Numerous autumns have come and gone and for each, I provided tips and insight on how to capture splendid fall color. To keep it fresh this year, I looked through previous tips I wrote, compared them to a number of fall images I have in my files, compared those to the ones I used in previous years and came up with a few I hope are different enough so you can gain at least one new technique. I also included the classics that are not to be missed. So, I present this year’s edition of my fall color tips.
Sunstar + HDR: Backlit fall color glows as rim light decorates each leaf. Additionally, all foliage takes on a radiance giving the impression that each petal, frond or blade is lit from within. I always say, “It’s all about the light,” and when it comes to fall color, the most dramatic is backlight. The problem with backlight is controlling the sun. Enter a total photographic bonus that perfectly falls into place. Autumn is the time for scenics, which need depth of field. Depth of field is increased when the lens is stopped down. When the lens is stopped down, a bright light source becomes a sunstar when just a piece of the light is made visible. To create this, hide the sun behind a branch of a tree or thick cluster of leaves. Then, ever so slightly, move to the left, right, up or down to let about one-third of the sun become visible. With the lens stopped down to ƒ/22, you should get a gorgeous sunstar. There’s one more issue that needs to be addressed with regard to backlight—contrast. To combat the contrast, shoot a bracketed series of exposures without moving the camera, which is best accomplished by putting it on a tripod. Make a 3-stop series of 2 stops under, on the meter reading and 2 stops over. Process the three images in your favorite HDR program, and you’ll be rewarded with a backlit autumn scene that contains a sunstar and is perfectly exposed. One word of caution—when you shift your position to include one-third of the sun, be extremely wary of eye damage and use extreme caution!
Seek Reflected Light: Ask 90 percent of all photographers to show you their fall images and you’ll see trees, barns, covered bridges, country roads, footpaths blanketed with fall color, etc. Rarely will you see images of just reflected fall color. Learn to not be like everyone else and seek out the images that separate you from the masses. Yes, still make the obvious shots, but expand your boundaries and look beyond the obvious. A still lake reflects color, trees and mountainsides, but even these images are quite the norm. Take it a step farther and look for subtle reflections. Strive to make images that are solely abstract. If that’s not comfortable, include a surrounding element that’s obvious to the viewer so the onlooker turns to you to say, “I get what you did—very cool!” In essence, expand your horizons.
Stage It: Autumn is a great time to be with friends and family. It’s nice to document the time you spend together. If photography is more than a hobby and you strive to sell prints or get invited to submit images to a stock agency, think about what you can do to make the images of those with whom you travel moneymakers. Before you head out, have them wear specific-colored clothing and then include them in your photos. Bring along a prop or two that would make sense, such as an umbrella, a cane, a cool hat, red wagon, etc. Have them pose in places that are iconic and scenic so it becomes more marketable. Look for a winding path, a tree in peak color, a country road or another location that screams autumn and good times.
Polarizer—don’t leave home without it: The polarizer helps saturate a blue sky when positioned 90 degrees from the sun, and it also removes glare that robs leaves of their color. As you spin the polarizer, both these things will be visible through the viewfinder.
Zero In: Break out your macro lens, and don’t overlook the single fallen leaf, the one that dangles by a hair before its inevitable descent to the ground or the one that lives on a rock next to a pristine stream. Also, think about making images that include just parts of a peak-colored tree, a fence with fallen leaves or any other small-scale subject.
Time of Day: Sunrise and sunset provide the warmest tones that bathe subjects in gold, yellow and red. Because the warm tones are emphasized, be sure to monitor the red channel of your histogram so you don’t overexpose delicate yellows, red and oranges.
Send in the Clouds: Clouds cover the sun, and a covered sun means soft light. Country roads and dirt trails love to be photographed in soft light as the contrast is lessened and every detail becomes visible. If you get an overcast day, exploit the light.
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