and colorful trees on the bank. These scenes often are done best without direct light, and you can play with various shutter speeds using an ND filter to create artistic water action. Look for the angles to capture the reflection of the colorful foliage on the moving water. When the trees are lit, but the water is still in the shade, rocks submerged in water will reflect the blue of the sky above, while the water will have the reflected golden glow of the ambient environment, thereby creating interesting warm-cold combinations.
Beyond moving waters, still water in lakes, ponds and marshes provides iconic Northeast autumn reflection shots. It’s best to shoot in the early morning, when the water is motionless and light is diffused. Early-morning fog also goes well with autumn foliage. You have to be careful when using a polarizer on these scenes as you try to capture reflection. Also, design of the image can be tricky as you attempt to balance capturing the symmetry while avoiding static compositions (i.e., giving the trees and reflection the same amount of space in the frame). A trick that I often use is throwing a small pebble into the water and letting the water have some ripples to create a more dynamic scene.
Abstracts, Close-Ups And Surrealism
Some of my dearest fall photographs aren’t the wide vistas, but more abstract, intimate portraits of nature that capture the true flavor of the season. Abstracts can be found everywhere in the autumn—in forests, around the streams and rocks. Look for lines, shapes, textures and patterns and combine them with the seasonal color palette to express your inner vision. For example, you can choose to shoot the still or rushing water reflecting autumn glow while isolating a part of the scene with a long lens. Alternatively, you can get so close to a colorful leaf with a macro lens that it’s almost unrecognizable.
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Jamaica State Park, Vermont. “Timing was everything,” notes Banerjee about this shot. “One needs to wait to get the trees on the other side of the river illuminated by sun, but the river still in shade.”
The possibilities are endless—the more you look around, the more images you’ll find. The difference between an abstract and a close-up shot is subjective, but designing the image is the most critical part in either case. Here, you’re not shooting just what nature gave you, but making an image combining your vision with the natural elements. Playing with the depth of field, focus and exposure will give you control over what you want the viewer to see. Some examples: over- or underexpose the background, use flash on the main subject or use extremely shallow ƒ-stops.
Having a versatile, long zoom (e.g., the 70-200mm range) is critical to play with compositions. I also carry my 105mm ƒ/2.8 macro for close-up work. I use a tripod/cable-release setup for tripod work, and when handholding, I use a camera bracket, flash and small softbox.
Nature’s artistry is infectious in this season, and I find myself trying to push the boundary to create surrealistic or impressionistic images. These images need a lot of previsualization and planning to succeed. You’ll often end up making a whole lot of nonusable images to produce a successful one, but that’s part of the fun! Some of these techniques to experiment with include long exposures to capture water or wind motion, multiple exposures in-camera, camera shakes and zooming during the exposure. Be patient, use consistent techniques, and refine your composition and camera settings by reviewing images on the LCD screen. (This is where digital cameras are very useful, as you can see the effects instantly.)
Break The Rules
Creative and rule-breaking composition techniques are another way to create distinctive images. Ditch your tripod and start moving around with your camera and a versatile lens (e.g., an 18-200mm) while trying various compositions to generate ideas. When you find something interesting, set up the tripod and recompose with your preferred equipment. There are no hard rules here—in fact, you’re actually trying to break all the rules you’ve learned over the years. Shoot into the sun, use backlight and uncommon angles, and you’ll begin to discover new compositions that you’ve never seen before. The key is to slow down as you shoot and experiment. There’s no need to rush from one spot to another in search of iconic postcard images. Creating something of your own is more satisfying.
|My Fall Reflections Locations
Finding a great location to shoot in matters greatly to the types of fall shots that you’d like to get. My favorite waterfalls to shoot during autumn are Lye Brook Falls in Vermont (with a required 2.3-mile hike one way, making it a secluded location), Moss Glen Falls in Vermont (there are two of them—one in Stowe and one in Granville—and both are beautiful) and Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskills region of New York. My favorite locations for stream shots are West River in Jamaica State Park and Roaring Brook, which runs along Kelly Stand Road between Stratton and Arlington, Vt. Other great areas include the Housatonic River Walk on the Appalachian Trail near Kent, Conn., the Delaware Water Gap in Pennsylvania and the Bash Bish Falls area along the New York and Massachusetts borders. A few locations in which to capture the more serene still water shots are Harriman State Park in the lower Hudson Valley and the Adirondack Lake region in Upstate New York. Both areas have beautiful bodies of water with gorgeous woods along the banks. Often, the most unique images are made when you venture out to the wildest part of the lakeshores via trail or canoe.
Arnab Banerjee is a fine-art photographer based in the lower Hudson Valley in New York, who focuses on nature and travel images. To see more of his work, visit www.arnabbanerjee.com.
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